Nicholas Scott-Hearn photo

Nicholas Scott-Hearn

Nicholas Scott-Hearn is entering his second year as a pre-doc at Chicago Booth. We connected with him to talk about Booth, his undergrad experiences, and the surprising nature of Accounting research.

Nicholas Scott-Hearn

Name: Nicholas Scott-Hearn


Undergraduate institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Undergraduate major: Mathematics and Economics double major (minor in Statistics and Analytics)

Research interests: Firm behavior and competition, and anti-trust and anti-competitive behavior

 

What drew your interest to the social sciences? In my sophomore year at UNC, I took ECON 101 and was immediately hooked. I was interested in the subjects we talked about the problems we were faced with. And I enjoyed the way I was asked to think and to consider those problems.

Pre-doc institution: University of Chicago Booth School of Business


Faculty supervisor: Christopher Stewart


How did you first learn about pre-doc positions and what made you want to apply? I first learned about pre-doctoral positions from one of my undergraduate thesis advisor and mentor, Jon Williams. At the time, I was taking his Industrial Organization course and I expressed my interest in ultimately pursuing a PhD in economics. He suggested that I reach out to some of his friends/colleagues at NYU Stern who had an opening for a research assistant position for the following year, but I was only a junior. Although I didn’t apply for that position, it opened my eyes to the existence of pre-doctoral positions. As a junior I was only about 60% certain that I wanted to do a PhD in economics, and at the time I had very little research experience and no exposure to how rigorous graduate coursework would be. In the summer before my senior year, I decided I wouldn’t apply to PhD programs and I would instead seek out pre-doc positions. Not only would a position like this give me an opportunity to test the waters and see if this was the career for me, but it would give me invaluable research experience and more connections in the world of economic research.

Nicholas Scott-Hearn photo

I get really excited talking with my professor about the impact of our research. Its easy to get lost in the day-to-day work of research, especially while we’re working from home. But the conversations I’ve had with my professor give me perspective on why what we’re doing is so important. Our research has implications for business, government, health policy, and so much more. Not only are we asking interesting questions, we’re asking important questions that impact the overall welfare of society.

— Nicholas Scott-Hearn

What has excited you the most while being a pre-doc?

I get really excited talking with my professor about the impact of our research. Its easy to get lost in the day-to-day work of research, especially while we’re working from home. But the conversations I’ve had with my professor give me perspective on why what we’re doing is so important. Our research has implications for business, government, health policy, and so much more. Not only are we asking interesting questions, we’re asking important questions that impact the overall welfare of society.

What have you learned/skills have you developed in your time as a pre-doc?

One area in which I’ve learned a lot is with respect to coding and running analysis. In terms of the coding, I came into the position with a decent amount of experience with statistical programming languages. However, since starting this position, I’ve learned so much about working on a computing cluster, integrating APIs into my code, writing the most efficient analysis, and ultimately generating publication-ready outputs. I feel more confident than ever in my ability to take raw data, analyze it, and produce interesting results.

However, while my coding abilities have certainly improved in the past year, the area that I’ve seen the most growth has been my ability to apply prior knowledge to a new environment and think critically about it. While at UNC, I took a lot of economics courses and learned a lot of theory, but it wasn’t until I started researching that I had an outlet to apply the theory to real questions. When I discuss a research idea with my professor, I remember certain topics (whether it be theory or methods) from economics courses that I’ve taken years before and I’m able to make suggestions based on that knowledge. Being able to actively use and reuse this knowledge, rather than just learning it for an exam, has strengthened my understanding and made me a better economic thinker. By far, this has been the most valuable skill I’ve learned.

What has been your biggest challenge in the transition into the pre-doc position?

My biggest challenge has been getting to know people and feeling integrated in the research community. This challenge has been exacerbated by working from home, but I imagine that even in person, it would’ve been hard to get to know people and feel involved. I’ve tried tackling this challenge by signing up for as many seminars and workshops as possible. An important part of any pre-doc position is becoming a part of the research community and there’s no better way to do just that than by listening/engaging with other people’s research. Its also given me the opportunity to connect and meet people with similar interests, both faculty and pre-docs alike.

What are you hoping to go on to do at the end of your pre-doc? 

At the end of my pre-doc, I plan to go on to a PhD program in economics, finance, or accounting. My experience over the past year has only reassured me that I want a career in researching the topics I find so interesting. However, what this experience has taught me is that there are many paths to this kind of research and I’m well suited for any of them. I work for an accounting professor, but we research exactly the same topics that make me passionate about economics and research in the first place. So, while I’m sure I want to pursue a career in research and I’m more confident than ever in what I want to research, I know there are many programs that will help me answer these questions.

Is there anything else you want to share about your pre-doc experience thus far?

I’ve really enjoyed my experience and I’m so lucky and appreciative to work for Chris Stewart, who is an amazing researcher, mentor and advocate. I really just want to give him a shout-out because he’s the best and has been integral in making my experience as good as its been.

When you’re not working/researching, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’m not working, I like to spend my time playing music or playing chess online. As the weather has gotten nicer, I’ve been spending more time outside with friends or just finding a comfy spot to rest and read. And as Chicago has begun to open up from the pandemic, I’ve felt more comfortable exploring the city, trying new restaurants, and seeking out fun things to do.

Any fun facts you’re willing to share?

Although I ultimately applied to several pre-doc positions that interested me, my current position was the very first one I applied to. I remember putting together the application materials for the first time and being really nervous that my application wasn’t good enough to be accepted. In fact, I was so nervous that I actually overlooked a (small) typo in my cover letter and when I found it after already submitting the application, I was convinced that I had lost the job.