Wu, who will start her doctoral studies at Harvard next year, completed the research in an award-winning senior thesis at the University of California, Berkeley. Her paper has been making the rounds among leading economists this summer, and prompting urgent conversations. David Card, an eminent economist at Berkeley who was Ms.
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The underrepresentation of women in top university economics departments is already well documented , but it has been difficult to evaluate claims about workplace culture because objectionable conversations rarely occur in the open. Whispered asides at the water cooler are hard to observe, much less measure.
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But the intersection of two technological shifts has opened up new avenues for research. This is what Ms.
Wu mined more than a million posts from an anonymous online message board frequented by many economists. The site, commonly known as econjobrumors. Over time, it evolved into a virtual water cooler frequented by economics faculty members, graduate students and others.
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It now constitutes a useful, if imperfect, archive for studying what economists talk about when they talk among themselves. Because all posts are anonymous, it is impossible to know whether the authors are men or women, or how representative they are of the broader profession. Indeed, some may not even be economists.
But it is clearly an active and closely followed forum, particularly among younger members of the field. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women. The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.
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The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel. And to the extent that there is a clearly gendered theme, it is a schoolyard battle for status: The list includes words like bully, burning and fought. In her paper, Ms.
In order to more systematically evaluate the underlying themes of these discussions, Ms. Wu moved beyond analyzing specific words to exploring the broad topics under discussion.
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This part of her analysis reveals that discussions about men are more likely to be confined to topics like economics itself and professional advice with terms including career, interview or placement. Now that piqued our curiosity. We tracked down Barnett-Hart, a year-old financial analyst at a large New York investment bank. Last October, Barnett-Hart, already pulling all-nighters at the bank we agreed to not name her employer , received a call from Lewis, who had heard about her thesis from a Harvard doctoral student.
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Lewis was blown away. That it took a year-old Harvard student to find them out is just outrageous.
She grew up in Boulder, Colo. A gifted violinist, Barnett-Hart deferred admission at Harvard to attend Juilliard, where she was accepted into a program studying the violin under Itzhak Perlman. After a year, she headed to Cambridge, Mass. She enjoyed how the subject mixed current events with history, got an A natch and declared economics her concentration.