From maths to economics: David Gruen

David Gruen

Science graduate turned  leading economist David Gruen laughs as he says he is vicariously indulging his  passion for science through his son, who will be attending a Physics Olympiad  at Monash.

Gruen, executive director  of the Australian Treasury’s macroeconomic group since 2008, is one of  Australia’s most highly-regarded experts on economic trends and has been a key  influence in policy decisions in the wake of the global financial crisis and  commodity  boom.

Gruen only switched to  economics at the age of 29 after completing an honours degree in theoretical  physics.

He says although he came  to his chosen career somewhat late, studying science improved his critical  thinking.

“The most useful thing I  learned in science wasn’t the specific knowledge, but rather the style of  thinking and a focus on precision. Those skills are easily transferrable.”

With his son soon to begin tertiary  study, Gruen believes that universities must generate critical thought and  spark passion in their students.

“Teaching people how to think is  important. When we employ people [at the Treasury], I often say that we’re  looking for signs of life,” he says.

“We want to know that you haven’t just  sat there passively. You need to be able to engage with the subject matter.”

While he no longer uses physics  or chemistry in his day-to-day work, Gruen regularly draws on his understanding  of the scientific method.

His father, the late Fred  Gruen, was a well-known Professor in Agricultural Economics at Monash  University. However, Gruen says he was never under pressure to follow in his  father’s footsteps.

“I enjoyed science at school, so studying it  at university seemed like the obvious choice.”

Gruen then spent four years  living on campus at Farrer Hall, where he found university life and study  enjoyable.

Gruen says his decision to  switch to economics was ultimately influenced by his father. “I  realised that he seemed to have a more interesting life than many other people,  and that economics was something I would like to do.”

His advice is to study what you enjoy.

Gruen has recently been asked to sit on  an advisory board for Monash University’s physics department, and says he looks  forward to the opportunity.