Making a splash in health care economics
Heidi Williams builds all-new data sets to answer questions about innovation and biomedical research.
“MIT is wonderful because in addition to [finding] an amazing home in economics, I can talk with and learn from a lot of people on the science side.”
—Heidi Williams, Class of 1957 Career Development Associate Professor in Economics
When Heidi Williams was in the fifth grade, she wanted to become an industrial organizational psychologist. That could have been an interesting career. Later, when Williams was in college, she wanted to become a cryptologist, and even completed an internship at the National Security Agency. That also could have been an interesting career. But Williams did not stick with either one.
“You have to be honest with yourself about what you’re most excited about,” says Williams. “As a researcher, you want to find a set of questions that you really want to answer. That’s not an automatic ticket to success in life, but I think it’s a necessary precondition for being motivated to get up in the morning and being excited to work.”
Instead, Williams is now the Class of 1957 Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Economics, and what motivates her to get up in the morning is a set of questions about innovation, medical research, and health care. Do gene patents restrict or enhance medical advances? What is the effect of patent law on cancer research? To what extent does the use of medical technology drive health care cost growth?
Since she was a graduate student, Williams has kept a list of research questions that intrigue her, and she has developed a distinctive method of trying to answer them. For each new study, she essentially builds an all-new data set from the ground up, linking scientific records about medical research with economic and financial records.
“That linkage is what I find most exciting,” says Williams. “MIT is wonderful because in addition to [finding] an amazing home in economics, I can talk with and learn from a lot of people on the science side.”