Alumni Profile: Joshua Goodman ('09PhD, Economics)

January 05, 2020
Joshua Goodman

What is your current role?
Associate Professor of Economics, Brandeis University.

What are you working on now?
I study the economics of education policy and ask questions like: What factors affect high schoolers' decisions about whether and where to attend college? (For example, I have worked on research showing that an older sibling going to college has an influence on younger siblings.) Does the college they choose affect their life outcomes? I'm currently researching STEM-degree completion among women, black, and Hispanic students, and exploring whether having other women or underrepresented minority students in STEM classes early in college increases the chances that such students stick with STEM majors.

What drew you to your field?
Economics applies rigorous mathematical modeling and data analysis to deeply important questions about how our social world works. I find it immensely helpful for thinking about public policy.

Did anything from your earlier life motivate you to pursue your PhD and current work?
I was a public high school math teacher in Watertown, Massachusetts, which I did both because I love teaching and because I think math is valuable for students' intellectual development and later careers. I started my PhD knowing I wanted to study the economics of education. My dissertation ended up focusing on estimating the labor market returns of high school math coursework. In short, my research tried to understand whether my former students would get better jobs later in life because of the skills I was teaching them. The short answer: yes!

What lessons from graduate school have you found useful in your professional life?
Surround yourself with peers who want you to succeed and whom you can talk to whenever you need. Find mentors who will spend serious time with you. Don't waste time on people who aren't constructive.

What skill has unexpectedly helped you in your career?
Pausing to make decisions deliberately. Deciding why you are doing something before you do it can save a lot of time badly spent.

What is your favorite memory from your graduate years?
My cohort in economics was very tightly knit and loved to play low-stakes poker on most weekends. It was a great way to blow off steam at an otherwise stressful time of life. Ironically, even our PhD-level coursework in game theory did not make us particularly good poker players.

Near the end of our PhD program, many of us gathered once every week or two to present our research to each other to prepare ourselves to apply for academic jobs. We gave each other gentle criticism and constructive feedback, with the whole experience creating a sense of camaraderie before we left Columbia and went our separate ways. In the past month, I've either seen or spoken to at least three members of my cohort, each of whom is doing some form of labor economics at Boston University, the IMF, and Capital One. They were and remain a really impressive bunch, and I'm lucky to still have them as friends.

What are your passions outside of your work?
I love doing crosswords, playing Scrabble, and generally playing with words. I'm particularly excited now that my young kids can do those activities with me!

What is your advice for current GSAS students?
Think really carefully about your professional and personal goals, then make all of your decisions with those goals in mind. Say no to anything that isn't closely tied to those goals. Life is short: don't let it get cluttered.

What is next for you, professionally or otherwise?
I just moved to my current position at Brandeis University, so I'm excited to help build my new economics department and contribute to the life of an institution that deeply values undergraduate learning.