What first attracted you to IFS?
I really enjoyed the lectures given by IFS staff as part of my public economics course, and I was excited by the way the IFS seemed to be rooted in the real world, having influence on policy decisions, while also doing things with an academic rigour. Another key factor was that as I came towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I was unsure whether I wanted to enter the world of work or continue with further study in economics: the IFS offered me a unique opportunity to do both!
Which projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm working on three different projects (which is pretty typical). One is some work using TAXBEN (the IFS model of the UK tax and benefit system) to look at the effect of recent changes in social rent policy on the incomes and work incentives of social tenants. The aim of the second project is to work out which factors explain the different changes in people's incomes between middle age and retirement. Finally, I'm working on an academic paper using a model of consumption and savings over the lifecycle to estimate the impact of inheritances on consumption inequality. So a pretty varied set of things, from quite policy-orientated to more academic.
What kinds of things do you do during a typical day at work?
It really does vary a lot, largely depending on what stage the projects I'm working on are at. Towards the start of projects, my days will mainly consist of writing code in statistical software (such as Stata) to get the computer to use data to spit out interesting and important facts - this bit is much more fun than I thought it would be! Towards the end, I'm more likely to be writing parts of reports or papers, or preparing and giving presentations. One nice thing is that since projects tend to overlap, a week at work quite often involves all of the above.
What do you particularly enjoy about the job?
I love working on hard problems with smart people. Day to day, I get to use my brain to think about difficult questions - sometimes a technical econometric issue, sometimes about how best to get across our findings. And I get to do that thinking as part of a team, where often what we come up with together is much better than what any of us could have done on our own. It's also really satisfying when work I've been involved in gets the attention of the press and policy makers, because it feels like we're getting to tell loads of people about what we've found!
How has your career progressed so far at IFS?
In my first three years at the IFS I've been able to develop expertise in areas of work I'm particularly interested. On the policy side, I've been able to develop a strong understanding of the benefit system, and the determinants of living standards. Since both of these topics were an important part of the election debates, that gave me the chance to do TV and radio interviews - slightly terrifying but I was delighted to have the opportunity. On the academic side, I've worked on a paper looking at the impact of inheritances on wealth inequality, and used my MSc dissertation to look at inheritances and consumption inequality. The research agenda around intergenerational transfers is something I'm looking forward to developing over the next few years.
What have you learned from working here?
Working at the IFS teaches you a wide range of skills - from computer programming through to how to avoid looking silly in a TV interview (don't gesture with your arms). On a deeper level, I've learnt that most of the questions policy makers ask don't have easy answers - there really are a lot of insuperable tradeoffs, and it is important to quantify them precisely. Doing the UCL MSc in economics part-time alongside my work has meant I've also been able to develop my technical abilities, particularly with regard to econometrics and dynamic programming.
How would you describe the working environment?
It's really friendly and relaxed - I come into work in jeans and a T-shirt most days! The culture of helping others with their work is very strong - there's basically no one I wouldn't feel able to ask a question if I thought they could help. I also enjoy the social side of life at the IFS - the Christmas and summer parties are a real highlight.