This interview was originally completed in September 2014.
Amanda Pallais is an Assistant Professor in the Economics Department at Harvard University and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
What got you interested in economics and labor economics in particular?
In high school I had the chance to work closely with inner-city kids and become attuned to issues of poverty. One of the best ways to reduce poverty at the micro level is to help prepare people for employment and one aspect of that is to improve educational outcomes. Economics is a great way to help accomplish this. It provides a toolkit to identify the causes of problems and to test potential solutions.
What is one current research project that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m particularly interested in why low-income students who are prepared for college do not go to college at the same rates as do higher-income students. Can reducing the cost of college induce low-income students to attend? I’m working on a project that provides scholarships to thousands of randomly selected students. We are just starting to see the results of the scholarships and they are startling; they appear to be even more effective than we hypothesized.
What is your “dream evaluation”? (It doesn’t have to be feasible!)
I want to know how technology can improve education. We have the technology to connect students with the best teachers and professors, regardless of their location. And we can provide students with opportunities such as tutoring or advanced classes unavailable to them at their own schools. Although there is a lot of speculation in this area, we really don’t know what works. The key is learning whether and how such approaches will actually help students learn more.
What has been your craziest experience implementing a research project?
As part of my dissertation, I hired about a thousand workers from around the world for short data-entry jobs. The research was focused on providing jobs for people who lacked work history to determine what effect it had on their subsequent labor-market outcomes. I was surprised by the reactions of many of those I hired. The workers were so thankful to have received their first jobs. I received hundreds of thank-you’s, invitations to join social networking sites from all around the world — and pictures of pets.