Michela Carlana, who recently joined the Harvard Kennedy School faculty as assistant professor of public policy, has focused much of her research on gender inequality in education, and particularly on what forces steer young girls away from, or toward, studying subjects that can prepare them for careers in high-tech. A native of Italy, who received her doctorate from Bocconi University, Carlana will teach Empirical Methods II (API-202) in Spring 2019.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever come across in your work?
I’ve been really affected by my work in the field, speaking with teachers, principals, children, policymakers, and employment experts. Working with colleagues, I organized several data collection projects in Italian schools and had the opportunity to observe children while they were completing the surveys we designed. I discussed policy design and research outcomes with policy makers in the Italian Ministry of Education, and I have been impressed by their genuine interest in the research findings and openness to collaboration. I engaged in discussion with private job centers, where many experts were deeply concerned about the educational choices that resulted in “too many” girls shying away from highly profitable tech fields where labor demand is high. All these experiences have shaped my research agenda.
Q: What’s the most important thing a student will learn in your class?
Students will learn to incorporate high-quality evidence in their reasoning, with the final aim of using this skill when they will make policy choices. They will understand how to judge the quality and the relevance of the information they read in the news, policy reports, and academic research. They will learn why it is important to distinguish a correlation from a causal effect in order to implement effective public policies. And they will practice how to execute good research design and use econometric techniques, both experimental and quasi-experimental.
Q: How do your research and teaching connect to the solution of pressing problems in the world today?
My research focuses on two pressing issues in the world: gender equality and immigration. In my work, I exploit experimental and quasi-experimental methods in order to investigate the impact of public policies aimed at increasing equality of opportunity in education. For instance, in my recent research using data gathered from Italian schools, I have found that girls assigned to teachers who show a greater interest in helping boys in mathematics do less well in the subject, are more likely to attend vocational high schools, and have lower self-confidence in their own math abilities. I am currently working on concrete policies that can be implemented in order to alleviate the negative effects of gender stereotypes on female students. Thanks to a grant from the Women and Public Policy Program, during next academic year, I will evaluate the impact of an program called Girls Code It Better aimed at stimulating girls’ interest in careers in high-tech.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your CV?
I love cooking! Given that I am from Italy, that might go without saying. But what is most interesting is that I don’t cook only Italian food, but enjoy other cuisines, and in particular making sushi.