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Nicholas Scott-Hearn

Nicholas Scott-Hearn is entering his second year as a pre-doc at Chicago Booth. We connected with him to talk about Booth, his undergrad experiences, and the surprising nature of Accounting research.

Nicholas Scott-Hearn

Name: Jamie Gracie

Undergraduate institution: Amherst College

Undergraduate major: Economics and Spanish

Research interests: Labor Economics, Public Economics, Economics of Education

What in your undergraduate career was the most useful preparation for a pre-doc role? I spent 3 years working as an RA for Caroline Theoharides at Amherst, which is what got me excited about research and the idea of going to graduate school in the first place. So I think that was the most influential experience for me and really helped develop technical skills, like working with Stata, that were super helpful in my pre-doc experience. I think also writing a senior thesis was very useful in terms of seeing a project through from start to finish, so that I had at least some familiarity with each of the steps in the research process and some context for what I would be doing as a pre-doc.

Pre-doc institution: Opportunity Insights at Harvard University

Faculty supervisors: Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Nathan Hendren

What did a typical day in the office look like for you? For most of my two years as a pre-doc, I was based in Washington D.C. at the headquarters of the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of my time was spent working with the great administrative data housed there, including anonymized tax and census records. In addition to working on the research with the rest of the Opportunity Insights team at Harvard, the team I was on also spent time working with our Census collaborators and learning about the process of working with government statistical agencies, which I think was a valuable learning experience.  

Gracie, Jamie

I think working as a pre-doc can be a good chance to explore new areas of economics that you might find interesting.

— Jamie Gracie

What did you go on to do following your pre-doc experience? After two years of working as a pre-doc, I began my PhD in economics at Harvard. 

How did your pre-doc experience help advance your research? The skills I learned as a pre-doc have been incredibly helpful. In terms of technical skills, I got a lot of experience during my time at OI working with "big data," which has been super useful in other projects I'm doing. I think that experience has made me a better coder and helped me learn tips and tricks to work efficiently with datasets that take a long time to analyze and where there are big time costs to having mistakes and needing to run things many times. I think the other key area for me was working on a team, which was a big part of my experience at OI. I think research is more fun when it's collaborative and that's something I'll take with me going forward.

What advice do you have for anyone currently applying to pre-doc positions? I think working as a pre-doc can be a good chance to explore new areas of economics that you might find interesting. The projects I worked on at OI were not super related to things I had already been exposed to during my undergrad and I think it helped to open my eyes up to many different questions and methodologies that I now find very interesting. 

What advice do you have for current pre-docs? I think the one piece of advice I would give is to ask lots of questions and really try to learn as much as possible, which maybe sounds obvious but I think can require some conscious effort. I think sometimes I didn't ask questions when I didn't fully understand something because I wanted to seem like I knew exactly what I was doing, which I think is pretty natural. But the times that I asked questions and tried to dive in as much as possible were the moments that I learned the most. And I felt like every time I did ask, the person I was asking, whether it was a PI or a fellow pre-doc or someone else, was always happy to explain more and teach me more about whatever we were working on. Those conversations are the ones I think back on most years later, so ask away! The other thing I would say is that if you can, I found it very helpful to work on parts of different projects that were in different stages of the research process. So I worked on revisions to an existing paper for a resubmission to a journal, as well as starting a brand new RCT, and seeing a project through from start to finish at the Census and seeing the results presented to a broader audience and I think each of those experiences was super valuable.

What’s next for you? Now that I'm wrapping up my first two years of classes, I'm looking forward to diving more into research and focusing on that. 

When you’re not researching, what are you doing? I grew up in Southern California so I spend most of my time complaining about how cold it is in Massachusetts and trying to get people to go to the beach with me.