Spotlight - Roger Bohn
(2009) Q&A with Roger Bohn, Professor of Management and Director of the Global Information Industry Center (GIIC)
Interview by Pepper Lane
Tell us about your educational background before coming to San Diego.
I have a B.A. in applied mathematics from Harvard College. Applied math is what Harvard offers that is closest to engineering. For my senior thesis, I did research on Peasants in Bangladesh. Then I took a couple of years off and worked for an energy consulting firm. Finally, I went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in applied economics from MIT.
What are some of your research interests, and what are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on the How Much Information? program studying how the world creates and uses data; first in the United States, and then, eventually, we'll go global. My other research looks at the transformation of technologies and work from craft-to-science. I'm looking at things as diverse as diabetes care, aviation, and firearms manufacturing, all of which are going through, or have been through, a craft-to-science change.
How will you bring your experience and research into your role as director of the How Much Information (HMI)? program and Global Industry Information Center (GIIC)?
I've studied electronics manufacturing since the advent of computers, but as for computers themselves they have been more a hobby than research. I haven't really used electronics very much in my research until now.
Over the years, I've run a variety of large research projects. In fact, right after college, I developed a large model of energy consumption, which was an 18-month study of solar energy, conservation, nuclear power, and other forms of energy. Since then, I've done a variety of medium scale projects, which is how I would classify the HMI? program. This is more number-based than most of the research I do.
What are you most looking forward to in your position at the Center?
One thing I'm enjoying is using my 20+ years of experience with PCs and applying it to a specific problem today. Also, it's such fun to let your imagination reign and try to figure out where the world might be going, and to study the broad patterns that emerge.
What classes are you teaching at IR/PS?
I've been at IR/PS roughly 16 years and over that time I've taught several capstone courses, one of them with Professor Stephan Haggard called "Business and Government in a Global Economy." We look at how companies and governments interact and try to influence each other. I'm also teaching a course called "Technology and Operations Management," which is an introductory course to how companies actually produce and distribute products and services.
What are some favorite courses you've taught in the past?
One of the more interesting courses I've taught here was "IB Sim" with Professor Alex Kane. It was a massive simulation of a global economy with student teams playing the roles of both business and government. Very intricate and elaborate, and I actually learned a lot about macro economics. This was a one quarter “mock economy” course.
More recently, I'd say my product development course is the most interesting class I teach. This is where student teams come up with an idea for a new product. They develop a working prototype and business plan. My office is filled with some potentially great end products. Every year, there are some that are so good they are worth commercializing, but our students have other interests.
Why did you decide to become a professor?
I took a few years off after college to see what I really wanted to do with my life. What I discovered is that I really liked to understand how the world works. Consulting was interesting, but you only get to look at a piece of the puzzle and then move on to the next project. Now, I actually get paid to ask a lot of questions and study what interests me most. It's the ideal job.
Is there life outside of IR/PS for Roger Bohn?
Definitely! I enjoy sailing, bicycling, and being with my family, which consists of my wife Liz, our two almost-grown children Daniel and Tess, and one elderly dog.
Any advice for IR/PS students?
I work with a great number of students who end up working for technology companies. In the long run, I think people with IR/PS backgrounds do very well in those companies. In the short run, I believe the key is to not be intimidated by the engineers and just go ahead and learn whatever you need to learn, without feeling like you've got a handicap because you didn't take the right courses in college. Engineering knowledge has a very short life anyway; something like three years. In other words, every three years, half of what an engineer knows becomes obsolete. People in the technology industry have to be continually learning. IR/PS students have to work harder on the technical side at first, but they have a much broader perspective on the world in general, which equips them to deal with change, and the wide range of forces from all directions that affect businesses. After going through IR/PS, you know that there are many ways to do things.
For more information about Professor Bohn's work and areas of expertise, please visit his faculty page.