Microeconomists Take a TEAM Approach to Advancing Scholarship

February 19, 2021

Working group facilitates intellectual exchange and community support, across and beyond Duke

Top row: Tong Guo (Duke), Matthew Johnson (Duke), Andrew Greenland (Elon); middle: Luca Maini (UNC), Ines Black (Duke), Omer Ali (Duke); bottom: Paige Weber (UNC), Sarah Komisarow (Duke), Leah Lakdawala (Wake Forest)
Several members of the Triangle Economists in Applied Microeconomics (TEAM) Working Group took part in a meeting on February 2. Top row: Tong Guo (Duke), Matthew Johnson (Duke), Andrew Greenland (Elon); middle: Luca Maini (UNC), Ines Black (Duke), Omer Ali (Duke); bottom: Paige Weber (UNC), Sarah Komisarow (Duke), Leah Lakdawala (Wake Forest)

How do people make decisions in the face of constraints? Duke University assistant professors Sarah Komisarow, Ines Black and Matthew Johnson are applied microeconomists who approach this question from different angles.

“We’re using real-world data about how individuals make any number of decisions in their lives,” Komisarow explained, “and we’re trying to understand the causal impacts of those decisions. How do my individual decisions affect my long-run outcomes in a very specific way?”

Sarah Komisarow
Sarah Komisarow 

As junior faculty members, the three scholars sought a way to focus on advancing their research and preparing for tenure while building community across schools and departments.

“The cool thing about applied microeconomics is that it’s all over the place,” said Johnson, who is based in the Sanford School of Public Policy. Komisarow has appointments in Sanford and the Department of Economics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Black is at the Fuqua School of Business.

They knew that getting candid feedback on their work in progress would be helpful, but they weren’t sure how to proceed.

Particularly for junior people, it’s not always easy to get feedback in a low stakes setting,” said Komisarow. “A lot of presenting and other opportunities to get feedback are actually [times when] you feel quite judged. Many [colleagues] will be voting on your tenure eventually, so there’s this feeling of only wanting to present something that’s super polished.” Johnson added, “And this is especially true for economists, as our discipline has a been of a reputation for being ruthless in seminar environments.”

Matthew Johnson
Matthew Johnson

Supported by a Duke Faculty Advancement Seed Grant, Komisarow, Johnson and Black launched the Triangle Economists in Applied Microeconomics (TEAM) Working Group. Joining the group were pre-tenure faculty and postdocs in Sanford, Fuqua, Trinity and the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, as well as faculty from UNC–Chapel Hill, Elon University and Wake Forest University.

“We have had monthly seminars and a writing retreat in the summer over two days,” Johnson said. Due to the pandemic, gatherings have been virtual. “There are typically between eight and ten people at each meeting,” he noted, “where people can sign up to present their work. It’s a very low stakes environment for constructive feedback, which all of us are very hungry for.”

Ines Black
Ines Black

Informed by a survey of members, Komisarow and Johnson organized additional activities. “There was some demand for more writing and community opportunities,” Komisarow said, “so we’re doing that weekly now as a meetup on Zoom. It serves as a way of keeping some space on your calendar to move a research project forward. We check in for ten minutes,” she explained, “then everyone signs off of Zoom and works on whatever they said they’re going to work on. Then we come back and debrief quickly.”

“We’ve also begun a virtual writing workshop with someone who helps with research writing specifically for economists,” Johnson added. The group chose a professional coach who calls herself Econscribe. “So far, it’s proving to be immensely valuable for our writing and also our community-building.”

“Having an actual group of people who are in the same position that you are and will try to help you make your research or paper better is just super valuable,” said Komisarow. “We’re really lucky to have a large number of people in this subfield who feel the same way – that it’s important for their own development but also to be part of a community, helping others advance their careers. I feel like I get a ton out of it.”

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