Standing on Shoulders

By Douglas Clement

Alice Schoonbroodt has "everything but regret" after entering the U's graduate program.

Alice Schoonbroodt, in her fifth year of the University's economics Ph.D. program, is far too modest to claim Newtonian genius, but even as a young scholar she has begun to discern economic relationships that have eluded others. Like Sir Isaac Newton, she attributes her progress to those who have supported her. And in describing that support, she quite fittingly employs the crisp language of her profession. "The returns to cooperation here," she says, "are quite amazing."

Schoonbroodt, a native of Belgium fluent in German, French, Dutch, English, and now dynamic general equilibrium theory, was struck by the cooperative spirit when she first visited the U. "You could feel right away that there was a lot of joint work and interaction among students and with professors," she recalls. Her initial impressions were well-founded. "It was that and even better. And from what I hear [about other schools], it's really unique."

The teamwork reinforced strengths and redressed weaknesses. "Coming in, I didn't know what my potential would be," notes Schoonbroodt. "But the whole atmosphere is such that they get the best out of you. If you come in with a lack of anything, but you're willing to learn, you'll find somebody who teaches you."

From Professor Tom Holmes, for instance, she learned critical lessons about research methods. Now, she instinctively structures her work just as Holmes does. "My folders are organized as his folders are in his computer; that's his influence." Professor Michele Boldrin, one of her thesis advisers, has been another giant for Schoonbroodt. "He has been the one to challenge me--over and over. Though sometimes painful, it was invaluable input to my development."

Her other adviser is Professor Larry Jones, whose interests in the economics of fertility, women's labor supply, and social security parallel hers. Schoonbroodt says Jones teaches her "more ways of thinking about problems, and getting to the point where you write down a very clear question and then answer it." Her use of dynamic macroeconomic techniques to analyze intertemporal decisions made at the family level (size, education, labor supply) "is cutting edge," says Jones. "We all expect great things from her in the future."

Other shoulders

Schoonbroodt excels in part because generous financial support has allowed her to focus. In 2002, she was awarded a departmental summer fellowship, and for the 2004-2005 year she received the Walter Heller Fellowship in Public Policy. "It gave me a whole year to concentrate exclusively on my research," she says. "It was a great opportunity; you don't get that again until you go on sabbatical, many years into your career."

There's (at least) one other way Schoonbroodt learned the importance of supportive community. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament last year, and the aftermath of surgery left her, literally, without legs to stand on. For weeks, she leaned on friends and fellow students. "They were very, very supportive, bringing me dinner, keeping me company," recalls Schoonbroodt. "Whatever I needed, it was always there."

Schoonbroodt has depended on others, but she herself has supplied the essentials. "Alice is an exceptionally bright student," observes Jones. "And she's tenacious in her pursuit of well-founded answers to hard, important questions." That drive is rooted in love of economics. "It's a social science where words and math play together," says Schoonbroodt, "with math putting very strong discipline on the thought process." She was hooked after her first course in Belgium. "One thing led to another and I ended up in the U's Ph.D. program. It's been amazing. I have everything but regret."

"If you want to understand society and economics," she concludes, "then going to the U gives you all the tools you need to address the



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This page contains a single entry by cla published on June 24, 2008 8:00 PM.

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