On Monday, March 15, women in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics met virtually for the annual Econ Women’s Luncheon. Over 40 PhD students, alumna, postdoctoral researchers, faculty members, and other academic personnel attended the event which took place during Women’s History Month.  

The event, hosted on Zoom and moderated by Assistant Professor Manasi Deshpande, featured breakout room sessions led by female faculty members. Session topics included: The Private Sector, Academic Job Market, Classes to Research, Collaboration, Inside Out, Teaching, and Work/Family/Mental Health.

Deshpande’s hope through the event was to provide resources for “women in economics to develop networks through which they can exchange professional development advice and support for their research and well-being.” She explained that networks for women in economics tend to be denser, with fewer connections than networks for men in economics.

The Private Sector – Led by Elisa Olivieri and Michele Carter

This session, led by Elisa Olivieri, Senior Manager at Cornerstone Research Firm, and Michele Carter, Associate at Cornerstone Research Firm, examined the key differences between a career in the private sector and a career in academia. Olivieri explained that one of the primary differences is that academia is more of a “solitary endeavor motivated by one’s own agenda,” while a career in the private sector consists largely of delivering resources to clients in a team-based structure. They stressed the importance of professional development for those hoping to pursue a career in the private sector and encouraged focusing on honing leadership skills, as well as understanding the differences in gender experiences as they relate to work culture.

Teaching – Led by Gina Pieters

Assistant Instructional Professor Gina Pieters led a session on Teaching— a relevant topic for any economist hoping to pursue a career in academia. She spoke about the academic job market and the differences between teaching at Liberal Arts institutions, versus research institutions according to her own experiences. For example, in reference to her experience at the University of Chicago, she stated, “If you’re coming to UChicago, it’s 99 percent research, and one percent teaching. At other institutions, it’s 60 percent teaching, 40 percent research. You must hit the ground running in Liberal Arts.” Pieters also mentioned the importance of longevity in teaching positions, and of understanding the functional and instructional differences among universities.

Academic Job Market – Led by Christina Brown and Claudia Allende

Christina Brown, recently hired Assistant Professor, co-led the Academic Job Market session and walked attendees through tailoring their applications to the positions they hoped to secure. Claudia Allende, Saieh Family Fellow in Economics at the Becker Friedman Institute, also co-led the session and said of the process of applying in the academic job market, “It’s a tough experience and very tiring, but can be very positive. It’s important to have a good relationship with advisors and friends… It’s a process you only go through one or two times in your life. You are a better economist after you go through the job market.”

Classes to Research – Led by Nancy Stokey, Neele Balke, and Julie Pernaudet

Nancy Stokey, The Frederick Henry Prince Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, co-led the Classes to Research session. She mentioned the importance of exploring and choosing research topics saying, “Talk to a lot of people: Talk to your peers, talk to your faculty. You can’t start too early to think of research topics you would want to investigate. Pick something that’s really interesting to you.” Senior Research Associate, Neele Balke, reminded attendees that coursework can lay a foundation for understanding, but “doing coursework is different than going out by yourself and doing research.”

Collaboration  - Led by Juanna Joensen and Susanne Neckermann

Senior Research Associate, Juanna Joensen, co-led sessions focused on collaboration and shared, “Collaborations are so incredibly important, because they can have an immense impact on your academic career and on your quality of life more generally.  A productive collaboration will improve your research by fostering and sharpening your ideas. On the other hand, the most unproductive collaborations can have serious negative consequences for your career trajectory and your quality of life… most of the important ingredients of productive collaborations are the same as those of successful relationships in life.” More specific to women in economics, Joensen noted,

“Most, if not all, information we discussed during our sessions today is equally useful for men and women. However, it is probably not as readily available to women as they are a minority in the economics profession and their academic networks may be more sparse. Networks are extremely important in the economics profession, and unfortunately tend to be quite gendered. Therefore, it is especially important that junior women can start forming networks such that they get easier access to collaborations and useful information more generally.

Inside Out – Led by Manasi Deshpande and Alessandra González

Deshpande also led the session “Inside, Out” and discussed the paper writing and publication process which can be “long, arduous, and mysterious, especially for new researchers.” She shared, “I wanted to help demystify the process and give students the tools they need to navigate it.”

She also mentioned the importance of sharing reference reports with those who are more experienced, “Make sure you’re getting as much advice as you can as you’re making decisions,” Deshpande explained.

Work/Family/Mental Health – Led by Susanne Neckermann and Alessandra González

In addition to co-leading the session on collaboration, Senior Research Associate, Susanne Neckermann, also co-led and initiated a session on mental health. She explained, “I think it is important to discuss these matters, give room for students to voice their mental health concerns and validate the legitimacy of those concerns as well as offer resources. I think this is important always during graduate school but, in particular, now during COVID.” Neckermann also reinforced the importance of the event as a whole, “Women are still under-represented in the profession. I think this brings with it some insecurities that individuals might not feel comfortable voicing outside of a protected environment. I feel like a women’s lunch can help with creating an atmosphere of trust and support.”

Alessandra González, Senior Research Associate in the department, mentioned the importance of mental health in the field, “You can’t underestimate that this [the Ph.D. program] needs emotional work on the side.” She shared her experience as the first female graduate of her Ph.D. program due to the many women before her who dropped out of the program. To women at the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, González encouraged: “We want you to succeed.”

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