2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Melanie Wasserman, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Melanie Wasserman

UCLA Anderson School of Management

“Melanie is also a favorite in the classroom.  She currently teaches the required economics course for our fulltime MBA students in the fall quarter of their first year … Her passion for the subject and the Anderson community helps students to connect with the material in ways they didn’t expect.  She makes what can be an intimidating class for some more accessible than they expected.  Perhaps even more importantly, she makes it something that they can connect to tangibly in their own lives.  The women in our program are especially interested in and grateful for her research, as they know it may very well have a direct impact on their careers and personal lives when they head back into the workforce.” – Jessica Luchenta

Melanie Wasserman, 37, is Assistant Professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

A labor economist, her research focuses on the mechanisms underlying gender differences in educational, occupational and labor market outcomes. Specifically, she is studying the recent slowdown in the convergence of economic outcomes between men and women.

“My research sheds light on the mechanisms driving these gaps by examining the role of two forces: 1) whether men and women respond differently to the same workplace institutions and policies; and 2) whether there is differential treatment of men and women in the labor market. Assessing the validity and contribution of these two factors is essential because of their divergent policy prescriptions,” she says on her UCLA profile.

Her work has appeared in media coverage in outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, the Economist and others.

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year? 2017

Education: BA in Economics, UC Berkeley; PhD in Economics, MIT

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Managerial Economics (Microeconomics for MBAs)

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… For me, there wasn’t a pivotal moment when I knew I wanted to be a professor. Early on in college, I saw that economics offered rigorous tools to analyze questions that I cared about. This impression was enough to convince me to pursue a PhD. Several years later in grad school, I embarked on a research agenda that has captured my attention every day since. I came to realize that being a professor gives me the intellectual freedom to ask and answer hard questions as well as the opportunity to teach the tools of economics to future business leaders.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I research gender disparities in the U.S. labor market. Over the last few years, I’ve focused on understanding the different forces that shape men’s and women’s occupational choices. For instance, many highly paid professional occupations require extremely long hours: do these long hours deter women from entering? Do early setbacks cause women to drop out of a career path more so than men? (check out my research for the answers!)

My coauthor and I recently conducted a field experiment to investigate whether men and women have access to the same information about jobs. When college students ask working professionals about careers, we find that women receive substantially more information on work/life balance issues than men. This information is often negative and serves to steer students away from their preferred career path. It has been interesting to consider whether this subtle form of disparate treatment could help explain men’s and women’s divergent career outcomes. 

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d probably work as an economist in another setting, such as for the federal government. 

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Based on the feedback I’ve received from students, I think what makes me stand out is my commitment to their learning. Since I teach a required course, I realize that students come to my class with diverse backgrounds in economics, ranging from no prior exposure to majoring in it in college. I try to make the class accessible to newcomers while maintaining rigor and injecting advanced content to challenge experienced students. 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Exciting

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:  I thought I knew the job well based on my time interacting with faculty in grad school, yet I’ve been surprised by how many “hats” we wear as professors: teacher, researcher, advisor, peer reviewer, mentor (and mentee!) Transitioning between these roles is both challenging and fun.

Professor I most admire and why: My first college-level economics class with Christina Romer convinced me to switch out of engineering and into economics. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors and role models, including my undergraduate mentor Ted Miguel and my PhD advisors David Autor, Esther Duflo and Heidi Williams. I admire their creativity, diligence, and support for young economists!

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy observing my students make connections between our class concepts and their professional lives. Our time together also gives me the opportunity to learn from their diverse professional backgrounds. 

What is most challenging? What I most enjoy is also what makes teaching most challenging. Business school students constantly push me to connect economic theory with real-world applications. As a result, I am always on the hunt for recent newspaper articles, cases, and research papers that showcase the broad reach of the tools we develop in class.

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

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Asleep (it happens!)

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Inflexible but fair

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? I like to spend my free time outdoors. Over the last couple years, I’ve taken up backpacking and paddle boarding. In 2021, I trained for and ran the LA marathon.

How will you spend your summer? Summers are for research! I’ll also be in Germany and Switzerland for conferences and hope to squeeze in some hiking while I’m there. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Any national park.

Favorite book(s): I tend to read memoirs for fun. Most recently I’ve enjoyed Educated by Tara Westover and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? A longtime favorite has been Parks and Rec. I just can’t resist Leslie Knope’s infectious enthusiasm for her job and unwavering commitment to improve the lives of those around her.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? One of my guilty pleasures is listening to (and singing) pop music in the car on my way to campus. 

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… While this is a self-serving suggestion, I would love to see more labor economists at business schools! MBA students go on to serve in managerial roles, where they’ll be involved in hiring, retaining, incentivizing, and setting compensation packages for employees. In addition, these decisions must adapt to various regulatory environments, market structures, and technological innovations. These topics are at the heart of labor economics research.  

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… reconsidering the necessity of longstanding employment practices, especially those that may inhibit the entry/success of historically underrepresented groups. 

I’m grateful for… the opportunity to spend every day thinking about hard questions, interacting with brilliant colleagues, and teaching engaged students.

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2022 ROSTER OF THE WORD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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