Meet A Social Scientist: Dr. Mackenzie Alston from Economics

What is your name?
Dr. Mackenzie Alston

What kind of work do you do in the College?
I am an assistant professor in the Economics Department. I teach, do research and engage in service in the department, profession and community.

Why did you decide to become an academic? A big part of it was because of my mother; she is an English professor. By getting an insider look at what life was like as an academic, I realized that I loved everything I saw. I liked the idea of passing on what I have learned to younger students and finding creative ways to engage with and challenge my students. So I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a teacher. I just took some time to figure out what field I wanted to study. I spent part of my high school days believing I would become a high school geometry teacher since I loved that subject so much. After discovering that I would have to major in mathematics (and not just geometry) to achieve that goal, I entered college with the dream of becoming a Spanish professor. It was not until I took Principles of Microeconomics with Professor Bandyopadhyay that I knew economics was the direction I wanted to go in. I was eager to keep learning about how I could use the tools I picked up from these economics classes to make sense of the world around me, so I changed my major from Spanish and decided that I wanted to be an economics professor. As an undergraduate student, I also got exposure to a couple of economic research opportunities and ran my own experiment for my honors project. Those experiences made me confident that I would enjoy the research side of academia as well as the teaching side.  

What do you find most fulfilling about your job? I have more than one answer to that question, so I am going to break it apart by teaching and research. The most fulfilling part of my job as a teacher is hearing my students say that I have helped them think about something (e.g., the decision to attend college) differently because of what they have learned in my class. When I was an undergraduate, I felt like my introductory economics classes gave me such clarity, and if I can make one student see a part of the world from a different perspective, I feel like I have made an important difference. Relatedly, the most fulfilling part of my job as a researcher is working on projects that I truly believe will impact how we understand what is happening in the world. My research focuses on stereotypes and discrimination, and I believe that my current projects will help us recognize and understand what challenges women and minorities face and encourage us to find ways to help.

What are you working on or teaching right now that has you excited professionally? My co-author, Sarah Jacobson at Williams College, and I just finished collecting data from a survey we created to understand how faculty members at research institutions, liberal arts colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities, and Hispanic-serving institutions were affected by the recent social justice movement. More specifically, Sarah and I will use the results from our survey to determine how faculty’s ability to conduct research and teach effectively was influenced by the recent social justice movement. Anyone who is interested in getting updates on our findings can sign up to receive notifications by visiting our webpage

Dr. Mackenzie Alston is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics. You can learn more about her work here.

The feature image is a photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

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