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Young Scholars: Primed and ready for launch

May 27 2021

Carolyn Stein, who will be a SIEPR postdoctal fellow during 2021-22, presents her research during the annual Postdoctoral Fellows Conference, which was held virtually this year.

The slate of four researchers sought answers to starkly different questions: Why do people tip when they don’t have to, and do they pay more when given a choice of percentage amounts? In the academic race to publish first, does research quality suffer? Are men who lose access to mental health services more likely to commit a crime? And why does volunteerism in national parks increase when federal park funding goes up?

The broad range of research was highlighted at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) last week during its annual Postdoctoral Fellows Conference. The event featured the work of two current and two incoming postdoctoral fellows and is a hallmark of SIEPR’s Young Scholars Program, which supports up-and-coming economists pursuing research on policy-relevant topics.

In what will become a familiar drill during their economic careers, the postdoctoral fellows presented their research and received feedback from colleagues. Members of the Stanford economics community and SIEPR’s cadre of scholars, as well as a growing group of program alumni who are now at leading universities and research organizations around the world, participated in the conference.

Launched 14 years ago, the Young Scholars Program also supports early-career economists — junior faculty from top universities who spend a year or two at SIEPR as visiting fellows. They, like the postdoctoral fellows, have the opportunity to spend time away from teaching to focus on and bolster their research.

“Our Young Scholars Program plays a critical role in fulfilling SIEPR’s goal of catalyzing research while also doing our part to advance the next generation of economic policy scholars,” says Gopi Shah Goda, who is SIEPR’s deputy director and leads the program. “In their interactions with the Stanford community, Young Scholars forge lasting connections.”

Heidi Williams, a SIEPR senior fellow, told conference participants that her two stints as a junior visiting professor at SIEPR before joining Stanford faculty in 2019 had a big impact on her research and professional development. She singled out SIEPR’s focus on promoting interdisciplinary interactions with scholars from across the university.

“It was very energizing to get to spend time learning from a group of young people that are doing really exciting work outside of your field,” said Williams, the Charles R. Schwab Professor of Economics.

This year, COVID-19 altered the program slightly. Because of pandemic restrictions, the Visiting Fellows program was put on hiatus for one year, but is planning to welcome a new cohort of junior faculty in coming months. And while postdoctoral fellows worked remotely, they had many opportunities to meet and collaborate with SIEPR faculty and other university researchers. The postdoc conference, which took place virtually, was just one example of how the researchers were able to capitalize on their experience at SIEPR.

The postdoctoral fellows who presented are:

  • Kwabena Donkor, a 2020 PhD in agriculture and resource economics from UC Berkeley who will soon join Stanford’s Graduate School of Business as an assistant professor. Donkor’s research looks at firm pricing strategies, consumer decision making, the Affordable Care Act, and labor supply. During his SIEPR fellowship, he studied how social norms influence how much New York City taxicab passengers tip drivers and what happens when given a pop-up menu suggesting specific amounts.
  • Katherine Wagner, a 2020 PhD in economics from Yale who will soon join UC Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics as an assistant professor. Wagner focuses her research on environmental and energy economics and public finance. While at SIEPR, she co-authored a study that analyzed data on volunteer rates and changes in National Parks funding to shed new light on the interplay between government and private volunteerism.

The incoming postdoctoral fellows for the 2021-22 academic year who presented are:

  • Elisa Jácome, a 2021 PhD in economics from Princeton who will join Northwestern as an assistant professor after her SIEPR fellowship. Jácome’s research centers on labor and public economics and questions related to criminal justice, immigration and economic mobility. At the conference, she presented her paper that shows how young adult males with mental health issues are more likely to commit crimes after losing access to state-sponsored health insurance.
  • Carolyn Stein, a 2021 PhD in economics from MIT who will become an assistant professor at UC Berkeley next year. Stein, who studies labor economics, innovation and the economics of science, presented her joint doctoral work showing that the race to be the first to publish research insights can lead to lower quality research.

Looking ahead, SIEPR will welcome four visiting fellows in 2021-22. They are:

  • Ajin Lee, an assistant professor of economics at Michigan State University
  • Danial Lashkari, an assistant professor of economics and international studies at Boston College
  • Ralph Luetticke, an assistant professor of economics at University College London
  • Samuel Norris, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

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