September 21, 2015
New director of Stanford economic institution puts focus on research, students and policy
Stanford economist Mark Duggan this month took the reins of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research as its new director. He aims to get students even more involved with faculty research, and plans to further expand efforts at communicating SIEPR scholarship to policymakers.
By Clifton B. Parker
Economist Mark Duggan began work this month as the new director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. (Photo: Steve Castillo)
The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research will expand efforts to educate and energize people about the nation's most challenging issues as it enters a new leadership era.
That is the vision of Stanford economist Mark Duggan, who began work this month as the new Trione Director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). He succeeds outgoing director John Shoven, who led the organization for 16 productive years. A nonpartisan economic research institution, SIEPR was founded in 1982 as a way to bring together economic scholars from different parts of the university.
"I'll work hard to build on the great work by my predecessor John Shoven and the entire SIEPR staff in supporting research here at Stanford that is focused on important economic policy issues," said Duggan, who researches the effects of large-scale government programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the behavior of individuals and firms. He is the Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics at Stanford.
Students, faculty brainpower
Duggan noted that SIEPR scholars – whom he describes as "outstanding" – are doing research on high-profile issues that affect every citizen: energy and environmental policy, inequality, economic development, tax policy, health care, monetary policy, education, antitrust, productivity, trade policy, financial regulation, market design and innovation.
He plans to augment opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to work with such faculty. For undergrads, he suggests they could undertake economic research with one or more faculty members during the school year or full time during the summer or after graduation.
"This research experience can be incredibly valuable to students interested in pursuing graduate studies in economics, public policy, data science and related areas in the future," he said.
This past summer, he worked with several undergraduate and graduate students on research projects examining the effects of the Affordable Care Act in California, the efficiency of procurement by the U.S. Department of Defense and the effects of federal disability programs on the labor market.
"I'm eager to expand those sorts of research opportunities for students with an interest in economic policy," Duggan said.
Policy issues and research
Those who hired Duggan to lead SIEPR may have been most impressed with his dedication to student and faculty collaborations and the way he connected research to the policymaking arena.
Gregory Rosston, the deputy director of SIEPR, said, "Mark rose quickly to the top of the list of SIEPR director candidates because of the combination of his applied policy-focused scholarship, his governmental experience and his proven track record in academic administration."
Duggan honed his talent and tools at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he was a faculty director for a similar initiative. He arrived at Stanford in 2014 after three years at Wharton, where he was also the chair of the Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
"At Wharton, I had worked closely with colleagues and students to distill and disseminate the policy-oriented research that was happening at Wharton and elsewhere at UPenn," he said.
Duggan and his students joined faculty research projects across Wharton and hosted events on campus and in Washington, D.C., on topics such as federal housing policy, health care reform, the regulation of fracking and corporate tax policy.
"These experiences were incredibly rewarding for students and injected great energy into all that we did. Partly because of that experience, I am eager to expand SIEPR's already deep connections with current students," he said.
With this in mind, Duggan aims to expand on the Shoven era – and certainly, the time is ripe for big-picture economic thinking.
"With a presidential election only 14 months away, I think it will be an exciting time for SIEPR to educate and energize many in the Stanford community and beyond about some of our nation's most challenging issues," he said.
He expects to expand SIEPR's efforts to distribute research to the front lines of policymaking, business and the media – from California to Washington to around the world.
"I know from my own experiences working in policy that the best and most relevant evidence does not always bubble up when it should. But I also know that high-quality research can have a significant impact and that most of us doing research on economic policy find it deeply rewarding when that research 'makes a difference,'" Duggan said.
His biggest challenge, he acknowledges, will be figuring out how to allocate his time across SIEPR and his own research, teaching and student advising – and all the responsibilities that come with being a Stanford professor. He seeks to make deep inroads among faculty, students, staff, supporters and others across campus so SIEPR can continually improve.
From engineering to economics
Duggan began his academic career in electrical engineering; he graduated with a bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. But in the first year of a doctoral program in engineering at MIT, he sat in on an economics course and fell in love with it.
"It resonated with me in a way that no previous course ever had," he said. The professor of that course involved Duggan in a research project on how childhood exposure to poverty affected the future educational accomplishments of such children.
"This experience was a game-changer for me, as it opened my eyes to the possibility of using cutting-edge quantitative tools to shed light on important social problems," said Duggan, who changed course and entered Harvard to study economics in a doctoral program.
"While I loved my several years of electrical engineering training – and actually met my wife when we were undergraduates in a computer lab at MIT – I know that I have found my calling pursuing research on and teaching about economic policy," he said.
Duggan and his wife have two children and live on campus. They are enjoying the Bay Area, he says. They like to attend Stanford sporting events – football, track and water polo, among others.
"And my 7-year-old daughter and I are counting the days until the start of our women's basketball season," he said.
Duggan does not back away from a challenge.
"My favorite hobby is running, and it's been a fun – and humbling – experience to run the Dish as often as I can," he said.