First encountering the field in high school, Jennifer Mayo appreciated how economics combined math and history to provide skills to better understand current affairs. Initially drawn to the way big-picture issues, such as unemployment rates and trade, were addressed through macroeconomics, it was only towards the end of her time as an undergraduate at the University of Bristol that she realized how many other questions economics could address to help explain how individuals, firms, governments, and other organizations make decisions from education to fertility choices, and everything in between, as well as their impacts.

Completing her bachelor’s in economics in 2011, Jennifer held several research assistant positions (including for a professor at U-M), completed a Masters at University College London (MSc in Economics, 2013), and worked at an economics consultancy in Cambridge, England. After trying both consultancy, which dealt with interesting questions and provided useful writing skills but frustrated her with its lack of rigor, and being a research assistant working to analyze issues more deeply, Jennifer realized she preferred research and began considering PhD programs. Having already worked as a research assistant at U-M, Jennifer knew there was nowhere else she’d want to study and, now a 5th year PhD student, Jennifer has found the combination of approachable, caring advisors, and wonderful classmates invaluable in thriving here.

Motivated to contribute toward understanding the impacts of decisions, Jenifer arrived on campus in Ann Arbor planning to focus on labor economics. However, as she explored new courses and subfields of economics, she developed an interest in public finance and is currently studying non-profit organizations. Jennifer is intrigued by the way nonprofits function differently from both profit-maximising firms and governments and hopes this work will shed some light on just how they function differently and how charities behave and respond to various incentives.

In her time thus far at U-M, Jennifer has enjoyed volunteering at 826 Michigan, a wonderful charity that inspires children to write, and playing the cello in the U-M Life Sciences Orchestra which provided her the opportunity to play at Hill Auditorium and had been what she describes as “a lovely way to meet people outside of [the economics] department.” However, like most students, this past year COVID-19 has limited her ability to participate in her extra-curricular activities and even postponed an academic project she was supposed to start with Professor Nic Duquette (of the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California) funded by the Generosity Commissions. She also encountered summer funding issues, which were later resolved by the SYLFF Foundation which provided COVID relief funding for their scholars.

This past year has also influenced her future plans as she looks forward to graduation and entering the workforce next year. Hoping to stay in academia and work at a university, Jennifer recognizes that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the job market and already anticipates that it will result in her applying more widely than she might have originally planned. Personally, while it was nice to have stayed in and explored Ann Arbor more, being unable to visit her family in the UK has been difficult for Jennifer who has used Zoom and, when feasible, walks and socially-distanced outdoor gatherings to stay connected to peers, friends and family.  

Though a new normal may still be a ways off, Jennifer has found making her home workplace as ergonomic as possible has helped make life easier during this time, noting that even raising your laptop or monitor up on some books can make a big difference. Jennifer would suggest to other students considering grad school or who may just be starting out to attend seminars and, if possible, work as a research assistant as these will provide real insight into the world of research and remind you why you decided to pursue this field in the first place.