Simon joined Motu as a Research Analyst near the end of 2010 and left in August 2013. He was part of the the environment team, working with senior fellow Suzi Kerr, with a particular focus on the water quality and emissions trading simulation models. Simon had a significant role in the development of both NManager and LURNZ.
What was your background before joining Motu?
I had completed a Conjoint BSc/BCA in Mathematics, Operations Research and Econometrics, followed by an Honours year in Operations Research. I was enrolled to complete a Masters thesis at the time I started at Motu. All this study was at Victoria University of Wellington.
Why did you choose to come here?
I had the opportunity to complete my masters while working (I ended up taking unpaid leave to complete all of it). I was expecting to pursue an academic/research career and being part of a non-university research organisation fit with that. Motu had a need for computer modeling and that was one of my strengths. I took the opportunity to work in my strength.
What were the highlights of your time at Motu?
I rebuilt both of Motu's models at the time: NManager and LURNZ. In both cases this resulted in significant improvements in performance. LURNZ went from 2-4 hours down to 4 minutes, because of better programming. I grew by having to do more than research. I still remember Suzi asking me to organise a workshop/forum with more than 20 invitees.
How has your career progressed since you left Motu?
As my masters thesis concluded, both Suzi and my supervisor at Vic said to me "you are bright, go somewhere impressive and do a PhD, I'll write you a letter of recommendation". With their recommendations, I received offers from Stanford, MIT and Berkeley in the USA. I spent 3 years studying at Stanford, working towards a PhD.
However, I did not get my PhD. About 3 years ago I returned to Wellington to get married - planning to complete my study remotely. But getting my Stanford supervisor to support me long distance turned out to be too difficult (he had dozens of other students, his own business and teaching - easy to forget about me). So I left the PhD incomplete and began working as a data scientist at the Social Investment Agency. This has been an incredible opportunity.
How has your Motu experience affected your subsequent path?
Suzi's reference helped get me into amazing further study. While at Motu, I developed a range of 'soft skills' that my university subjects did not teach. I still remember a workshop on giving presentations.
Motu developed me as a new graduate very effectively. It allowed time for me to learn, and pushed me to contribute all my strengths.
What advice do you have for early career economists?
1. Learning to recognise and accept failure and learn from it is hard but essential to building a robust career. Not getting my PhD was a big step in that learning for me.
2. Know yourself - your skills, your passions, your needs, your values - the intersection of these is what will make your career sustainable.
3. Don't assume you need the title/label of 'economist'. There are lots of roles that need your skills but called by different names.