these students are trying to develop their own research
careers and make contributions to society.
So, seeing some of them do
really well and write papers that
become influential and much
discussed, after being trained by
me and others here, is really
meaningful because you feel that
you’ve taught the students
enough so they can teach others.
That’s really what I try to focus
on: To teach others how to think
for themselves, and how to teach
that next set of students to discover new things.
And you know that’s a very difficult thing to try to teach
because it’s one thing to teach
what we already know; it’s much
harder to teach someone to find
out what we don’t know.
So, we struggle to find out how
to teach that skill.
Can you give us an example?
For example, if you are doing
research on education policy, you
say these are the papers that
have been written so far.
We know that teachers have
such and such effect and schools
have such and such effect, going
to the next step and saying these
are 10 important questions we
don’t know the answer to, then
teaching the students how to
come up with solutions, ways to solve the puzzle, I think is
the important challenge...
Often what I’ll do is to give the students exercises to work
on or have them work with me as a research assistant on a
project so that they really see how the discovery is made
rather than simply memorizing facts that were learnt.
Learning can be a two-way process.
What have you learnt from the students?
That’s exactly what I was referring to: That teachers and
students working together can discover something very
Often I find that with students, you teach them something and within a few months they’ve written a new paper
or come up with a new idea that you’re citing in your work.
So, that two-way feedback is incredibly helpful.
Many people must have told you that you look younger
Have you been mistaken for a student?
There were a number of times, while a professor, I was
mistaken for a graduate student or some other student.
You know, people did not mean any insult.
What I like really about academics is that nobody cares
about what your age is or what your position is.
It’s more about ideas, about who has the best ideas and
about ideas that are most likely to be right.
‘I am fascinated by the power
economics has to transform lives’
PHO TOGRAPHS COURTES Y: RAJ CHET T Y
Raj Chetty has repeatedly said he wants his work to help people, especially children. According to his mother he has shown this kind of caring
and compassion right from childhood.
That’s what allows you to succeed very quickly in academics, regardless of your age, as long as you have something to contribute.
Do younger professors get enough respect?
I think people tend to respect you more as you get older
and have more experience.
There are two reasons for that: People tend to respect
those who are older, but also you become a better teacher.
You know the first class I taught was definitely not as
good as the fifth class.
I think it’s natural for students to see you more as an advisor and a person they respect as you get a little bit older.
Please give us some examples of what you enjoyed in your
I think the best ideas are those that seem very obvious
after the fact that you have come up with to that point.
I think you get those type of ideas just by observing the
real world and not getting too caught up in academic literature, just focusing on what actually seems to be happening
To give you one example of the study that has a little bit
of that flavor is the paper on how unemployment insurance
affects the amount that people work.
In the past, people thought there was this very distor-tionary effect of providing unemployment benefits.
That it makes people feel the value of working is much
lower, and so they end up taking much longer to find a job
with no real purpose.
But the way I was thinking about it is that maybe the reason that when you give people higher unemployment benefits they take longer to find a job is because now they can
afford to look longer for the type of job they really like.
If you have no money and I give you a little bit of unemployment benefits, now you have enough money to put food
on the table and help the family survive while you are
And, that may make you take longer to find a job, but in
a way that’s not bad for the economy.
So it ends up changing the way you think about this
important policy, whether you want to have more unemployment insurance or not.
You have studied situations that pleases neither the political Left nor the Right.
Yes. One of my main objectives is not to be politically
biased while I’m doing research.
It’s really important to just bring scientific evidence to
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