How I Got To Cornell

My career so far has been a delightfully eclectic adventure. In this post I provide a brief summary of my experiences and how they led me to start a PhD program at Cornell University.

1. University of Winnipeg

2012 - 2016

I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Winnipeg. While studying, I worked as a research assistant for different professors in the department. I worked most extensively in Dr. Jeremy Frimer’s Moral Psychology lab. I worked for two years as a research assistant. Then, during my final year, I took on my first leadership role as the lab’s manager. Our research used experiments and natural language processing to study:

  1. The psychological differences between liberals and conservatives
  2. The determinants of public approval of governing bodies, specifically US Congress
  3. How leaders emerge and interact with social movements

The unifying theme of our research was the rarity of fact-based decision-making. The field of political psychology identifies countless mechanisms that introduce bias to political and policy discourse. As I learned and contributed to this research, I came to view the scientific method as a critical asset in the war against bias. Through the application of scientific principles and rigorous research methods, we can ensure that evidence comes before ideology.

During this time I also worked as a researcher for the Public Interest Law Centre of Manitoba (PILC). I researched all sorts of topics to contribute to the 2016 Needs For and Alternatives To (NFAT) Review of Manitoba Hydro’s proposal to built two large hydroelectric dams in Northern Manitoba. The review took over a year. PILC played a key role in convincing the panel that the second dam carried too much risk to receive approval. Throughout the review, my assignments included:

  • Reporting on the populations sizes, migration patterns and protection statuses of animal species native to the region surrounding the dams.
  • Learning and critiquing different approaches to cost-benefit analysis.
  • Summarizing and pulling key quotes from reports prepared by Manitoban Indigenous organizations.

The NFAT proceedings renewed my optimism about evidence-based policy. The review involved collection and analysis of thousands of rows of data, consultation with dozens of academic experts, and tremendously thorough, creative analysis by the legal teams at PILC and Manitoba Hydro. In the end, the province made a (relatively) prudent decision not to invest in a high risk, long-term hydro-electric development. I longed for a world where more political discourse took this form.

After graduating I moved away from Winnipeg with a desire to develop my methods skillset and make data-driven contributions to the most important political debates of the day.

2. London School of Economics

2016 - 2017

I spent the next year in London, where I completed my MSc in Inequalities and Social Science. I learned how globalization and technological change have changed the labour market and produced rising income and wealth inequality in high-income countries.

LSE presents all kinds of opportunities to learn and have new experiences. I tried to take on as many as I could. I:

  • Attended public lectures each week
  • Took methods courses from some of the world’s leading social scientists
  • Served as team leader for a student consulting project
  • Travelled, for work and play, to countries across Europe
  • Took my first coding course and fell completely in love with it
  • Made lifelong friendships with the members of my brilliant, inspiring cohort

For my dissertation I used ten years of national UK survey data to analyze precarious employment among migrant workers. I found that migrants’ likelihood of experiencing precarious work conditions matched up with the historical and policy context surrounding their migration. For instance:

  • Migrants from outside the European Union were the most likely to work overtime. This makes sense, since these workers depend on the sponsorship of their employer to continue residing in the UK.

  • Migrants from a group of eight Eastern European countries flooded into the UK after their home countries joined the EU in 2002. Contrary to the widespread characterization of these migrants as lazy welfare scroungers, they are actually the least likely group to be unemployed, and among the most likely to work precarious jobs.

Throughout the year at LSE I gained exposure to the full scope and diversity of opportunities I had. I graduated feeling encouraged to expect more from myself and from my life.

3. Multi Health Systems

2017 - 2019

Next, I moved to Toronto and joined Multi Health Systems as a research analyst in their Innovation Hub, the company’s internal startup. In this role I did mostly data science work and developed my coding skills.

After 10 months I became a product manager. I led a small team working on feature updates for the products in our portfolio. I also developed a business model for the company’s new product line in the workplace health and wellness market.

From this experience I learned a tremendous amount about business decision-making, including how to:

  • Decide which projects to develop internally and which to outsource
  • Build and analyze product PnLs
  • Package products and services together to create value for customers
  • Lead teams and motivate people

I enjoyed the challenge of creating a sustainable business model and providing value for customers. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the role of the private sector in generating innovation.

I also saw how the same social scientific tools that I had come to view as essential for good policy could also help in the world of business. All manner of business decisions, from how to design a website to how to structure a business model, could be informed through the right kinds of data collection and experimentation.

I enjoyed my time at MHS. After a little less than two years, I felt ready to move on. I saw that I needed and achieve mastery over the methods I had come to worship as tools for making good decisions.

I chose to join Cornell’s Policy Analysis and Management program because it provides a unique level of freedom to take PhD level courses in Public Policy, Economics, and Sociology and develop specialization in any of these areas depending on how my interests develop.

As I move forward, I will continue seeking new and unique opportunities to promote truth and good science.