Susan Athey – Using Big Data to Study Behavior

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on July 3, 2013


Economics professor Susan Athey recently joined Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where she got her doctorate at age 24, to pursue her “big-data-meets-economics vision.” In a recent Bloomberg article, Professor Athey discusses her interest in guiding the next generation of economists to straddle the worlds of research and real-world market design. A new Ph.D.-level class she developed introduces students to research topics in electronic commerce and the economics of the Internet.

Below are a few excerpts from “Stanford Economist Musters Big Data to Shape Web Future:”

Discussing search technology with Microsoft executives in 2007:

“The obvious question was, would this become a one-firm show or was it possible to have two competing search engines?” recalled Athey, an authority on timber auctions who had just begun studying the market for digital advertising. “I believed then, based on economic theory and some data, and I believe more strongly now that it’s indeed possible to have two competing search engines and that it’s also incredibly important for the Internet ecosystem.”

Choosing to pursue a career in economics:

While she also majored in computer science and math, she chose to pursue economics for her graduate degree because of its potential to influence public policy. “It was incredibly powerful” watching her adviser Marshall testify in Congress based on research she did under his direction, she said.

Opportunities for the future:

“We’ve never had data on that scale before to study behavior,” which “creates opportunities for new science,” she said. “I want to help the economics field embrace those opportunities.”

Colleagues discuss Susan Athey:

"There are people who build on other people's research," but Athey "does a single paper that moves the entire field along 10 years," said Joshua Gans, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto and a graduate-school classmate with whom she has co-authored several studies. "Now she's running an economic movement" and she's "nearly starting from scratch. It's the kind of thing you would want someone like Susan to do."

“She really cares about making sure you don’t take short cuts and that everything is done incredibly carefully,” said Jonathan Levin, an economics professor at Stanford who has written a number of papers with her. “She has a remarkable energy to get things done.”

Read the full Bloomberg article: “Stanford Economist Musters Big Data to Shape Web Future

Susan Athey is a Professor of Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Professor Athey’s current research focuses on the design of auction-based marketplaces and the economics of the Internet, primarily on online advertising and the economics of the news media. She is an expert in a broad range of economic fields and has used game theory to examine firm strategy when firms have private information. She advises governments and businesses on the design of auction-based marketplaces; her findings helped the Canadian government deregulate its timber auctions, and most recently she consults for Microsoft Corporation on its online services.

In 2007, Professor Athey was named the first female recipient of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every other year to the most accomplished American economist under the age of 40. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 and is a fellow of the Econometric Society.