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“He’s just a normal dude”: SIEPR colleagues celebrate Nobel winner Guido Imbens

SIEPR Senior Fellow Guido Imbens gets a round of congratulatory greetings from Stanford colleagues for his Nobel win.
Guido Imbens
SIEPR Senior Fellow Guido Imbens gets congratulatory greetings from Stanford colleagues for winning the Nobel Prize for his econometric contributions in studying causal relationships. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Neale Mahoney woke up just before dawn Monday to a barrage of WhatsApp messages from his road biking group. Most of its members are faculty affiliates at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), and they were just learning that one of their own — Guido Imbens — had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

In a rush of adrenaline, Mahoney told his wife, Alessandra Voena. Both are economics professors at Stanford and credit Imbens for his role in their joining Stanford faculty last year. “For great things to happen to great people just makes you glow,” says Mahoney, who is also the George P. Shultz Fellow at SIEPR.

This and other heartwarming sentiments reverberated across the SIEPR community in the hours after Imbens, a SIEPR senior fellow and professor in the Graduate School of Business, and two other economists were announced as the 2021 recipients of what is officially known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences. Imbens and Joshua Angrist, a labor economist at MIT, were recognized for developing new ways of showing causation in real-life situations. They shared the prize with David Card of the University of California, Berkeley. 

Imbens’ recognition comes one year after Paul Milgrom, a SIEPR senior fellow, was honored with the Nobel in economics along with Robert Wilson, professor emeritus at the GSB. Alvin Roth, also a SIEPR senior fellow and a Stanford economics professor, won the prize in 2012.

On Monday morning, Liran Einav also awoke to the text messages from the SIEPR-dominated biking group that he joined early in the pandemic. Einav has been good friends with Imbens and his wife, Susan Athey — also a SIEPR senior fellow and GSB professor — for about 15 years.

“He’s just a normal dude with a lot of humility who is always trying to help, which translates to his work,” says Einav, the Tad and Dianne Taube Healthcare Fellow at SIEPR and a Stanford professor of economics.

In the early hours after learning of his Nobel, Imbens replied to the congratulatory notes from Einav and his fellow bikers.

“Then I think he got too busy,” jokes Einav.

Here are more reflections on Imbens and his contributions to economics from the SIEPR community.

Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of SIEPR and Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics:

“Congratulations to my brilliant and inspirational colleague Guido Imbens on today's incredibly well-deserved recognition of the Nobel Prize. I consider myself to be so fortunate to have him as a colleague, friend, and periodic biking partner!

You will see much written about the path-breaking and influential research that Guido has done over the years today and in the days ahead. But most prominent in my mind about Guido is how supportive he was to me as a prospective graduate student more than 27 years ago as I considered whether to pursue an economics PhD despite my anxieties about having very little economics training then.

He personifies greatness as a researcher and human being who inspires his students, colleagues, and co-authors every day. Congratulations also to Joshua Angrist and David Card for their very well-deserved receipt of the Economics Nobel this year too for their extremely important research contributions over the years as well!”

Susan Athey, the Economics of Technology Professor at the GSB:

“I couldn’t be more thrilled that Guido’s work has been recognized in this way and it’s especially exciting that he’s recognized together with Josh and David. Josh was best man at our wedding and we have been friends for a long time. It’s amazing.”

Paul Milgrom, 2020 Nobel Laureate, SIEPR senior fellow and the Shirley R. and Leonard W. Ely Jr. Professor of Humanities and Sciences:

"Guido is one of the most obvious and greatest choices for a Nobel. His work has been really fundamental to empirical economics. I’ve known Guido for a long time and Susan, his wife, was a PhD student of mine. I’m really pleased to be associated with him in yet another way and would say to him: ‘You’ll be amazed at how big the impact [of winning a Nobel] is.”

Heidi Williams, SIEPR senior fellow and the Charles R. Schwab Professor of Economics:

“Guido’s contribution to economics is not just the incredible importance of his research; he is also a masterful teacher. He’s extremely approachable and has infinite amounts of patience for explaining things to people without coming across as more technical than is needed. My office is next door to his and he is the person I go to for advice on everything from how to do my econometrics to what things to do with my kids on weekends. He’s just an incredible human being who just makes everyone around him more productive and happier.”

Ran Abramitzky, SIEPR senior fellow and Senior Associate Dean of the Social Sciences at the School of Humanities and Sciences:

“Guido’s research has revolutionized empirical economics. The rigorous methods he and Josh Angrist developed have become the gold standard in isolating causal relationships from observational studies in economics and other social sciences, and they have informed better decisions in policy making and business. Congratulations to a brilliant and humble colleague.”

Neale Mahoney:

“He authentically and really deeply cares about the problems that applied researchers like me are working on. He’s always knocking on doors, asking people to get a coffee, and inviting us to talk about our research problems. A couple of weeks ago, after I was struggling with a research problem for three months, he described exactly what I needed to do to get to the root of the issue. He’s remarkably insightful.”

Liran Einav:

“He’s just a normal dude with a lot of humility who is always trying to help, which translates to his work. He doesn’t come across as ‘I know all the answers so let me teach everybody what I know.’ He’s much more responsive to what other people are trying to do, as opposed to ‘Here’s what I think are the important problems in the world,’ which you don’t see that often among people of his caliber.”

Thomas Dee, SIEPR senior fellow and professor at the GSE:

“The methodological tools that Guido Imbens and his fellow Nobel laureates developed have given researchers powerful and credible new ways to understand the causal pathways that shape the world in which we live and that guide us to the world we want to create. Our recent study on the longer-run causal effects of courses on ethnics studies drew directly on methodological insights Guido and his co-Nobelists helped to refine.”

Alvin Roth, 2012 Nobel Laureate, SIEPR senior fellow and the Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics:

“I am in awe of what Guido’s accomplished and of how he’s provided economists with such powerful tools.”