After your graduation from CERGE-EI in 2016 you got the Post-doctoral Max Weber Fellow in Economics position at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where you spent two years. Can you tell us more about your experience there?
I enjoyed the time I spent at the EUI. First of all, it was two years of almost exclusive research time, which made it a smooth transition from a PhD into a hard-core academic job. Secondly, EUI is a superb place academically, with great faculty members, regular research seminars and enthusiastic students and postdocs. It was also a good place to transition to in terms of social life. Every move is hard, as it disrupts social life. What made the move to the EUI easier is the fact that the Max Weber post-doctoral programme is a big one bringing in many new people every year, almost forcing you to create a social life for each other. Last but not least, how can one forget an after-lunch espresso on a hill overlooking Florence, and I had many of those.
Since 2018 you have held an Assistant Professor in Economics position at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Why did you decide for Kazakhstan?
At a conference, around two years before moving here, I met one of my current colleagues and learned about NU. That is why, when towards the end of my post-doc I was applying for jobs and saw an ad from here, I did not hesitate to apply. After the job market I had a very limited range of options, and NU was the best of them. It was established in 2010, so it is a really new developing place aiming to become a university worthy of its name in a region where there is no tradition of research universities. It makes it a very interesting (albeit, I must admit, sometimes frustrating) place to be, where you can contribute directly to how things will develop for years to come.
What are the main topics you focus on in your research and teaching?
During my PhD and shortly after I mostly worked on theoretical models of market imperfections of different kinds (imperfect competition and search costs), and most of the models I worked on had a spatial aspect to them. This resulted in me teaching courses that focus on the fact that the world has a geography (both physical and political) — International Trade and Urban Economics. However, my research interests have shifted significantly in the last few years, and I am now more interested in testing economic theories with laboratory experiments. I ran my first experiment about a year ago, and I have plans for more. Now, I am also working on making it possible to run lab experiments at NU, which relates to my earlier point of this university being a fast-changing place.
That sounds interesting. How does such a change in research interest occur? And what are/will your lab experiments be about?
That’s a tricky one. It does not happen overnight, and looking back it is not easy for me to pinpoint any specific moments. I have been following a reasonable amount of the theoretical literature on the role of information structures but never quite got to working on it. It taught me that one way to think about economic activity is as of a large coordination problem: simplifying greatly, downturns happen because a large enough number of people believe they might, and act accordingly causing the downturn itself. One of the bigger questions then, where these beliefs about a potential downturn come from, i.e. what information people have and how they use it. My current experiment, jointly with Alexandros Rigos from Lund University, is in a way about that. It came about from a combination of one theoretical paper that deals with these questions and our discussion on the information in experiments. Basically, what we do is to impose different information structures on the experiment participants and see how it affects behaviour in a coordination problem. We are now finishing the write up, and by the end of July we should have a working paper. I enjoyed working on this experiment, and from reading the experimental literature when working on it, I had a couple of more ideas for further experiments. I will not go into details, since none of it is actually done, but all of them are about different aspects of information in strategic decision making.
Why did you decide for a career in academia?
I guess the most genuine answer is that I didn’t know any better. I enjoyed doing my PhD, and afterwards got one job, and then another. I like learning new things, I like doing research and even the teaching is bearable most of the time. I enjoy planning my time, and the ability to switch from one topic to another when I feel it is time. Probably most of all, I enjoy communicating and conversing with smart people and a job in academia provides ample opportunities for that. Being true to my training, I should admit that I do not have a counterfactual and cannot really say if I would be happier pursuing some other type of career, but so far I am not inclined to try that out.
What are your next professional plans?
Well, there will be no miracles here. I want my earlier projects that I consider finished to get published (they’re never really finished until they’re published). I want to have an experimental lab at NU up and running — and that is going to take quite some time. And I want to run experiments that I find interesting.