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Ellen Greaves

Research Economists, Skills research programme

What first attracted you to IFS?


The work of the IFS is wide-ranging, and is often relevant to both the academic community and policy makers. I was attracted by the opportunity to undertake valued and independent research that has the potential to influence these two worlds in a meaningful way. Attending the IFS public economics lectures (held in London), and talking to previous employees convinced me that the IFS was the place I wanted to work.


Which projects are you working on at the moment?


I work in the Education sector at IFS, so my current projects all relate to children’s development and education policy in some way. For example, we are just finalising a body of research which investigates the impact of a child’s month of birth on their educational attainment, wider skills and behaviours. I am also looking at whether the way teachers are paid influences pupils’ attainment, the potential benefits of encouraging competition between schools in England, and whether being born to married and cohabiting parents matters for a child’s development. I am just beginning a project looking at the costs and benefits of different initial teacher training routes.


What kinds of things do you do during a typical day at work?


IFS projects tend to be collaborative, so a typical day involves some discussion with colleagues. At the beginning of a project, this may be about the methodological approach and appropriate source of data for the question at hand. During the project, we are likely to discuss emerging findings and further ideas to improve the analysis. This stage typically involves a large amount of data work and analysis, which I really enjoy. The final stage of a project is to present the findings in an appropriate way and disseminate them as widely as possible (for example through the media, presenting at conferences and writing academic articles). I find this particularly rewarding, especially if the findings have the potential to influence policy-making. Different projects tend to overlap, so a day at work may involve all of the above!


What do you particularly enjoy about the job?


Day to day, I enjoy the challenges that arise, both methodological and practical, which can be overcome with some careful thinking most of the time. I also enjoy working with my colleagues here, who are inspirational and always helpful. More broadly, I enjoy the impact that our research can have, sometimes providing evidence that would otherwise be sorely lacking.


How has your career progressed so far at IFS?


I joined IFS in 2009 after two years’ work experience at another research centre, the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO). Since then, I have improved my data handling skills, and now enjoy writing computer programs to work more efficiently. My theoretical understanding has also improved, as the result of interaction with colleagues here and undertaking a part-time MSc in economics at UCL. The most important development in my career so far has been beginning to supervise other staff, and to apply for funding that will eventually determine my own research agenda.


What have you learned from working here?


I have certainly learned a lot about the process of research, from the initial application for funding to the interpretation and presentation of findings. More generally, I have learned that there are no easy solutions to difficult questions that interest policy makers. Our job is the make our research as rigorous as it can be, and to explain our findings to academic and policy audiences in the clearest way possible.


How would you describe the working environment?


I enjoy the collaborative and supportive working environment at IFS. Both senior and more junior colleagues are happy to discuss potential ideas and solutions to problems, and each researcher receives good advice on their career and development. There are also plenty of social events, including evenings out, a collective “tea-time” each Friday and charity runs, which are great opportunities to get to know one another outside the office.