Interview Insights: Dr Sandra E. Black

Dr Sandra E. Black is Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in the city of New York. She received her B.A. from University of California, Berkeley and her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. Dr Black is currently an Editor of the Journal of Labor Economics and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and the Director of the NBER Study Group on Economic Mobility.  She served as a Member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from August 2015 to January 2017.  Her research focuses on the role of early life experiences on the long-run outcomes of children, as well as issues of gender and discrimination. To learn more about Dr Sandra’s research, please visit:

Dr Sandra E. Black (Columbia University, NY)

What are your primary research interests and what prompted you to pursue those areas?

My research is in labor economics with focuses on early childhood investment, education, and gender and discrimination. I like thinking about the decisions people make and how they think about things. My mom was a teacher, so I think that also influenced my interests.

How would you parallel your experiences in academia with your experiences working for the ‘President’s Council of Economic Advisors’? What have you gained from your time at the CEA that you now apply to your teaching or research at Columbia University?

Working at the CEA was the opposite of working in academia–everything is moving very quickly! I would go from meeting to meeting, talking about a whole range of different issues, and I had to switch topics very quickly. This is very different from when I do research, where I have a lot of time to think about one topic without disruption. Working in the Obama Administration gave me great insight into how economics can be useful to policymakers, and I try to incorporate that into both my teaching and research.

In your research, you discuss the key importance of early life experiences on academic outcomes of children. What drew you to this research?

I have always been interested in understanding people and why they are the way they are. In the United States, there is a lot of inequality of opportunity, and it is really crucial that we understand the costs of this inequality. My research tries to explore this.

If you had the ability to go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

I think I would tell myself that it is okay to fail. We learn from our experiences–both positive and negative. I would also tell the younger me that it is going to be okay, and not to worry so much!

If you had to choose an alternate career, what would it be?

Jewelry Maker

What do you like to do for fun?

I like to make jewelry–I started about 8 years ago.

What is the best book you would recommend?

I don’t know–I like a lot of books–maybe the Philip Roth book “Plot Against America”

How would you describe your teaching style in one word/sentence?


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