Tiger Gao ’21
Courtesy Tiger Gao

When Tiger Gao ’21 isn’t studying — he’s an economics concentrator pursuing three certificates — you might find him in the University’s Broadcast Center. That’s because the full-time student has a pretty big side-gig: hosting Policy Punchline. He founded the podcast last year with support from the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance. Now, the Policy Punchline team has published a book of excerpts from the podcast, and a spring break “Policy Punchline” breakout trip is in the works. “We’re not doing this to get clicks,” Gao says. “We try to act as a think tank where many different forms of projects can be done under the big umbrella of Policy Punchline.”  

Taking advantage

“There are so many people that come to this campus but nobody goes to talk to them. Nobody really has those conversations with them. From the perspective of the student, that’s, like, a really huge waste of resources. So the idea first came about as, ‘Why isn’t anybody talking to them?’ If I send them a quick email asking them whether they want to talk to me, would they be willing to do so? These are not usually people that go out there to do interviews or media, so I feel like we do tend to find hidden gems. 


Three more podcasts to check out this month

1. Nobel Prize-winning economist and Princeton professor emeritus ANGUS DEATON discusses his career path on Nobel Prize Conversations.

2. RealClearPolitics co-founder TOM BEVAN ’91 dissects the Democratic presidential primaries in an interview on the Fox News Rundown.

3. George Washington University professor ANNAMARIA LUSARDI *92 explains the value of financial literacy on Morningstar’s The Long View.

“For us, it’s not really about whether you’re famous, it’s not your title that matters — it’s the work you do. It has to have some kind of component that pushes the dialogue forward, pushes the boundary of our knowledge forward. Something I really look for is that you’re doing something that has a much greater impact than what people initially realize. And if I can help push the people’s understanding a little bit further to realize how important those frontier ideas are, and generalize them to the application of policy, I think that would be a very meaningful thing to do.”

Asking questions

“We really try to bring different ideas together and let them clash a little bit. As students, we’re very well-positioned to ask questions — genuine questions, hardball questions, but also questions that I think are very much relevant to the current discourse. I don’t think we’re just there to [say], ‘Oh let’s just ask them wishy washy questions for 10 minutes and they’ll give a generic interview.’ We actually try to get the deep parts of the conversations and challenge our guests.

“I want all my guests to walk away from the conversation feeling that they’re valued and they’re respected. I think it’s really hard because when we’re asking tougher questions, when we’re playing devil’s advocate, sometimes people will be turned off by it. How do you mitigate that tension? I think that’s probably the hardest part when it comes to actually interviewing guests, and I think I still struggle a lot with it.” 

‘Policy,’ broadly defined

“My friends sometimes make fun of me, saying it’s a phony name because the people we interview actually come from such a wide range of backgrounds. We are under Princeton’s Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance, so it was natural for me to think policy is something that encompasses all kinds of ideas and mediums. It could be econ policy, diplomacy, social policy, anything that’s kind of in our world today, any academic conversations that are happening – if it’s not theoretical then it has some policy implications. Anything can be somewhat tied into policy, so I think that allows for a very great diversity. But to be honest, I think right now, the podcast has evolved into something much greater than policy.” 

A nonpartisan approach

“We’re not partisan because I think that skews the dialogue. We don’t ever go into a conversation with a preconceived notion about the message that we spread. When we do the research, we’re going to play devil’s advocate for all kinds of questions. I don’t ever want a listener listening to my podcast to feel like I’m sending a certain message. I hope they arrive at an objective observation or conclusion based on objective facts.” 

Student podcasters

“The hardest part is the organization within students: how to actually put together a research team, how to actually produce the most accurate information, and how to bring people — different minds and ideas — together. That’s arguably even harder than reaching out to guests. The first year when I started it, there was a big Tiger stamp on it because we had a small team. The interviews this year, we’re seeing a new generation of students doing a lot of research on the team, getting on the show to co-host the show with me.”

What’s the punchline? 

“As Princeton students, it’s easy for us to develop a naïveté about the scope and scale of the urgent problems our society is facing. Such disengagement could limit us into rather linear thinking in the purpose of our lives and careers. But if we learn from more frontier ideas and thinkers, we can cultivate a stronger sense of social responsibility, tackle a more diverse range of problems, and flourish in a more fulfilling and purposeful life. That’s the ultimate punchline I hope Policy Punchline can exemplify.”