Netherlands : PhD Scholarships


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Master’s degree in economics, econometrics, computer science, psychology, behavioral genetics, epidemiology,

Several PhD positions for genoeconomics are available as part of a joint research initiative of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the University of Amsterdam. Genoeconomics is a newly emerging research field that investigates the molecular genetic architecture of economic preferences (e.g. risk preferences, time discounting) and important lifetime outcomes (e.g. educational attainment, happiness, self-employment). This research could be transformative for the social sciences by providing new tools and insights to study the causes of behaviors and outcomes. Furthermore, the results of this research can inform medical research by identifying relevant causal pathways for disease outcomes (e.g. cognition-related or cardio-vascular diseases) that can help to identify individuals at risk early on. The PhD candidates will be embedded in an international, interdisciplinary research team that spearheads this new research field.

Keywords

Behavioral genetics, microeconomics, molecular genetics, genoeconomics

ERIM Reference

ERIM PhD 2013 Geneconomics

Topic

Twin and family studies show that a broad range of psychological traits, economic preferences, and social and economic outcomes are moderately heritable. Discovery of genetic variants associated with such outcomes can lead to new insights into the causal pathways underlying human behaviour, including the complex interplay of environmental and genetic factors. Thus, social scientists, including economists and management scholars, have begun to look to genetics to inform their work. The overall aim of this new interdisciplinary research field is to address the following questions:

 

i. Can particular genetic markers associated with social-science traits be identified?

 

ii. To what extent can genetic data be informative about an individual’s traits?

 

iii. How does the environment moderate genetic effects?

 

iv. How can genetic insights be integrated into the social sciences?

 

v. How can medical research benefit from insights about the genetics of social-science traits?

 

The PhD candidates will address one or several of these research questions in projects that will focus on one or several economic variables, such as educational attainment, risk preferences, time preferences, or self-employment.

 

Approach

 

As a part of this PhD project, the candidate will learn and apply modern statistical methods for the analysis of molecular genetic data. This includes, but is not limited to, genome-wide association analysis, meta-analysis, polygenic scores and heritability estimates using molecular genetic data. The necessary skills for using the appropriate statistical methods can be learned during the first year of employment. The candidate will work with data from different sources, including the Rotterdam Study, the Health and Retirement Study, the Swedish Twin Registry, and the Social Science Genetics Association Consortium (http://www.ssgac.org).

 

Literature references

 

  • D. J. Benjamin et al., The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences. PNAS. 109, 8026-8031 (2012).
  • J. P. Beauchamp et al., Molecular genetics and economics. J. Econ. Persp. 25, 57-82 (2011).
  • D. J. Benjamin et al., The promises and pitfalls of genoeconomics. Ann. Rev. Econ. 4, 627-662 (2012).
  • D. Cesarini, C. T. Dawes, M. Johannesson, P. Lichtenstein, B. Wallace, Genetic variation in preferences for giving and risk taking. Q. J. Econ. 124, 809-842 (2009).
  • C. A. Rietveld et al., Molecular genetics and subjective well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2013). doi:10.1073/pnas.1222171110
  • Van der Loos, Matthijs J.H.M., et al., The molecular genetic architecture of self-employment. PLoS ONE. 8(4), e60542 (2013).
  • C. A. Rietveld et al., GWAS of 126,559 individuals identifies genetic variants associated with educational attainment. Science. 340, 1467-1471 (2013).
  • R. Plomin, J. DeFries, V. Knopik, J. Neiderhiser, Behavioral Genetics (Worth Publishers, ed. 6th edition, 2013).

 

Cooperation

 

The position will be affiliated with the newly established Erasmus University Rotterdam Institute of Biology and Economic Behavior (EURIBEB) and can be located at the Erasmus School of Economics or the Amsterdam Business School. The candidate will be part of a team that is leading this research effort, including Albert Hofman (Epidemiology), Roy Thurik (Economics), Patrick Groenen (Econometrics), and Philipp Koellinger (Economics & Business). Furthermore, the candidate will work closely with the principal investigators of the Social Science Genetics Association Consortium (Daniel Benjamin at Cornell University, David Cesarini at New York University and Philipp Koellinger at the University of Amsterdam) and Magnus Johannesson at the Stockholm School of Economics. Research visits at one or several of our international collaborators are encouraged. The team is internationally leading the development of this new interdisciplinary research field.

 

Expected output

 

The outcome of the project will consist in a number of research papers that will form the contents of the PhD dissertation. The project is designed to result in publications in leading academic journals in the areas of economics, medicine and genetics.

 

Scientific relevance

 

Genoeconomics could have several important impacts, including the following three:

 

1. Understanding individual differences

 

Studying the molecular genetics of behaviour has the potential to be transformative for the social sciences because it addresses fundamental questions that social scientists are interested in: Why are people different from each other? Why do they do the things they do? A better understanding of the biological foundations of behaviour may identify structural parameters of theoretical models in the social sciences and provide an empirical basis for decomposing crude theoretical constructs (e.g., time preference) into more primitive, truly exogenous attributes.

 

2. Understanding causal pathways from biology to behaviour and outcomes

 

Once robust associations between genes and social scientific outcomes have been established, researchers are able to use genetic data to learn about the causal pathways of the outcomes they are interested in. This could lead to completely new insights that could be useful in improving theory and predicting behaviour.

 

3. Improving traditional empirical research in the social sciences

 

Social scientists may be able to use genetic data to improve traditional empirical research. In particular, genetic data can be used to better understand how the environment influences behaviour and economic outcomes. For example, an important concern is to understand the effects of public policy interventions such as expensive programs aiming to increase student achievement. Genetic information can be used to improve the precision of causal effect estimates of such interventions, especially in the context of randomized experiments where controlling for unobserved genetic heterogeneity can increase the statistical power to identify the effects of the treatment. In the latter context, genetic information can substitute, to some extent, for sample size in the experiment. This is particularly useful if the experiment is expensive, the number of participants in the experiment cannot be increased, and if genetic information of the participants is available at low or no additional cost.

 

Societal relevance

 

Insights from genoeconomics can contribute to several important societal goals:

 

1. Improving public policy: Genoeconomics can inform our understanding of how to craft effective public policies via different routes, including:

 

– A better understanding of the causal pathways contributing towards individual differences, behaviour, and socio-economic outcomes;

 

– Shedding light on the complex interplay between environmental conditions, public policies, and genetic predispositions of individuals;

 

– Developing and apply tools that contribute to the evaluation of the effectiveness of public policies, by using genetic data to get more precise estimates of the causal effects of such interventions.

 

2.  Contributing to better public health and lower health costs: The onset of many heritable diseases can be delayed or even prevented if individuals at risk are identified early and accurately. Even if the onset of disease cannot be prevented, early diagnosis can open up additional, effective treatment options and result in overall cost savings. Thus, early identification of people at risk can contribute towards increasing health outcomes and lowering the long-run costs of treatment. Genoeconomics can help contribute to these important goals in two ways:

 

– Improve existing statistical methods that use genetic data to identify persons at risk for heritable diseases in general;

 

– Leverage the insights from the genoeconomics to enable early diagnosis of people at risk for cognition-related disease such as dementia.

 

PhD candidate profile

 

Candidates should have a recently completed Master’s degree in economics, econometrics, computer science, psychology, behavioral genetics, epidemiology, or another field that provides a sufficient background in statistics. Good computer skills and some knowledge of programming languages are an advantage. Furthermore, curiosity and an interest to work in an interdisciplinary environment are regarded as assets.

Further Information

Application Deadline : 18 November 2013

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