18 de January, 2022

Chris Neilson's leading the way for new generations: From the FEN to Princeton University

Before becoming the first Chilean to obtain the position of full professor of economics at Princeton University, economist Christopher Neilson studied in the classrooms of the Faculty of Economics and Business of Universidad de Chile. Today he is grateful to have witnessed and participated in an academic training that included discussions that motivated him and prepared him for the challenges he would face in the future. 

During enrollment season, in which the FEN attracts young students to undertake the major of Economics, Chris Neilson’s example lights the way for many, showing a path that starts at our Faculty and that has no limits.  Neilson says that the preparation and education he received at the FEN were fundamental for deepening into the field of academic research. His advice to those who want to study at the Faculty; choose a field that you are passionate about and work with dedication and ambition, his invitation is to leave your comfort zone and face new challenges with the purpose of "doing things that matter". 

Joseph Ramos, academic of the Department of Economics (DECON), was one of his professors who describes the Economist as: "Neilson was an outstanding student, incisive in his questions, grounded (he knew how to distinguish what was fundamental from what was secondary), as well as being a person of great simplicity". Jaime Ruiz-Tagle, also a professor at DECON, shared work with Neilson at the Central Bank and underlines his unique perseverance and dedication, confirming that talent must be complemented with effort.

After completing his undergraduate and master's studies at the FEN, Christopher Neilson completed his doctoral studies at Yale University. At that time he coincided with the director of DECON, Fabián Duarte, who recalls that at that time he was already executing cutting-edge research that today places him among the most outstanding Chilean economists.

In those years he was able to collaborate with the Center for Studies of the Ministry of Education, and from that position he supported the elaboration of inputs for debates on public policies through the analysis of data and the review of evidence. His expertise as  an applied microeconomist led him to study the impact of different policies on learning and on the quality of education. Among other initiatives, he participated in measuring the effect that small pieces of information have on the decision-making of students entering higher education, estimating returns to higher education for different groups of the population based on the majors and institutions chosen, and the impact of the preferential grant on the quality of education. 

Thanks to this experience, he accessed novel data that nourished his own research and allowed him to elaborate proposals for public policies. In that sense, the chancellor of Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Harald Beyer, former Minister of Education, believes that Neilson's multiple publications in prestigious academic journals help to reflect on relevant public policies to improve the opportunities of our future generations.

Currently, Neilson is one of the three most cited Chilean economists of publications from the last decade. His academic work – focused on educational markets and policies to promote opportunities for access to human capital development – have been published in prestigious journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Review and the Journal of Public Economics . In addition, he has managed to build bridges between his academic research and the reality of countries such as Chile, Peru and Colombia, where he has worked on the design, implementation and evaluation of policies in education.

Beyer highlights three personal aspects of Neilson: his concern to use his knowledge selflessly to support good public policies in Chile; his permanent willingness to help others resolve concerns about the design of public policies; and his ability to work with other people and even support them in their intellectual development. Undoubtedly, these characteristics were the engine that led Neilson to found the NGO ConsiliumBots whose purpose is, precisely, to support countries to implement improvements in education based on evidence and evaluate their policies.

His goal is for governments to achieve innovative solutions on a large scale, supporting families and schools in department admission processes through the use of technological platforms. For this reason, his project also include the incorporation and support of young researchers to continue their studies in postgraduate programs because, from his perspective, this is a way to support the preparation of new experts in the area and generate impact on public policies in the countries of the region. 

"It is important to take these innovations to different social policies, where economists can support with their skills to provide new solutions, relying on data science and new technologies," concludes the economist.