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Getting to the “Why” with Tracy A. Corley, PhD

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After nearly two decades working as an entrepreneur, business leader, and policy thought leader, Tracy A. Corley began her PhD in Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University. Since her graduation in Fall 2018, Tracy has been applying a broad range of research skills in her position at MassINC as Transit Oriented Development Fellow and as a member of our Advisory Committee.

With a diverse background in a variety of policy and development sectors, Tracy was looking for a similarly intersectional, doctoral degree. “In PhD programs you have more of an opportunity to ‘choose your own adventure’,” Tracy explains, describing what drew her to pursue her PhD at Northeastern. “The Law and Public Policy program is very interdisciplinary. The way that the departments work together, I didn’t see that happening anywhere else.”

Tracy quickly immersed herself in research, embarking on an international dissertation examining illegal (or informal) artisan and skilled-trade work in Germany’s Handwerk sector. Along the way, her PhD studies sharpened her professional skills and augmented her research capabilities. “I was able to take Qualitative Research Methods through the School of Sociology that complemented a lot of the quantitative techniques that we learned through the Policy School,” said Tracy. “Even though I had been doing work related to policy before that, my studies gave me a lot more tools in my toolbox.”

Equipped with these experiences, Tracy combined qualitative and quantitative research methods to specifically examine how Germany’s social groups used discourse to shift power structures and resources throughout its history. “The findings show how emotions played a very strong part in shifting those power structures in Germany over the past 25 years,” Tracy concludes.

After defending her dissertation, Tracy quickly transitioned into a new position at MassINC as their Transit Oriented Development Fellow, working with cities near commuter rail lines across Massachusetts to help improve development in a transformative way. “This role is very interesting in that it is really a culmination of both my PhD experience and my past professional experience,” said Tracy. “It combines economic development, workforce development, land development, and land use along with transportation. There are environmental, social, and economic components to this project, which all came up in my doctoral work and were all a part of what I did as a professional before that.” Her involvement with research at Northeastern proved especially valuable, as Tracy joined MassINC’s research team which dives into a wide range of policy issues. “Part of this role is to understand the qualitative issues of ‘why’, so this truly mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research is very important to the role– and I think that it’s a way to shape the conversation in Massachusetts in a slightly different way than it has been done before.”

As Tracy continues her professional path in interdisciplinary policy and development work at MassINC, her PhD experience within the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs prepares her to answer deep and complex questions. Faced with a variety of policy challenges in her new role, Tracy shows nothing but enthusiasm and confidence.

“It’s very exciting,” Tracy joyfully laughs. “I’m jazzed!”

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