Juliana Oliveira-Cunha is a Policy Economist at the International Growth Centre, London School of Economics.
Why did you choose to study economics?
My mother inspired me. For most of her career, she worked as a development and environmental economist in our home country, Brazil. As a child, I always looked up to her; and when I was old enough to better understand the real substance of her work, I thought it all super interesting and impactful. Like her, I wanted to help policymakers make more informed decisions in order to improve people's lives.
How would you describe economics?
Economics is a social science that tries to understand how people make choices based on the incentives/constraints that are presented to them. It also attempts to understand the aggregate effects of these small individual decisions - at the firm, regional, and even global level.
For example, in some of my research, I study whether social distancing requirements during the pandemic prompted businesses to innovate, and examine the overall effects on productivity and well-being.
Economics can mean different things to different people, but it is certainly not restricted to studying "money" or the "financial markets".
If you had a time machine and could meet your 16-year-old self, what advice would you give them?
Do not worry so much about this one bad grade in maths. It will not define your career path.
What is your favourite part of economics?
I love how economists are trained to take a very complex societal problem and break it down into smaller, actionable parts. And test hypotheses with data!
I also appreciate that we are trained to think in "counterfactual" terms. That is; what would have happened to a particular situation (say, deforestation in the Amazon region) had the conditions (such as different government policies) been different.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance?
I would have dared a bit more. The things I am most proud of to have achieved academically and professionally required a little bit of daring.