Sandra from Germany is a Ph.D. student at the Chair of Economic Theory at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg), Germany.
Sandra’s research is on energy market design. At the intersection of energy/environmental and behavioral economics, she looks at various options for an ecologically and economically sensible implementation of the energy transition, which she evaluates with regard to their welfare benefit. In this context, she is investigating the willingness of private households to adopt sustainable technologies, the optimal design of pilot projects to support the diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies, various auction models to achieve an improved regional distribution of renewable energy plants, and the carbon literacy (or emissions knowledge) of the (German) population.
Sandra participated in the 7th Lindau Meeting on Economic Science – in advance she took the time for this interview:
What inspired you to pursue a career in science / in your discipline?
Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed scattering my interests and focus, so I knew early on that any potential field of study for me would need to be broad and varied. During secondary school, I became invested in our societal and global problems, from climate change to inequality, and it became clear to me that I wanted to help find solutions for them. Economics as a discipline offered me the possibility to combine both: it satisfies my need for a variety of topics, ranging from development economics or healthcare to trade, finance, and human behavior, while equipping me with the tools to analyse our societal systems and explore how to adapt them to our current needs and challenges.
Who are your role models?
I find new role models almost daily – from a friend showing incredible kindness to a distinguished researcher giving an inspiring presentation. Most of all, I am always inspired by people who fearlessly pursue their dreams and who follow their path without paying too much attention to what society and others think and expect of them.
How did you get to where you are in your career path?
During my bachelor’s and master’s studies in Economics at the University of Bayreuth in Germany and the University of Dundee in Scotland, I quickly noticed that doing independent research and writing theses was one of my favorite parts of being a student. In my final bachelor’s year, I started working as a teaching assistant for Introductory Economics and Macroeconomics classes and discovered my love for teaching. In parallel, I did several internships in the private sector, which always left me wishing I could go more in-depth. Close to finishing my master’s degree, I realised I still wanted to know and learn more, all of which led me to start a Ph.D. at the age of 25 at the Chair of Economic Theory at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg under the supervision of Veronika Grimm, who is an awe-inspiring powerhouse of a female economist. I had the chance to attend many conferences and be part of the Evidence-based Economics graduate program at the LMU Munich, which allowed me to meet many amazing peers and international researchers. Working with my supervisor, I also had the privilege to support her as an assistant in her position as an expert advisor on the Energy Transition for the German Federal Government, through which I gained valuable insights into the hands-on application of Economics in day-to-day politics. Now, at the time of the 7th Lindau Meeting in Economic Sciences, I am just a month away from handing in my thesis! I am excited for all the input and inspiration the conference will surely provide and can’t wait to see where my path leads me next.
What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
Being chosen to participate in and present at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Economics Sciences 2022 is definitely among the top moments of pride in my life. During research, I often feel like a very small fish in a very big sea, and I wonder if anyone beyond my immediate community is interested in my work. Moments like this make me realise that all the effort is worth it. They provide so much motivation and encourage me to keep going.
What is a “day in the life” of Sandra like?
I am a morning person and like to start my day early. I aim to sit at my computer around 8 am, check emails and then get straight to work. This can involve anything from working on data and code, reading papers, or writing up my results to preparing and giving classes in Microeconomics, supervising theses, or taking care of administrative tasks for the chair I am working at. Some days I attend research seminars in the afternoon, which is always a nice way to learn about what others are working on. I usually finish around 4 to 5 pm and go for long runs or yoga classes. My evenings and weekends are always work-free, and dedicated to spending time with my friends.
What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
If, over the course of my career, I manage to steer our society and systems even just a tiny bit towards more sustainability, equality, and inclusivity, I am more than happy!
What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
In my free time, I enjoy being active outdoors, especially running and hiking, reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, learning new languages, and most of all, meeting my friends.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
For the last 1.5 years, I have worked on a project about the carbon literacy of the German population and whether it can be improved with simple, easily scalable information interventions. Carbon literacy describes our emissions knowledge, i.e. the ability to correctly understand and manage our own carbon footprint, similar to managing our financial budget. Apart from it being a topic I am very passionate about, I was responsible for every small step along the way – from formulating the survey questions and contracting a panel to dealing with our data security officer, pre-registering the experiment, and finally, analysing the data and writing it all up. I think this way, I got to know all stages of a research project, some more and some less challenging, which made it the most exciting project to work on so far.
What advice do you have for other women interested in science / in your discipline?
Go for it! Follow your interests and passions, look for female peers so you can support and cheer each other on and most of all, trust yourself – you can do it!
In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science / in your discipline?
What I love about science is that new questions come up every day and that breakthroughs are often unexpected. We currently live in challenging times that offer many opportunities for breakthroughs in Economics. I am excited to see which are next and am especially hoping for ones to help us limit climate change.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
I am Head of Research for the Women in Economics Initiative, a non-profit association that aims to encourage equal opportunity and representation of genders in the economics profession across all sectors. Every year we publish a report on the share of women in leading positions in academia, the public, and the private sector, and, despite increasing awareness, Economics still remains a vastly male-dominated field.
I think to tackle this, action is required in many places:
- the work and achievements of female economists should be highlighted by having more female scientists in panel discussions, invited talks, and mentioned in standard Economics textbooks (which so far only feature male economists) to encourage young girls to dare major in economics.
- Workplaces need to be more inclusive, not only in terms of contract duration but also in terms of flexible working arrangements to accommodate researchers with children.
- Lastly, our culture has to change as long as there is still such a thing as a “child penalty” because female scientists don’t publish as many papers as their male peers when they decide to take time off to have children, young female scientists will continue to drop out of academia because they feel like they cannot compete, but don’t want to compromise on having a family.