Meet a Social Scientist: Dr. Fang from Urban and Regional Planning

What is your name? 
Dr. Kerry Fang

What kind of work do you do in the College?
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. I teach, do research and engage in service in the department, profession and community.

Why did you decide to become an academic?
The academic lifestyle is very attractive to me. I’m a curious person and constantly intrigued by things around me, especially human behaviors (that’s why I became a social scientist). At an early age, I enjoyed solving puzzles and challenging my intellectual abilities. I relish reading detective novels and watching that genre of movies because of the thrilling journeys on which they take me trying to solve the cases. Being an academic allows me to spend a significant portion of my time solving social science mysteries that I find fascinating, and the process of conducting a research project is essentially analogous to imitating a detective and solving a case. I gather evidence, carefully examine it, and derive an answer. And my answer can be subsequently refuted—if new evidence emerges through my efforts or those of other researchers. Moreover, I can improve my detective skills by continuously learning new theories and analytical tools. I find this part of the academic lifestyle especially desirable. 

I also enjoy teaching, the other significant part of an academic lifestyle. Gaining new knowledge is fulfilling, but sharing it enhances my excitement. Although undertaking a research project may consume much time as it unfolds, the communication and interaction with students provide me with immediate feedback and energizes me. I enjoy observing students learn and grow and make a substantive difference in the world. Therefore, a professorship is an ideal career for me. Therefore, I decided to become an academic since college and have worked toward this goal for many years since then. 

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
The most fulfilling part of my job is the freedom that I have to study and teach what I find to be interesting and important. Because of this job latitude, I can concentrate my time and energy on fundamental questions that influence human welfare, such as the following: “Why are some regions economically rich and others poor?” “Why do cities around the world manifest such dissimilar growth patterns?” Providing answers to such questions can dramatically change the way we understand and organize our urban, economic, and social systems and significantly improve human welfare. A famous economist, Lucas (1988), once said the following: “The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.”

In addition to being able to engage theoretically with fundamental questions, my research outcomes can also provide direct guidance for policymaking. Being in an applied field affords my doing so relatively easily. Over the years, I’ve collaborated with many state and local governments and planning departments offering my expertise in helping conduct local analysis and proffering design-related advice–both of which are directed at improving economic development and land-use policies, as well as assisting local communities to pursue funding for development. I also frequently involve my students in community-engaged research activities. Seeing those student participants grow exponentially from these learning-by-doing activities is a most fulfilling outcome of my job. 

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to all my colleagues in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and in the College of Social Science and Public Policy. This department and the college are abundantly collegial, thus allowing me to receive immense support from all my colleagues. We share research ideas, exchange teaching tips, support each other’s career advancement. We laugh together and hold each other’s hands through difficult times. I’m forever indebted to all my colleagues here who have made my busy academic life particularly humane and enjoyable. 

What are you working on or teaching right now that has your excited professionally?
I’m presently advising my first doctoral student. Doing so is especially exciting, as I have the opportunity to help a student grow into a full-fledged independent researcher who can lead the field forward in the next 30 to 40 years. This role also provides an extraordinary occasion for me to develop further as an adviser. The project that my student and I are currently pursuing entails our visualizing the knowledge network in American cities based on co-patenting and patent citation in efforts to enhance cities’ economic development. Using network visualization and analysis, we will answer questions such as the following: “Why do some cities hold a central position in the network while others are peripheral?” “What collaborative relationships can be cultivated to promote knowledge spillover?” This project can help us unlock cities’ untapped potential for creativity and innovation and launch us into a domain of exponential research and pragmatic growth. 

Dr. Fang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. You can learn more about Dr. Fang here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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