Risk, failure, and living your life: The economics of being an early-career scientist
Doctoral student Ryan Hill studies factors that influence researchers' professional paths
“If enough people are working on science, we’ll get a steady stream of useful innovations. But at an individual level, research involves a lot of risk.”
—Ryan Hill, doctoral student in economics
At the end of each weekday, doctoral student Ryan Hill travels from his office in the MIT Department of Economics to his residence at the west end of campus. There, he joins his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter, Norah, for dinner. After dinner, Hill spends an hour or two playing with Norah before putting her to bed.
“I think most people would agree that research can consume your mind. Even when you walk out of the lab, you’re still thinking about it,” Hill says. “It’s been really nice to go home and forget all of that for a while and play with my daughter. … It’s a nice change of pace.”
Often, once Norah’s in bed, Hill returns to the department building located on MIT’s East Campus to resume his research, on the role science plays in innovation. His research and studies are supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant he received after studying economics and mathematics at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
“Science is an important part of innovation — it’s very early in the process,” Hill says. “My research is empirical, so I use data to try to learn how science works.” Part of that learning process places Hill at his laptop, analyzing “outputs” of research such as publications or citations. But outputs alone don’t tell the whole story: He also focuses on “inputs” of research, like how projects are chosen for research in the first place.
Hill has also forged connections with other MIT graduate students who have families, and he has spoken out about issues — arising at MIT and in Washington — that impact this community. “I’m one of many that are involved in these efforts, but when I get the chance I try to represent and communicate the needs of student families at MIT,” he says.