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Levi Boxell, PhD student

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This story is part of the Why Econ? series. Our affiliated students and faculty share why econ matters to them, their work and our world.

Why Econ: Levi Boxell, PhD student

Levi Boxell grew up wanting to be an engineer or a computer scientist. But his career path took a turn toward economics during his senior year in high school when perspectives of poverty and the role of economics research began to swirl together.

His father started a new fundraising job working at a community center in a low-income area of Indianapolis. Around the same time, Boxell was in a required economics class and landed an internship at a think tank to do research on international development issues.

A new interest in finding solutions to poverty set in and led Boxell to major in development economics and math at Taylor University.

“Economics gives you a set of tools to think about and understand the world,” he says. “And a lot of the Econ 101 topics — such as thinking on the margin, ignoring sunk costs, and diminishing returns — I find useful for thinking about decisions outside the academic realm in day-to-day life.”

Now, as an econ PhD student at Stanford, Boxell says — without a doubt — that economics suits him. He’s a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He was among the first predoctoral fellows at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). And he was awarded the McKinnon Memorial Fellowship by the Stanford King Center on Global Development.

“I find working with data easier than working with people, so that matches my personality, I guess,” he says. But more importantly, Boxell appreciates how tying empirical economic analysis to answering important questions provides an approach to solving some big problems.

“A lot of it has to do with choosing the right questions, then presenting the results in a manner that’s easily understood by people who might not have training in economics,” he says.

Crunching through mounds of data as a SIEPR predoc — which led to co-authorship of two widely cited papers on America’s growing political polarization — further fanned his passion for studying political economy.

His current research focus is on the interplay between conflict, information technology, polarization and development economics.

“It’s exciting to see how research can kind of shape the public discussion on these topics,” he says.

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