By Hensley Carrasco

Alice Heath MPP 2016, PhD 2024 believes in addressing inequalities and paying it forward so others have the same freedoms and privileges she has had.

Alice Heath MPP 2016, PhD 2024 finds herself back at Harvard Kennedy School, but it isn't déjà vu. 

For many students, graduation marks the culmination of years of hard work and the beginning of a new chapter. For Heath, however, it marks the completion of a return to HKS. She first earned a Master in Public Policy from HKS in 2016 and returned for a PhD in Public Policy.  Her journey, which began in London and continues here in Cambridge, highlights her path of intellectual pursuit and personal growth.

Her time teaching in Manchester in the United Kingdom proved to be a pivotal point in her career, leading her to seek ways to address the inequities and disparities in the education system. Read about her journey from London to the United States and why she chose to call HKS home more than once.

Alice Heath smiles while looking off camera.

“To me, public service means paying it forward, so others have the same freedoms and privileges I have had.”

Alice Heath MPP 2016, PhD 2024
  • Prepares to graduate and start new role

    “The really great thing about getting my PhD is that I now have those skills to do deep work. I applied to academic jobs as well, but in the end I was offered a job at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. I’m going to be in a place where people make decisions that have an impact on a lot of people. It’s exciting to know that I’m going to be able to use these skills learned at HKS to think answer deeper questions.”

    A culmination of experiences and education leads Heath to the final step of her PhD journey. Heath will graduate in May 2024 and then begin her new role working in the health division of the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In addition to her main duties, she will also be conducting independent research. This position allows her to return to government at a federal level and have that impact on people on the ground, fulfilling the desire she had as an undergraduate to address broader systemic issues.

  • Welcomes a baby and releases a new paper

    “I actually had a really intense final couple of years of my PhD. We had a baby in January 2023, so I took three months to care for the baby and then went straight back to work.” 

    Heath and her wife welcome their baby and she starts a new chapter as a parent. She returns to her studies and begins working on her job market research paper.

    Later in 2023, she releases “Government Reactions to Tragedy: How Maltreatment Deaths Impact Child Protection.” The paper ties to her experience as a GPL fellow in Rhode Island and how maltreatment deaths affect social workers and agency leadership—something Heath has been wondering about since her time as a GPL fellow. 

    Alice Heath holding her baby posing with professors
    Alice Heath (center) celebrates her PhD defense with her baby and advisors.
  • Becomes a Stone PhD Scholar Fellow and programs move online during the pandemic

    In 2019—during the second year of her PhD program—Heath applies to the Stone PhD Scholar Fellowship and is accepted. The program, which begins during her third year, is a funded fellowship opportunity for Harvard PhD students in the social sciences who advance a new generation of research on inequality, wealth concentration, and mobility. The three-semester sequence combines multidisciplinary training in social science research on inequality and a structured setting in which to advance Scholars’ own research on inequality.

    Heath’s program moves online because of the pandemic—as many classes and programs did during this time. Her cohort of students come from a variety of disciplines and are all invested in social policy and equity. In the final semester of the program, each Scholar writes a paper, and a session is reserved for peers to discuss and critique it. An outside expert in academia joins the sessions to speak to the class and engage in the discussions and critiques.

  • Applies and is accepted to the PhD in Public Policy Program at HKS

    Professors Liebman and Chris Avery encourage Heath to apply to the PhD in Public Policy Program. She reflects on the PhD-level courses she has already taken—and done well in—and determines the benefits it would bring her are worth pursuing. She applies and is accepted. 

    Group of students posing for picture in front of a blackboard
    As a PhD candidate, Alice Heath worked as a Teaching Fellow for Professor Dan Levy. Above, she poses with students from the course.
  • Begins working with GPL

    “I got to work with a lot of state data, which was amazing. I was doing performance management for a lot of contracted programs and building systems to analyze the data in real time and tell various agencies how they could improve their services. It was fun and allowed me to use all of the skills I learned with my MPP.”

    GPL supports state and local governments across the United States working to solve serious social challenges. Heath begins work with the GPL and is placed in Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families. There she works with the public health department, programs to prevent child abuse and neglect, newborn screening programs, home visiting programs, and more.

    She learns more about the U.S. and how the government functions. This experience shapes Heath’s interests and leads her to start thinking about the next steps in her career. She decides that pursuing a PhD would be the best choice.

  • Graduates from the MPP Program and decides what’s next

    “I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to be with her, so we had to figure out where we were going to be and what we were going to do with our lives.”

    After taking PhD-level courses in the economics department along with her regular coursework, Heath graduates from the MPP Program. She and her wife decide to stay in the U.S., allowing Heath to learn more about the U.S. education system and her wife to focus on her career in criminal justice.

    Heath finds it difficult to find a job because her visa allows her to work for only one year. She remains connected with her mentor, Professor Jeff Liebman, who hires her to work at the HKS Government Performance Lab (GPL) as a fellow.

  • Begins MPP Program and finds love at HKS

    After applying and getting into three MPP programs, Heath elects to attend HKS. She begins the program with a plan to learn all that she can, improve her skill set, and apply it to her work in education policy in the U.K. Her plans change, however, when she meets her now-wife in her statistics class. 

  • The path to HKS

    “While I was teaching, I loved my students, but it was a lot emotionally, mentally, physically—very all-consuming. I found myself wanting to think about the bigger system, but not having the time day to day to do so.”

    Heath’s desire to think of the larger systems that affect the students she’s directly working with leads her to connect with her former economics professor at Oxford, who advises her that a pursuing an MPP in the United States would be a great next step. 

  • Begins teaching at Burnage Academy for Boys in Manchester

    After graduating from Oxford, Heath begins teaching at Burnage Academy for Boys in Manchester. While teaching at the Academy, she receives a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Manchester in 2012. 

  • Graduates from the University of Oxford

    While at Oxford, Heath studies philosophy, politics, and economics. There, she begins to feel that the education system is unfair. She notes that at the time, about 50 percent of students at Oxford had attended private schools, even though only about 7 percent of children in the U.K. attended a private school.

“I’ve benefited hugely from the public service of others—other people advocated, campaigned, and did the detailed policy work that gave me the right to marry my wife, become a U.S. citizen, and be legally recognized as the parent of my baby.”

Alice Heath MPP 2016, PhD 2024

Portraits by Lydia Rosenberg. Images provided by Alice Heath.

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