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PhD student makes municipal politics media-friendly

November 8, 2013

By Heath McCoy

With an approach that was witty and widely accessible, but always firmly grounded in hard research, PhD student Paul Fairie emerged as a popular media pundit in the weeks leading up to Calgary’s civic election last month.

Fairie, 31, whose convocation is on Nov. 12, found his political expertise tapped heavily by both print and broadcast media on an almost daily basis in the lead up to the election. He appeared in the Calgary Herald, the Globe and Mail, CBC News and CBC’s Eyeopener, CTV, City TV, the Calgary Sun and Metro.

The outlets began to seek out Fairie because of the class he’s been teaching – for three terms as of next winter – on local government.

“I was busy, but it was fun,” says Fairie. “Speaking to the media is a lot like teaching, to be honest. You obviously want to come from a place that’s grounded in fact, but you also want to simplify the message so that it’s approachable. You don’t want to bog things down with too many technical details. You don’t want to give a citation in the middle of a TV interview, because no one cares.

“I try to keep it light and informative, and, both in class and with the media, I find humour is often a good way of doing that.”

Born and raised in Hamilton, ON, where he obtained his BA in political science at McMaster University, Fairie moved to Alberta in 2005, determining that the University of Calgary’s political science department made for “a good fit” as he pursued his research interests. To be sure, Fairie’s research base is broad. In addition to municipal politics, other focuses include Canadian and provincial politics as well as religion and voting.

His other great love? That would be research methods. “I love stats and numbers,” he says. “That’s probably what attracted me to politics in the first place. I remember watching the 1993 federal election on TV and there were all these numbers moving around on the screen. I found it all really fascinating, though no one else would agree with me on that!”

In the past, Fairie has also honed his teaching skills by leading classes on research methods. “That’s usually about making stats accessible for people who hate numbers, so I think I developed some skills there, in making the hard details a bit more fun.”

Now that he’s graduating, Fairie wants to take his passion for statistics to the next level. He plans to start up a data-science consulting firm with colleagues.

“I’d like to work with organizations and government bodies who have big data sets which they need to get value out of,” he says. “I can help them understand the patterns that are going on underneath that data. It’s valuable information.”

Of course, he also hopes to continue teaching political science.

“It’s something I’ve really enjoyed,” he says.