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Alex Imas, associate professor of behavioral science and economics and the Vasilou Faculty Scholar, and Yueran Ma, associate professor of finance and a Kathryn and Grant Swick Faculty Scholar, have been awarded Sloan Research Fellowships for 2023. Both are also National Bureau of Economic Research Fellows.
The fellowships—which include a $75,000 cash award that is distributed over two years—are sponsored by the New York–based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. They honor researchers in the United States and Canada whose early accomplishments in chemistry, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, or physics make them presumptive leaders of the next generation.
“Sloan Research Fellows are shining examples of innovative and impactful research,” Adam F. Falk, president of the foundation, said in a press release. “We are thrilled to support their groundbreaking work and we look forward to following their continued success.”
Extending the Reach of Research
For Imas, the award provides a welcome endorsement of his approach to economic research. “I’m much more on the psychology side of things than is typical for a mainstream economist, so to receive this award is a huge honor,” he says, adding that the fellowship will also allow him to increase the scope of his projects, including running field experiments and hiring predoctoral students to assist with research.
At any given time, Imas has two-to-five research projects underway, many of which are interconnected. “My projects tend to build on each other,” he said. “They typically come from talking to people or from reading a paper or seeing a seminar and realizing an interesting connection with something I’m already working on. I always start out thinking a project is going to take a few months and then—almost always—it winds up taking three to four years.”
Imas’s current research includes studies on the effects of discrimination, how risk affects investment decisions and how information—or the lack of it—affects decision-making.
He joined Booth in 2020 after several years as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon and says Booth’s “culture of inquiry and independent thought” has been key in extending his reach as a researcher.
“The intellectual resources that are available at Booth are incredible,” he says.
Richard H. Thaler, Nobel laureate and the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics, nominated Imas for the award.
“I have known Alex since he was a graduate student at the University of California at San Diego. Even then, he stood out for his curiosity and voracious reading,” Thaler says. “When he became an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, Alex’s research and the range of his interests seemed to grow exponentially, and that has continued at Booth. We are very lucky to have him.”
Tackling Big Economic Questions
Ma similarly views the fellowship as a great honor that will allow her to expand her research activities. “My work is at the intersection of macroeconomics and finance,” she says. “I have always been interested in the nature of companies: what they do, what they don’t do, and how they organize their production activities.”
She also focuses on how people and companies form expectations and how that affects investment decisions.
For Ma, projects are “a series of inquiries and questions” that incubate over time. “I have ideas I have been thinking about since high school,” she says.
Ma joined Booth in 2018 and says the school’s approach to research dovetails with her own. “Booth is both very deep and very broad,” she says. “The school cares a lot about understanding the essence of economic questions and is very supportive of interdisciplinary research.”
She also praises the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that’s central to the Booth community. “I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues,” she says. “I’ve also been inspired by my students. The questions they ask sharpen my own thinking.”
The School’s nomination of Ma was written by Robert W. Vishny, the Myron S. Scholes Distinguished Service Professor of Finance and the Neubauer Faculty Director of the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership.
“Yueran brings a unique and important talent for tackling some of the biggest questions in economics and finance with her methodical and unbiased approach,” he says. “Her research embodies the best of the Chicago empirical tradition, which uses data rather than dogmatic beliefs to answer questions.”
The Sloan Fellowships began in 1955 and have included 57 Nobel Prize winners. This year’s cohort—selected from more than a thousand entrants—consists of 126 researchers from 54 public and private institutions.
Candidates are nominated by fellow scientists, and winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars. The 2023 economics nominating committee included of Andrew Atkeson of UCLA, Leah Boustan of Princeton, and Parag Pathak of MIT.
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