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03 Feb 2023
Featured EMCRs
By SHAPE Futures

Meet Australia’s SHAPE EMCRs – Dr Timothy Neal

Dr Neal is a senior research fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of New South Wales, and also affiliated with the Centre of Excellence for Population Aging Research (CEPAR). In 2021, he was awarded a prestigious Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

How did you come to be a researcher in Economics?

After my undergraduate degree I went to work in the private sector at a consulting company. While I learnt a lot there, I quickly realised that my skills and aspirations would be better served pursuing university research. It’s been a wild ride and I would recommend it to anyone reading this!

Tell us about your research

My work is focusing on pushing the boundaries of the way that economists use and analyse data. Big data, machine learning, and advanced econometrics all enable a researcher to ask questions that were never possible in the past. Focusing on areas of active and important policy debates, I seek to use methodological innovations to better inform decisionmakers of the costs and consequences of certain actions.

Why does your work matter?

Economics can have a lot to say about the major challenges our species will face in the coming century: climate change, biodiversity loss, automation, and populating ageing. These forces may dramatically change the way that we live our lives in the coming decade. I hope that my research will have a real impact in terms of public awareness and the development of public policy to better manage these changes and mitigate any negative impacts.

What do you love most about being a researcher in Economics?

As far as I know there is no other industry that allows someone to work on projects because they themselves find it interesting and important! Your output is judged at a very high standard, which is to be expected, but having the ability to set your own research agenda is very freeing.

What are you working on now or intending to do next?

At the moment I am working on what I consider to be a very pressing problem for Economics: why does economic modelling predict only minor damage from future severe climate change on economic activity, in stark contrast to the warnings made from the physical sciences? The answer, in brief, is that they make a number of unrealistic assumptions that we need to improve in future research to obtain more credible estimates of the costs of runaway climate change and biodiversity loss.

What’s the one aspect you find most challenging about being an EMCR?

Most ECRs will probably agree with me when I say that job insecurity is the most challenging part of being an ECR. Without the right connections and opportunities at critical times, the industry can feel merciless.

What’s one piece of advice you have for EMCRs?

I believe in many disciplines there is a constant pressure on ECRs to specialise and become known in one particular subfield. I would just point out that conventional wisdom is not always correct, and you might find that following your own diverse interests and passions will lead to a more satisfying and even successful research career!

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian SHAPE EMCR Network recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land, and pays respect to Elders past and present. We acknowledge the continued cultural and spiritual connections to Country and community.