Q&A with Philipp Kircher

Get to know more about one of ILR’s nine new faculty members.
Phillipp Kircher is one of ILR’s nine new faculty members for the 2020-21 academic year.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Philipp Kircher joins ILR’s Department of Economics after spending the past eight years as a professor at the University of Edinburgh, including a three-year stint as a shared professor with the European University Institute. He was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Bonn, after earning a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Karlsruhe and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 
What is your research about?
Most of my work is on job search and hiring. It spans questions regarding how job seekers search for jobs, how they move between different occupations, and how firms try to attract workers. Among other things, I have studied how changes in the wages that firms post change the number and quality of job applicants; how this affects the distribution of worker talent across jobs of different complexity; how workers change occupations over time; and how these features determine wage inequality. 

I use a variety of techniques to study these questions: I rely on mathematical models to represent the time-consuming process by which firms try to find workers, and use a variety of data sources for quantitative analysis. Such data includes U.S. marco data, European administrative micro-level data, as well as data from my own field experiments.

I am currently particularly interested in the effects of technological change on the workforce. I try to predict how this will affect demand for different occupations, how this affects industry policy, and how workers’ job search decisions should adjust to this. To help job seekers in adjusting their job search to the new economic environment, I am engaged in a number of field
experiments that change the information provided on job search platforms. 

Apart from this, I have been working for the last 15 years on modelling and simulating how individuals respond to epidemics: how they try to protect themselves and how this affects disease transmission, policy effectiveness and health and economic outcomes. My early work was on HIV/AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa, but now my focus has shifted to Covid-19. 

How did you become interested in your field?
During my graduate studies I realized that we still do not fully understand parts of the process by which workers and firms match. Clearly it takes time to find the right person. But can a firm speed up this process by offering a better wage? How would that affect who applies for jobs? How much does it matter which talent is hired for which job? Can it explain rising wage inequality? Understanding these questions, and providing models that can be used to guide our thinking on them seemed exciting. Over time I became more and more interested in mapping the models to good data. And now I realize that online job search platforms allow us to actively affect the job search process, which puts a very applied perspective on this agenda.
My agenda on infectious diseases was inspired by sharing a building with demographers whose field work collecting data on HIV in Sub-Sahara Africa was inspiring. Also, the way in which diseases get transmitted has a component of random meetings that is mathematically not unsimilar to models of random meetings in the labor market. I realized that epidemiological models usually do not include optimizing agents that actively try to avoid the disease. Economists have a long tradition in modelling and aggregating such choices, and I had inspired colleagues who helped me to develop this agenda. 
What impact do you hope your research will have?
I hope to help workers who work in occupations affected by technological change and outsourcing: We try to improve online job search platforms to provide information on jobs that might be good alternatives. My work on wage inequality will hopefully increase our understanding of its drivers and how we can mitigate negative consequences. My overall agenda on job search is dedicated to understanding the process better and to build better models that allow us to analyze the role of firms and workers in the hiring and retainment process. This is a necessary ingredient for more successful and targeted policies to improve labor market outcomes.
The agenda on infectious disease transmission will hopefully help fight diseases more effectively and to understand the trade-offs in policy choices, including economic and health costs. 
What attracted you to the ILR School?
ILR has an enormous tradition in exiting research on labor markets. Researchers who have inspired whole agendas are amongst its faculty. It also has a breadth of scholars outside of economics, which will allow an insight into the broader labor market process from a variety of angles. Moreover, it seems to be an inclusive place of a size that allows interactions not only among faculty, but also between faculty and students. Having a student body interested in the workings of the labor market and the possibility to interact with them in manageable groups is an exciting prospect.
What are you most excited for about your time at ILR?
I am excited to be in a community of scholars – both faculty and students – interested in the workings of labor markets. I look forward to experiencing the rather close proximity with everyone, and to contribute and take part in an intellectual exchange that expands one’s horizon. There are many challenges and opportunities in today’s labor market, coming from changes in information technology and artificial intelligence. Managing and understanding them seems like a fascinating activity, and having the opportunity to hear the views on this from a variety of angles is inspiring.
Cornell’s “Any Person, Any Study” ethos – how will you be part of that?
The idea that any person – independent of background – can pursue even the most challenging and novel paths is something I find immensely valuable and hope to contribute to this with an open attitude that will inspire confidence in any student seeking education. I hope to contribute to the “any study” part by continuing the ambitious process of innovation: “any study” includes the study of things that are just developing, which requires an open mind and a vision to investigate new things. Obviously, this is one of the most exiting parts about being a researcher and teacher.
If you could share one piece of advice with your students, what would it be?
Do things that inspire you. If you are not inspired, how do you expect others to be inspired by what you do?
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
My family, being vegan, hiking, debating.