An award-winning and internationally recognised Harvard Assistant Professor of Economics, Myrto Kalouptsidi, is the vivid proof that even the strongest mathematical mind needs dedication and hard work to flourish, but above all, realisation that there will be obstacles along the way, which can be always overcome with persistence and boldness.

By Mia Kollia  
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos 

What role did your family play in your journey? How were you as a child, at school and as a teenager?

My parents taught me to be persistent and to use my imagination. They are also teachers so at home there has always been a commitment to knowledge, open thinking and creativity. At the same time, they inspired me to deal with "real world problems."

As a child and teenager I loved to write and I also liked maths, influenced by my father. I was a good student, I remember that in the school album at the end of elementary school my caption was "fragrant excellent".

Did you feel any inclination towards your field from the beginning? And if so, how much effort is needed for further development?

The truth is that I ended up in finances not knowing exactly where I was "involved" - I found myself there trying to reconcile my interest in understanding (and try to improve) the world, with my love for more quantitative and rigorous work. I was initially excited about economics towards the end of my undergraduate studies, when I took a course in "Industrial Organisation" - a field that studies markets and competition issues using Game Theories.

I decided on my realm in the second year of my PhD, when I realised that a new wave in the field combined theory with data. I started working on dynamic problems where decisions are studied under uncertainty (for example, long-term corporate investments in a highly volatile environment). After that, I happened to find out about shipping and I "stuck" there. 

It is important to love your field, to really like it in the long run. Deepening is a slow process with many obstacles and difficulties that one has to go through. 

What were the biggest difficulties you faced in this notable course, how did you overcome them and what did they teach you?

I would say that one of the biggest difficulties was starting a doctorate, where for the first time one is called to create, instead of consuming, research. After years in classes and exams, we are suddenly called upon to create something exclusively our own. This stage was difficult and very lonely, but necessary for the development of an independent researcher.

In fact, I always try to calm the students when they go through that process, telling them my own story. I learned that as long as you keep trying despite the frustrations, and as long as you elaborate on the details inspiration will come. Now I'm telling them: "get your hands dirty". 

Other difficulties are the inevitable failures in the course of research. I still forget that something can go slow or wrong and I have to remind myself how slow a project can move and how many ups and downs can occur. The same goes for publications, rejections from top magazines and presentations that don't go as expected.

How did you perceive recognition when it came at first and how did you manage possible disputes? 

I always try to think of success as temporary. This gives me the impetus to strive for the best and work as hard as I can. Failures are inevitable and sometimes severe, especially in an environment like finance where many are judged by a few publications in very few good magazines. It is a great skill to learn to overcome failures. Fortunately I have improved myself in this over the years and now I can manage it and not pay too much attention. 


What is success for you? In general and more specifically in your field?

In economics I believe success is to contribute something really new to the knowledge that already exists, which may help us better understand how the world works. But it is also important in economics that our research can help solve really important financial problems. That is, to be useful in economic policy.

On a personal level, success also means being happy with what you do. It sounds easy, but in practice it turns out to be difficult!

How is life away from Greece? What do you get, what experiences stand out?

There are advantages and disadvantages. In the US I like that I am close to innovation, I live and work in an open and tolerant society which in many issues is far ahead of other societies. I like the straightforwardness of people.

On the other hand, I miss the sun of Greece, the warmth of the people, the sincerity of the feelings. The truth is that after so many years abroad, many times I feel confused about what my real home is, and where it is. There are times when I don't feel at home either in America or in Greece.

What do you gain / what do you lose from:

• Devotion to a field
I think that as long as one focuses on a certain field, one gets the deep satisfaction of really knowing it. By knowing something really well, you can see how many different possible angles and parameters are there, as well as how much complexity.

• The over-effort
Putting it all to work is a risky decision. The positive side is the pursuit of what we like, the freedom to do what we want, a sense of fullness. On the downside, inevitable failures can be severe. Devotion requires sacrifice and there is a risk of losing the balance.

What do the following concepts mean to you:

• Self- knowledge
May one day we all conquer it! It is a challenge to know ourselves and to accept all aspects of ourselves. But the constant effort to conquer it is necessary.

• Self confidence
I like the concept of assertiveness. It is the ability to ask for what one wants politely, firmly, but also by accepting that one can be denied it.

• Emotional Intelligence
Empathy, which is so important, is missing from human relationships. Our daily lives would be much better if we all remembered that we all have problems and anxiety and that we all have the basic need for others to recognise that and offer support. 

• Modesty
If one has an open mind and observes the world around him, one is forced to be modest. There is no other choice.

Who is Myrto Kalouptsidi

Myrto Kalouptsidi completed her Master of Science (MSc) in Economics in 2005. Then, she received her PhD from Yale University in the United States, majoring in Economics and Industrial Management. She graduated with honours in 2011. 

From 2011 to 2016 she was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a Visiting Professor at Stanford University in 2015. Since 2016 she has been an Assistant Professor at Harvard University. In 2018 she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute in Harvard. She is married and has a 2.5-year-old daughter.