2020 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Marta Serra-Garcia, University of California – San Diego Rady School of Management

Marta Serra-Garcia of the University of California-San Diego is a Poets&Quants Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professor

Being able to distill complex — and sometimes dry — topics is almost an essential skill for business school professors. And according to the dozens of nominations we received from current and past students, Marta Serra-Garcia of UC-San Diego’s Rady School of Management is deft at that skill.

“Professor Serra-Garcia is an amazing professor who has a knack for teaching. I’ve never enjoyed a class so much and grasped concepts so easily,” one nominator told us. “She always takes time to go through practice problems with us and has so much patience. She also always has an encouraging compliment for our presentations and gives great feedback.”

Serra-Garcia, 36, is an assistant professor of economics and strategy at the Rady School. But despite all of the glowing reviews about her classroom presence and ability, it was also her immense amount of influential research that also impressed us. She’s already amassed more than 700 Google Scholar citations. Currently, Serra-Garcia says she’s studying people’s ability to detect lies. Interestingly, Serra-Garcia has found that machine learning algorithms that “only have information on the potential lear’s facial expressions” have been better at detecting lies than humans.

“I took Economics with Professor Serra-Garcia. I was so impressed with her knowledge, dedication, and humanistic approach to teaching,” another nominator said. “She is clearly a subject matter expert however she encourages diversity of thought and discourse in her class. She steps out from behind the lectern and helps students one on one with exercises and joins theoretical discussions. She maintains a great sense of humor and is a pleasure to learn from. Outside of class, she was available and willing to discuss my unique needs and constraints. She ensured that I gained conceptual mastery of difficult concepts while understanding that I lacked some of the skills necessary to complete advanced exercises. Professor Serra-Garcia is an excellent teacher and treated me like a partner. Rather than view me as someone that “just needs to figure it out” she made it clear that if I had failed in her class, she would also bear some responsibility for that failure. Her commitment and dedication to her students is very impressive and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her.”

Outside of the classroom, Serra-Garcia says her main hobby is spending time with her three young daughters. But she also takes advantage of the San Diego lifestyle and weather and gets out for stand-up paddleboarding, running, and pilates.

Marta Serra-Garcia 

Assistant Professor of Economics and Strategy

Rady School of Management, UCSD

Current age: 36

At current institution since what year? 2013

Education: Ph.D. in Economics (Tilburg University, NL)

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Managerial Economics (Core MBA class)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I met the faculty at my school. They are amazing researchers, creative, engaging and really focused on making the world a better place through research – working with them is great.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I’m studying people’s ability to detect lies (e.g., fake news). What’s most significant is that machine learning algorithms, that only have information on the potential liar’s facial expressions, are able to detect lies much better than humans!

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be going on vacation much more often (hahaha). I think I’d be working at an international or nonprofit organization, doing research-oriented policy work. But who knows?

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

First, being a female professor of economics; second, making economics fun.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Pilot

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Accept tons of rejection (in research) and just have fun doing what you believe in.

Professor I most admire and why: In teaching, I most admire Xavier Sala-i-Marti, he was able to teach macro and make it engaging to everyone. In research, I admire many people in my research area, behavioral economics, especially female professors and mentors. There are many, but some names are Yan Chen, Tanya Rosenblatt and Lise Vesterlund. I admire their research and how much they give back to students and junior faculty.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

They are most interested in finding ways to apply economics to decision-making within their firms. This makes me ask every time I teach a concept: how can it help solve their problems?

What is most challenging?

Teaching a core class means bringing people from very different backgrounds (from technical fields, such as engineering, to arts and humanities) on a level that will make the class important, challenging and interesting to everyone.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Passionate

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Disrespectful

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair


What are your hobbies?

My main hobby is spending time with my three little girls. I also enjoy standup paddleboarding (La Jolla Shores is the best spot ever!), running and doing pilates.

How will you spend your summer?

Well…My plan was to be in Europe for 4 weeks, visiting family and friends, but that’s unlikely now.

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

Cadaques (north of Barcelona, Spain, where Dali spent his summers)

Favorite book(s):

Several ones I enjoyed recently: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark, and the Now Habit by Neil Fiore. And, for any kid or adult, The Little Prince.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

Bosch, an Amazon Prime show, about a policeman solving intricate crimes in L.A. It’s fun to see the city through the show.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

Indie (folk and rock)


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Using experiments in class to illustrate and practice concepts and instill in students are desire to use experiments in their decision-making.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Using evidence and economics in making decisions, especially using behavioral economics. Thinking about the opportunity costs of decisions, thinking on the margin, counterfactual thinking and experimentation, are “cheap” tools that can help make better decisions.

I’m grateful for… My family – best ever!

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“While most of us have heard our colleagues present in seminars and at academic conferences, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Marta present at conference and in the classroom.  In preparation to teach a course she regularly teaches, I attended her lectures and could appreciate her excellent teaching from the student’s point of view.  While a good deal of the Managerial Economics material was timeless, she constantly updated and made it applicable to new contexts, such as automation, and also pulled in amusing examples.  Marta cares a lot about student learning and very much deserves this award.” – Amy Nguyen-Chung

“If you have heard of the lifechanging professor who opens a new door to the world, she is Marta! I took her “Managerial Economics” in fall 2018 and it was eye-opening. She was starting each session enthusiastically, delivering the course material with multiple Aha-moments for us and concluding it with interesting open-answered questions that were usually continued to be discussed at lunch. Her class has been instrumental to my MBA experience at Rady. In addition to teaching, Marta’s research in ethical decision making is among the most interesting works I have ever seen. Outside of class, she is a trusted mentor who helps you with your long-term career decisions and provides invaluable insights. Marta is smart, energetic, humble and committed to the success of her students above and beyond the usual student-faculty relationship.” – Ehsan Amozegar

“Prof. Serra-Garcia is clearly passionate about her subject matter and passes on this enthusiasm to her students. She is thoughtful and thorough in answering student questions, ultimately imparting a deeper level of understanding not only of economic models but of the assumptions that underpin them. Her use of in-class games and simulations helps to further solidify these ideas in the minds of her students. Finally, an active researcher, she is quick to share new insights from both her own and others’ research to lend further context and relevance to the material. Through all of this, she makes learning stimulating and fun!” – Daniel Henderson


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