An interview with Agne Kajackaite
"Most of my research ideas come from observing people"
Our alumna Agne Kajackaite comes from Lithuania where she gained her Bachelor degree at the Vilnius University. She afterwards studied the Master Economics under Mummert Scholarship in Cologne and also received her PhD at our faculty as an alumna of the Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences (CGS). The behavioral economist is now working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In August she is moving back to Germany – this time to Berlin. She will be Head of a junior research group in Behavioral and Experimental Economics at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). In an interview with us, she talks about her time at the WiSo Faculty, her research and her current life in Los Angeles.
Studies and research at the WiSo Faculty
Dear Agne, you wanted to know what kind of influence the knowledge to finance dubious organizations through your work has on people. To get to know that, a study was carried out at the WiSo Faculty in Cologne. What was the outcome of the study– and did the result surprise you?
I found that some people try to avoid information about negative consequences of their work. They choose to be ignorant to maintain a positive self-image: What I do not know, does not hurt me. An interesting result was that not knowing alone does not make a person behave in a selfish way – one has to self-select into not knowing to behave in selfishly, so it is all about the type of a person. The results did not surprise me, because they were in line with my hypotheses and observations from the outside world.
What inspired you to do a study concerning this issue?
People around me. Most of my research ideas come from observing people – people I meet at work, in social interactions, my friends, family. For example, in the last few years I am mostly studying lying behavior. I talk with people about whether they lie (we all do), how they lie, etc. This helps me to come up with ideas for my experiments.
(One can read an interview on the study in the Harvard Business Manager.)
I have learned a lot in my Master’s studies. I got to run my first experiment. My Master’s studies made me understand what I want to do in my life.
When you think back to your studies at the WiSo Faculty in Cologne, what’s your fondest memory?
Learning that experimental economics exists and getting passionate about it.
If you had to do it all again, would you still choose to study in Cologne and why?
Yes. I have learned a lot in my Master’s studies. I got to run my first experiment. My Master’s studies made me understand what I want to do in my life. I was also very satisfied with my PhD program.
Tell us about your experiences in L.A.
You are now working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Could you describe a typical day at work?
My days are very similar as they were in Cologne. Most of the researchers have similar routine (if one can call it routine). Most of the day I do research – it consists of writing papers, editing, editing and editing those paper all over again, working on revisions for the journals, thinking about new ideas, analyzing experimental data, preparing experiments, running experiments. An important part of my day is interactions with colleagues, going to talks by other scientists. Some days I teach and do some refereeing work for papers submitted to journals by other scientists. One of the best parts of my job is that I get to travel a lot. I go to conferences, get invited to talks, have research stays in other universities – it keeps one going.
What are the current research topics you are working on?
I became a lying expert :) I analyze the intrinsic cost of lying which can be described as a moral cost – I do not want to lie because it will make me feel bad about myself. I might also not want to lie because of social image, i.e. I do not want others to think I am a liar. My coauthors and I try to understand how size of a lie affects the lying cost, how social image and self-image concerns enter our utility function. We also study how lying interacts with fear and many other topics related to lying. I am very passionate about this topic!
I love Los Angeles. I think it is one of the most interesting and vibrant cities in the world. (...) I have met fantastic people, learned a lot about different fields, cultures, arts, life.
What do you like about Los Angeles?
I love Los Angeles. I think it is one of the most interesting and vibrant cities in the world. It is very diverse, full of different cultures, we have poor and rich, we have everything. I live in Downtown Los Angeles and I am sure it is the most edgy part of LA. It is grimy, a bit dangerous, dirty, has lots of homeless, but it is also full of beautiful theaters, rooftop bars, old Art Deco buildings, galleries, hip restaurants, creative people. I will be very sad to leave Los Angeles. When I come back from other cities and through the car window finally see the skyline of Los Angeles, I feel I am coming back home. I also think Los Angeles is Lost Angeles. People come here with big hopes, often fail and still try to succeed. They are lost, but they are following their dreams. I admire the strength they have. Los Angeles is not only Hollywood and Beverly Hills– it is a struggle for many people.
What are you doing there in your free time – did you start any new kind of activity in L.A.?
I am LIVING. I have met fantastic people, learned a lot about different fields, cultures, arts, life. In my free time I spend a lot of time on my rooftop enjoying the sun and the skyline. I spend time with people I met and learn from them. I go to rooftop bars and rooftop pools. I go to many exhibition openings. Sometimes I go to the beach (Los Angeles is huge and getting to the beach is not so easy when one lives East). I have also just started learning photography. I am interested in street photography. First, I want to capture the many colors of downtown and its people.
What are your plans for the future?
I will work in Berlin for five years, where I will do research and advise my first PhD students. After that I will apply for tenure-positions or will try to get tenured directly. I am not sure whether it will be in Europe or America. Importantly, I will try to be as happy as I can.
As an alumni advice, what are your three tips that you can give to our students?
The main advice is to do what one wants to do. Very often young people choose to study what they are expected to study (by family, society in general). After the studies they pick jobs they are expected to pick. I believe it is a very bad strategy to follow. I also believe that one can be successful only if s/he likes what s/he is doing. Importantly, one will be happy only if s/he does what s/he likes and is passionate about.
My second advice is to live abroad and travel. I believe we learn the most from people that are different than us. Travelling extends one’s mind.
Third, enjoy your young years!
Thank you very much for the interview!
Interview: Sarah Brender