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Q&A with Economist Beth Munnich

Author: Arts and Letters

Beth Munnich

Beth Munnich received her Ph.D. in economics from Notre Dame in 2013. Now an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, Munnich’s research focuses on health economics and economics of the family. This winter, she shared her thoughts on her experience at Notre Dame.

AL: How did you choose Notre Dame’s Ph.D. program in economics?

Munnich: A professor in my master of public policy program at the University of Chicago encouraged me to apply to Notre Dame because I’d have the opportunity to work closely with top-notch economists.

Ultimately, I chose Notre Dame because of the faculty. With the challenges of graduate schoolwork, I wanted to be in a supportive environment with strong mentors. I was also excited about all the energy and resources that were being put into building the program, and I felt that that would really benefit me as a student.

AL: What inspired you to pursue health economics and economics of the family? Why are these areas of research particularly important?

Munnich: I was interested in health economics when I started the Ph.D. program, but more from a nutrition standpoint. Through my coursework in public and labor economics, I started looking more closely at the health care sector. As I wrote my second-year paper, I became interested in the U.S. health care system. There are so many important questions right now, and given the high health care costs in the U.S., a real need for research to inform health care policy.

I became interested in the economics of the family when I began working as a research assistant for [Brian and Jeannelle Brady Associate Professor] Kasey Buckles during my first year. This is a subfield of labor economics and has clear health implications, so I was naturally drawn to it. Kasey has been at the forefront of this field and I was intrigued by her research on how family composition affects children’s outcomes. We started exploring the effects of birth spacing between siblings, a topic that had not been studied much by economists, and this has developed into a series of papers.

AL: How valuable was it to be able to publish research with Kasey Buckles and Associate Professor Abigail Wozniak as a graduate student?

Munnich: Co-authoring work with Kasey and Abbie taught me a lot about writing and publishing papers. It gave me the opportunity to grow as a researcher and see parts of the process that often get overlooked when you are not writing a paper yourself. These experiences have also made me realize how much I enjoy collaborating with others. I get so much out of talking through research questions and data conundrums with others, and I think my research is better because of it.

AL: What are your current research projects?

Munnich: I’m continuing and extending research I started with faculty during my time at Notre Dame. With Kasey Buckles, I am examining the effects of birth spacing on adolescent risky behavior, and with Abbie Wozniak, I am looking at what is driving the rise of men going into the nursing profession. My job market paper examined quality and costs in ambulatory surgery centers and I’ve continued this work, constantly looking for new and better ways to measure these outcomes.

In other projects, I am researching the impact of the Affordable Care Act on access to healthcare in Kentucky, and I have been working with [Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics] Bill Evans to explore the effectiveness of cancer treatment in older women.

AL: How did the Notre Dame faculty prepare you for the job market?

Munnich: In terms of the job market, I didn’t really understand how important—and rare—the amount of support I received from Notre Dame faculty was, until I talked with students from other programs who did not have a similar experience. Our job market preparation started very early, as we learned not only how to be researchers but how to engage in a research community.

I had the opportunity to attend several conferences as a graduate student, which was important for learning how to communicate about my research, getting feedback, and establishing relationships with other economists. We were encouraged to start working on independent research and submitting our papers to academic journals early in our studies, so that we’d learn about the publication process and ideally have published or publishable work by the time we went on the market—an important signal to future employers. We were given numerous opportunities to prepare for job interviews, and we were also able to see the hiring process firsthand by attending job talks given by candidates interviewing at Notre Dame.

By the time I was actually on the job market, I felt well prepared and wasn’t surprised by much. I was constantly in contact with my committee about my interviews as they developed, and they were extremely generous in helping me navigate the process and advocating for me. In the end, I was very happy with all of my job options and chose an institution that fits my needs professionally and personally.

AL: While at Notre Dame, you won an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. In what ways did the faculty and resources at Notre Dame help prepare you to teach—and how has that helped you in your current position?

Munnich: While many graduate students only get classroom experience as a teaching assistant, at Notre Dame we were given the opportunity to independently teach courses. We had numerous teaching resources available, and working with the high-caliber undergraduates at Notre Dame was both challenging and extremely rewarding. By the time I started teaching as an assistant professor, I had experience prepping and teaching a course, and I felt confident being in front of a classroom.

AL: What did you enjoy most about the Ph.D. program at Notre Dame and what do you take away from the experience?

Munnich: The program was incredibly challenging, and I’ve never worked harder for anything in my life. But I always felt like I had team of faculty members and fellow students who sincerely wanted me to succeed. Even though I graduated nearly two years ago, I still look to my advisers and classmates from Notre Dame for advice.

AL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Munnich: I’m amazed at how much the department has grown and developed since I started the Ph.D. program almost seven years ago. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this development, and I look forward to seeing how the program continues to grow in the future.