Name: Daniel Firoozi
Year in program, program: 4th year economics Ph.D. student
Awards: A. Kimball Romney Award, Art DeVany Best Poster Award, Merit Fellowship in Economics, Diversity Recruitment Fellowship
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Undergrad: UC San Diego, Class of 2017 (Economics B.A.), summa cum laude

What drew you to the field of economics and UCI, and what type of research do you do?

I started off as an undergraduate biology major, but was drawn to economics after learning about advances made during the “credibility revolution.” The idea that we can use real world data to help identify solutions to social science problems is powerful. It means that we have an opportunity to base our policy views on the evidence, rather than doing the opposite.

UC Irvine’s Department of Economics was exceedingly welcoming and the professors in my field were an excellent fit for my research interests. When I was deciding on which campus to attend, the people I spoke to at UCI went out of their way to stress how supportive the department was of its students.

I study discrimination, human capital, and the impact of redistributive programs using research designs like random control trials and regression discontinuity. My work has touched on how to target merit scholarships to improve degree attainment, the impact of salient information about inequality on election results, and the use of stereotypes in job advertisements to facilitate age discrimination.

What interests you most in your current field of study?

The increasingly rigorous and data-driven nature of applied microeconomics makes me optimistic that economists will be able to help policymakers tackle tough challenges like rising inequality and inequity in the American economy.

What implications does your research have for the general community?

My research has important implications for the effects government policies meant to address inequity and discrimination. For example, my paper on the Appalachian Regional Commission finds that informing rural and culturally conservative voters that they are among the poorest 10 percent of Americans substantially increases their odds of voting for Democratic Party candidates. My other papers show that means-testing merit scholarships can improve university budgets and degree attainment, and that machine learning can be an effective tool for identifying discriminatory language in job advertisements.

What challenges have you faced getting to where you are today?

Growing up as a gay man of color in a small town in Texas was certainly difficult. More recently, I’ve spent the past year juggling research work with being a full-time caregiver for my mom, who is fighting metastatic lung cancer. I am immensely grateful for how supportive my advisors and family have been.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment thus far while at UCI?

I was asked by some policymakers working in higher education to present my research findings from another paper and help them design a new program to improve access and equity. They implemented changes aligned with presentation and ended up substantially increasing recruitment of high achieving students who were first generation college-goers and grew up in disadvantaged zip codes.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far and why?

My parents are my biggest role models because they immigrated under tough circumstances twice to afford me the chance at a better life. Neither of mom’s parents had the opportunity to finish elementary school, but she went to earn two master’s degrees and become one of few women in telecommunications and FinTech. My dad was an asylee, who went on to start a small business, help set up America’s early cellphone network, and now works in higher education. The thing that they said growing up that stuck with me is: “When you make it through a gateway of opportunity, don’t lock the door behind you. Hold it open for the next person.”

Any other unique life experiences you want to share?

I was very active in California politics recently and was a delegate to a major party’s national convention in 2016. That gave me a lot of firsthand exposure to elected officials, activists, and everyday voters discussing policy issues their perspectives.

What do you plan to do after finishing your graduate degree?

I hope to find a job where I can apply what I’ve learned at UC Irvine and continue to write policy-relevant research.

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