Alumni Spotlight: Rohen Shah, Ph.D. Student

​At the BIP Lab, our main goal is to understand parental decision-making. Information is power, and learning about someone else’s personal experience can be particularly helpful when making decisions for your career. In our “Alumni Spotlight” interview series, we sit down with former students and staff to learn what drives them, what they liked about working at the BIP Lab, and where they are now. 

Although we usually spotlight our alumni, today we are highlighting one of our current students, Rohen Shah. Rohen has worked in the lab in many capacities: first as a student in the Master of Arts in Public Policy with a Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) program and now as a Ph.D. student. Rohen shares with us his professional journey, fondest BIP Lab memories, and more. 

BIP Lab: How did you become interested in your field? What drew you to work at the BIP Lab?

Shah: In college, I worked at a tutoring company (which I eventually managed) and noticed myself applying both psychology (in the instruction aspect) and economics (in the management aspect). When I learned that there was a field that combines the two (Behavioral Economics), I was hooked!

BIP Lab: I understand you have previously worked as a research assistant (RA) at the BIP Lab before you rejoined us as a doctoral research fellow. How did you come to work as a RA and what drew you to this position?

Shah: I had always been interested in behavioral economics and education policy — so I was immediately attracted to the great and interesting work the Lab does. I began working in the summer of 2018 analyzing data for the Big Word Club (BWC) Evaluation, shortly before starting my Master’s at Harris.

BIP Lab: What are you doing now?

Shah: I am a Ph.D. student at Harris and a doctoral research fellow at the BIP Lab. My areas of specialty are behavioral economics and experimental methods. 

BIP Lab: What is one of your favorite memories from your time as a RA with the BIP Lab, and how does your experience reveal what the BIP Lab is all about?

Shah: There are so many good ones I’m sure; one that comes to mind is at a lab meeting when we noticed the preliminary results from a study showed that there wasn’t much of a treatment effect, we immediately started brainstorming why that might be. Instead of either giving up on the intervention or trying to hang on to the one weak interpretation where there was “some” effect, we decided to start a second round “booster” treatment where we collected the best ideas and implemented an amped-up version of the treatment to the next cohort. This really reflects the ultimate goal of what the BIP Lab is all about: we want to try to find ways to help people.

BIP Lab: Did your past experience working as a RA with the BIP Lab influence your current decision to pursue your Ph.D. with the BIP Lab now and if so, how? 

Shah:  Absolutely — the work with the lab ended up shaping what I was interested in spending year researching because of how interesting and impactful the work can be. And, I figured, this was the best place to do that research!

BIP Lab: What is one of your biggest professional accomplishments to date?

Shah:  Developing an adaptive online learning platform to help thousands of students across the country with math. 

BIP Lab: How do you think your experience and time at the BIP Lab helped you get to where you are today?

Shah:  It has helped me learn all the steps involved – from conceiving the idea, applying for funds, implementing, data collection, data analysis, and publishing – in conducting original research. Without this experience, I would have had to spend many more years reinventing the wheel and learning second-hand rather than firsthand. 

BIP Lab: What is one piece of advice you would give to current/future student research assistants and lab affiliates so that they can make the most of their experience at the BIP Lab?

Shah:  You will get as much out of your experience with the lab as you put in — don’t be shy or afraid to share ideas with your supervisors, and go the extra mile to creatively solve difficult problems. Work collaboratively, and remember that you can criticize ideas without criticizing people. 

BIP Lab: What do you think makes the BIP Lab special and unique? 

Shah:  The very collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the work makes us unique. Ideas come from everyone in the lab, and everyone wears multiple hats as needed to find creative solutions. We are also very interdisciplinary: using ideas from psychology, sociology, and economics in order to find policies that help.

BIP Lab: What advice would you give to other students who aspire to follow a similar career path?

Shah:  Have a daily routine where you spend at least 1 hour a day reading or skimming new research papers that seem interesting to you, and keep a running list of research ideas that you update regularly. You have to have at least 40 or 50 ideas written out before you will find one that is feasible to implement and interesting enough, and unfortunately, graduate school only teaches technical skills – not how to generate research ideas or carry out empirical projects. Constantly develop those skills on your own — and never stop learning! 

BIP Lab: What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

Shah:  Mostly watching Netflix! (pre-pandemic, I enjoyed traveling a lot)

Interview conducted by Eibhlin Lim.