Meet a Social Scientist: Svetlana Pevnitskaya from the Department of Economics

Why did you decide to become an academic? 

I have always been passionate about research – coming up with a question and then working on using a scientific method to answer it and find the new knowledge. Although in other countries top notch research is not always done at universities, in the US it is mostly the case, so getting an academic job was a straightforward way to implement my desire to do research. I did give a thought to non-academic research-type positions, being attracted to them by the opportunity to solve actual problems and make an immediate impact. Eventually academia won and that’s where I applied. Among considerations driving this decision were freedom in choosing research topics and questions along with the ability to structure own work schedule and being part of the university environment that enables faculty to interact with scholars from other disciplines as well as contribute to the development of new scholars through teaching and advising. I was also supported in this decision by my advisors who indicated that they believed I would be competitive on the academic market which often has a higher research bar for PhDs. I think academia provides the best conditions for working on self-chosen research projects, interacting with other scholars and being part of world research community through conferences and peer feedback.  

What do you find most fulfilling about your job? 

All of the above considerations that affected my choice came to be true and are much valued by me. I am passionate about doing research and creating new knowledge. I’ll focus here on aspects that give me deep fulfillment that I discovered through my career in academia, specifically, teaching and particularly advising. Throughout the years I’ve witnessed the impact of the courses on students’ ability to think independently about economic concepts with the necessary set of tools. Many students have approached me about continuing their studies further via DIS and I guided them through the process of more advanced learning. I wrote numerous recommendation letters placing students into graduate programs. It is extremely fulfilling to contribute to the process of students maturing intellectually and going on to endeavor into the professional world. Being part of that indeed gives me a sense of making an immediate and lasting impact. Of particular significance to me was the ability to advise an undergraduate student, Rob White, who took my class, continued learning via DIS, developed his FSU award-winning honors thesis, and then advising him through the successful PhD program. My first PhD student, David Johnson, recently got tenure. Also just in June, during a trip, a highly applauded colleague of a friend of mine turned out to be a former student in my class whom I successfully recommended to a graduate program many years ago. This recent event reaffirmed my sense of accomplishment in making a more general impact in this world that is outside of research contributions. 

What are you working on or teaching right now that has you excited professionally?

Perhaps given my natural curiosity I am excited about all of my projects, although of course to varying degrees. But I haven’t done a project where I didn’t believe the new knowledge has been created, and where I wasn’t genuinely interested in finding the answer to a research question. I think that’s fortunate. One of my relatively new areas is the study of networks, or more specifically how we can use networks to model economic interactions. In my paper, co-authored with my recent PhD student Chris Brown, we use network theory to understand how people make decisions under uncertainty in situations where they observe similar previous decisions of others. We explain how one would weigh their own private information compared to what they can learn from social observations, and how one would analyze observed behavior of others. We explore the impact of different network structures or pathways to make such social observations. In this paper we also collect experimental data by simulating the environment in the XSFS lab with students making actual incentivized choices. In addition to testing the model we identify interesting behavioral phenomena for example situations in which people overweight social learning. I am also still excited about studying the effects of various economic mechanisms on individual decision making in strategic environments.

Dr. Svetlana Pevnitskaya is an Associate Professor of Economics at Florida State University. Her research interests include Applied Microeconomic Theory, Auctions, Game Theory, Experimental and Behavioral Economics. You can learn more about Dr. Pevnitskaya here.

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