Graduate Student Profile: Sharada Dharmasankar

Title: PhD Student in the Department of Economics

Hometown: Aurora, IL

Educational Background: BA in Economics and English Language & Literature

  1. What are your research interests and current research projects? My research interests lie in the economics of labor and education. My job market paper studies how different phases of one’s K-12 education affect a host of longer-run outcomes, including high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and earnings later in life. I also have work investigating the importance of school districts and their structure on student academic performance. Joint work with my coauthors includes studying the spatial spillovers of Seattle’s minimum wage policy on establishment outcomes and understanding the effects of mass layoff events on local labor markets.
  2. How did you first connect to your field of research? A year before finishing my undergraduate studies, I took a topics course on the economics of education that exposed me to the breadth of applied economics and piqued my interest in research. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the papers we read and loved attending lectures and discussion. The course left me feeling challenged, motivated, and curious to learn more, and played a huge role in my decision to apply to research-oriented jobs, and ultimately, to graduate school. Over the course of my graduate studies, my interest in education and labor topics has been nurtured and encouraged by my advisors, where it now finds a home in my own research.
  3. What attracted you to UW-Madison? To CDE? With its strong applied microeconomics faculty and the breadth of research methodologies employed, UW-Madison seemed like the perfect place for me to begin my training as a researcher. The professors asked exactly the kinds of questions that drew me to economics research in the first place. I’m grateful for the guidance and support of my advisors, and have learned an incredible amount during my graduate school journey. CDE entered my life when I was awarded a traineeship from the center that allowed me the opportunity to focus on my own research. Through the traineeship, I participated in the demography research and training seminars, was inspired to submit my work to conferences (which I wouldn’t have done if not for the encouragement of the CDE!), and met with speakers from a wide range of interdisciplinary fields – all things that have kept me engaged with the CDE even after the conclusion of my traineeship.
  4. In what ways has CDE impacted your graduate career? Are there any notable experiences with CDE you will take away with you in future academic and professional endeavors?  The CDE provided invaluable experiences in presenting my work to people outside of my field – this is through encouraging submissions to conferences, workshopping presentations and posters for peers, and allocating time for students to meet with outside speakers.
  5. Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, how?  In line with the Wisconsin Idea and its philosophy, my work studies policy-relevant topics, aiming at operating beyond the classroom and striving to find real-world applications for its findings. The idea is evident in the research questions I ask, which tend to focus on local policies (either at the city, district, or school-level) and considers how to assess the effects of said policies. My job market paper, which studies what periods of schooling most influence longer-run outcomes could potentially aid education administrators facing constraints in deciding how to best allocate resources. Ultimately, my work is motivated by the desire to either be informative to others studying similar topics or to those designing, assessing, and implementing policies to better lives.
  6. What’s one thing you hope people who are exposed to your research will come away with? As a researcher, my goal is to propose or assess policies that can improve the outcomes of others. I hope that readers of my work will be inspired, either to continue expanding our knowledge on labor and education topics by work on related follow-up questions, or in applying the findings of my work to inform policy.
  7. What future plans and aspirations do you have once you have completed your time at UW-Madison? My biggest hope is to remain actively involved in research – I have too many questions that I still want to work on answering! That aside, I would love to be in a role that also permits teaching: over my time as a TA here at UW-Madison, I’ve grown to love working with students, and would enjoy continuing to do so in the future.
  8. What are some hobbies and interests that have occupied your time outside of your academic work? I enjoy playing the violin, knitting, and running very slowly for long distances along the Madison’s lakes!