Fall 2019 Faculty Interview: Dr. Charles Tien

Dr. Charles Tien is Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center. He currently serves as Deputy Executive Officer at the GC. He is a former Fulbright Scholar in American Politics at Renmin University in Beijing, China, and subsequently worked as a Congressional Staffer on Capitol Hill. His specialties include American Congress, Quantitative Research Analysis, and Representation of Women and Minorities in Congress.

Max Fuerderer: Tell us a bit about your academic background.
Dr. Charles Tien: My academic background involved a lot of quantitative methods training, or just methods training in general, and also a lot of legislative behavior. And those both have influenced my academic pursuits since then. When I started, my actual intention was to do Comparative Politics! But in the end, my fields included American Politics and Game Theory.
MF: Did your experience as a Congressional Staffer on Capitol Hill influence your research interests? 
CT: Absolutely. That informed my interests in American Politics and Legislative behavior. I went to D.C. (again, I was not initially interested in American Politics!), but more interested in Comparative Politics and International Relations. I studied abroad in China and had lived there, and so was interested in Chinese politics and looked for some type of work in Washington related to that. But jobs are limited in those areas. They’re abundant in Legislative Aide positions, so I took a position as a Legislative Aide. The domestic focus of the job led to me becoming more fascinated with domestic policy, labor politics, American Politics, voting behavior, and elections.
MF: What do quantitative research methods contribute to our discipline? 
CT: This is an excellent question. I like to think that I have an open mind about political science. But, we are all “captive” to our training and our interests. I don’t think that any method or approach has a distinct advantage over any other approach in trying to figure out whatever it is we’re trying to figure out. Why do humans behave the way they behave, politically? That’s a difficult question to answer, and so political science, as a discipline, is trying to answer the same questions, but it is our approaches and methods that differ.
However, the different methods and approaches can all benefit from each other, and I think we work best as a discipline when we work collaboratively, rather than in opposition. To answer your question more directly: Quantitative methods have an important role, but are certainly not the ONLY methods that should be used to understand politics.
MF: Can you tell us a little bit about the research you are currently working on?
CT: One of my interests is descriptive representation. I’m interested in how minorities, ethnicity, and gender influence the institutional setting, particularly Congress. One paper that I’m working on is trying to better understand the phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has been receiving much attention, and is what we would consider a “descriptive representative.” She is a young woman, a Latinx representative, but there are others that are like her.
I want to understand what, if anything, she is doing differently or similarly to other representatives, especially those that share her descriptive attributes. If she’s behaving similarly, in terms of her social media use, her participation in hearings, her questioning of witnesses, then I want to know what it is about her that’s causing her to get so much attention. So, empirically, I want to know what is different or similar to other members.