Teodora Boneva is Assistant Professor of Economics of Child and Youth Development, endowed by the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development. She joins the Department of Economics from her previous position as Associate Professor at the Department of Economics at the University of Oxford. Her research studies the role of beliefs in educational investment decisions and the role of educational interventions in fostering skills in childhood. She aims to improve our understanding of how we can promote skill acquisition and narrow socioeconomic and gender gaps in educational and labor market outcomes.
Short interview with Prof. Dr. Teodora Boneva
What influenced your career decisions?
I was interested in what drives socioeconomic inequality and wanted to better understand what drives inequality and what we can do as a society to narrow socioeconomic gaps. That’s why I decided to study Economics and become a researcher.
What achievement in your life are you particularly proud of?
The project I am most proud of is work with Sule Alan and Seda Ertac titled «Ever Failed, Try Again, Succeed Better: Results from a Randomized Educational Intervention on Grit», we investigated whether grit, a non-cognitive skill which has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. For this purpose, we designed an educational intervention, which presents students with animated videos and mini case studies that highlight i) the plasticity of the human brain against the notion of innately fixed ability, ii) the role of effort in enhancing skills and achieving goals, iii) the importance of a constructive interpretation of failures, and iv) the importance of goal setting. We randomized the intervention across primary schools (ages 8-10) in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. We found that the intervention significantly increases students’ performance on standardized math tests by 0.2 standard deviations.
Where do you get inspiration from for your work?
Very often I draw inspiration from informal conversations with my family and friends. Speaking to people who are not economists helps me take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what I am investigating. It also helps me get a more realistic perspective on how people think when they take decisions. Very often our models are simplistic and abstract from more complex motives. While this can be useful at times, talking to people can help us understand which important motives we might be missing.
According to your opinion, what will distinguish our Faculty in five years' time?
Researchers at our Faculty are conducting cutting-edge research in many different subfields of economics. I expect that our Faculty will continue to stand out with its excellence in research and teaching.
Why would you recommend studying at our Faculty to young women holding their Matura (Swiss university entry qualification)?
I would recommend studying Economics at UZH to anyone, not just to young women! You will be taught by professors whose research is at the frontier of economic research. You will learn the tools which are necessary to carry out throughout economic research and you will be able to critically assess existing evidence. In an era of fake news, being able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable studies is a very valuable skill.