Interview with Jennifer Tian

What do you remember about being a PPE major? What did you like about it?

I think what I liked most was the diversity of opportunities that PPE gives you. That’s not to say I don’t think other majors necessarily do that, but I thought it was super cool how you could be five different and diverse concentrations. Sure, it’s an interdisciplinary major with these three broad stroke topics, but there are a lot of really cool things you can do with them. I personally concentrated in Choice & Behavior and for me that was a lot of behavioral economics and psychology and it was super cool to see how that plays a big role with my curriculum in law school. I think a lot of these interdisciplinary concentrations really do gear themselves towards law school because beyond black letter law and rule a lot of what makes law effective and what makes legal theory and thinking about the law different and unique is a lot of these types of interdisciplinary views that PPE really concentrates on and highlights. Gosh, as an undergrad you don’t really know what you want. I mean, I’ll speak for myself, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted and throughout undergrad I eventually realized law school would be really great for me. But I think it’s great that you get exposed to a lot of cutting edge academic thought through the interdisciplinary process-things that scholars are thinking about very currently-and so I think it really helps you figure out what you are generally interested in.

When did you make the decision to go to law school and how did being a PPE major play into that decision?

Law school was kind of always on my radar. I don’t necessarily know that throughout my four years I was always on the law school train. I think I definitely jumped back on it towards the end of my sophomore year. I think PPE is such a perfect law school degree. You get the basics of critical reading and writing about your thoughts, but you also get so much of what I mentioned earlier, like the lenses that legal scholars are currently viewing the law through. Behavioral economics is just such a big one right now and it’s been written on in a lot of academic works and journal articles recently. It’s cool to be able to come to law school and say yeah, I’m interested in politics or political philosophy, but I also have this other lens through which I can view all of it thanks to my PPE major.

Is there a specific class, professor, or assignment that you felt prepared you especially well for subject matter you have come across in law school?

I took this course last year at Duke Law that was super interesting. It was colloquial style, so every week we were given an about-to-be published paper from a legal scholar. We would read the paper, critique it, and then the author of the paper would come in later that week and we would spend the entire class talking about the paper with the scholar. Not only just my classmates, but also professors from throughout the law school would come to hear these scholars speak and they were all so cool. I was lucky that this year the seminar’s topic was specifically behavioral economics. In the early weeks before the scholars actually started coming we were getting background information on the intersection of behavior economics and law. One of the introductory readings we had to do was a chapter from Jonathan Baron’s book. And I took Jonathan Baron’s class at Penn. I cannot for the life of me tell you exactly what the class was called, but I really loved his course. It was a turning point for me and I decided I wanted to concentrate in behavior. It was what inspired me to look more into the intersection of behavioral economics and law. The summer after junior year I worked at a behavioral economic consulting firm in New York. So anyways, it has been super cool to be able to say I’ve worked with these scholars and even taken this guy’s class at Penn. It was super fun to bring that unexpected perspective to critiquing these other scholars’ papers week after week.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the behavioral economics consulting firm you interned at?

It was based out of New York and called ideas42. They are so rapidly growing and so cool. I would highly recommend it to anyone focusing in Choice and Behavior or interested in that field of study. So, so cool.

What are your plans for post-law school?

I’m lucky, I know that I’m going to Chicago after graduation and will be working at a big law firm there. Can’t necessarily say that my background in behavioral economics will come into play there. I’ve got a big stack of loans and this job will help me pay them off. It’s interesting because I think my interests have definitely changed during law school. I very quickly realized that reading and writing weren’t my favorite things to do, but really grew to love tax law. I think tax law has a lot of similar thinking styles as the behavioral economics aspects of the PPE major. A lot of tax law is considering how we integrate what we know about human behavior into how we frame tax policy and how we get people to file their taxes and whatnot.

Do you have advice for PPE undergrads that are currently considering law school?

At least for me I think the beauty of the PPE major was the flexibility it provided. I had a hard time making decisions and so it was really great that it integrated three subject areas I was super interested in and gave me a lot of exit opportunities. You can go into consulting, or politics, or whatever else. I think law school is an extension of that in many ways. You go to law school and have a lot of different opportunities coming out of it. You can go into the firm life, or you can go into government, or you can go into politics, or public interest. There are so many different avenues for utilizing your law degree. I think it appealed to me in the sense that I wasn’t shutting myself into a career space, but also giving myself the opportunity to gain more valuable skills. Nobody is going to be like, oh the JD isn’t worth anything. So I think it was promoting my skill set, promoting my career, without necessarily shutting any doors. I know my interests have completely changed during my three years here and what I’m doing post-law school is not what I thought I would be doing coming in. But I think that is kind of the beauty of law school and kind of the beauty of the PPE major, if that’s something that appeals to the students. If you want more time to figure out exactly what you enjoy in this broad space of politics, philosophy, and economics, which is truly what law school is anyway, I think it’s really good for that.

What do you wish you knew about life post-college as an undergrad?

Oh gosh, I think just picking what makes you happy. And that sounds so trite, but it’s just worth so much more than falling into that pre-professional route. I’m at that stage, getting to be three years out, where a lot of people that went straight into that workforce are starting to think, okay what’s next? You know, they’re thinking, I’ve been at my entry-level jobs for a few years, am I going to get promoted? Am I moving? Am I going to go back to grad school? And I think some of them are unhappy. That’s not to say if you go straight to the workforce you will be unhappy, but I just think a lot of us need more time to figure out what we want. I think for a PPE major, if you need more time to figure out what makes you happy, so much of law school is so similar to the PPE thinking style that it’s a good extension. I think there is the same pressure in law school to go to the big law firm and not necessarily do public interest, but I think it just generally gives you more time to figure out what you are going to be really happy doing five years down the road as opposed to being like, now what?