Staff news

A new chapter for Dr Krisztina Orbán

Dr Krisztina Orbán

Seeking a life filled with adventurous travel has seen Incoming staff member Dr Krisztina Orbán live in multiple countries, master four languages and experience a rewarding academic career.

She is currently completing her post-doctoral position at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts and will shortly join the Department of Economics.

Her research focus is on understanding how firms operate and make decisions and how these decisions translate into growth and development. She is fascinated by the impact of government policies on firms and how firms in turn react to these influences and the effects this has on the macro level.

“My interests are quite broad, but this is the most concentrated sub-question.  I’m always interested in talking to people on many different subjects as I really like combining insights from different fields,” Dr Orbán says.

Dr Orban is originally from Miskolc, a city in the north-eastern part of Hungary where she lived until the age of ten. Her parents worked overseas for a while, and this was the start of Krisztina’s interest in other environments.

She has since lived in the US, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, and speaks all these languages fluently. For the last eight years she has lived in the US cities of Chicago and Cambridge.

Her academic background is reflected in her passion for new environments and different countries. She spent her undergraduate years studying maths and economics in Budapest and Amsterdam and completed her master’s degree at the Central European University.

She completed her PhD in Chicago in 2019 before accepting her current post-doctoral position at NBER.

Why did you choose to come to Monash?

“I had a very good impression of the Department of Economics and the people there. I’m excited to interact with my colleagues and look forward to our conversations. When I see how my childhood and my life has evolved, coming to Australia is a nice continuation of my exploration of the world. I’m an adventurous person,” she adds.

When Dr Orbán is not working she enjoys exploring urban areas and learning about the culture and history of new neighbourhoods. She is a keen photographer and after staying put during the long period of COVID-19 she is hungry for new constellations of buildings, plants, open spaces and people.

Once in Melbourne, she looks forward to being able to bike to work. She also really likes water sports and hopes to swim outside all year round.

“I would like to learn to surf, and I am really excited to live so close to the sea,” she says.

Kaveh Majlesi’s long journey, on COVID time

Professor Kaveh Majlesi

For Professor Kaveh Majlesi, the journey from Sweden to Melbourne to take up a position in Monash’s Department of Economics has been long-winded, to say the least.

Delayed by COVID-19 for 20 months, he and his family finally arrived at the start of the Australian summer, thankfully managing to avoid a stay in quarantine.

“The past 20 months have been so disruptive as we never knew when we were going to leave!” he says.

“The trip was postponed several times but the department in Lund (University), Sweden was very good to me. It was difficult leaving them – they let me develop as a researcher and were always supportive.”

Professor Majlesi originates from Iran, from a south westerly region that should be of interest to many wine-loving Melburnians: Shiraz.

“It is the region where the grape comes from and I grew up there until the age of 18 when I went to Tehran to study electrical engineering at Sharif University,” he says.

But engineering was not his passion and after a few years of work in the private sector he was accepted to do a Master of Public Administration at Harvard University and moved to the US. His focus was economic development and after a stint at an NGO in California he went to Austin, Texas to conduct his PhD.

Once complete, he moved across the world again, to Lund University in the south of Sweden. Here his research interest shifted.

“My dissertation focused on trade shocks in developing countries and its effects on people’s choices and life outcomes. During my years in Lund, I became interested in wealth inequality and its origins.

“Now my core research is on how households and individuals make their financial choices and what the consequences are for the dynamics of wealth inequality. I look at this from many different perspectives.”

Would you tell us more about your research?

“One area I am interested in is, why do people make vastly different decisions with their money? When you think about financial decision-making, it could be genetic or driven by the environment like the behaviour of parents, siblings, or the larger environment. Or it can be an interaction between the two,” he says.

“Basically, I have thought about how important are pre-birth factors compared to the environment and what the environmental mechanisms are that could affect economic and investment decisions. In a couple of papers we worked with data on Swedish adoptees and linked them to both their adoptive and biological parents so we could see the variation. This research sort of changed my world view.”

How?

“Well, we find that when it comes to risk-taking in the financial market, that is, let’s say, investing in the stock market versus putting money in the bank, the environment you grow up in is much more important than the type of genes you inherit from your parents. We know that in the long run risky assets perform much better and this has implications for the dynamics of wealth inequality.

“Your environment matters so much more than your genetics. Note that it is not about inheriting your parents’ assets if they are rich. We conduct our analysis before any sort of bequest takes place. I wasn’t really surprised by the findings, but it reinforced and solidified what I knew. It’s not a pretty picture when it comes to wealth inequality and what drives it. It’s quite depressing,” says Prof Majlesi.

Other areas of research include the impact of labour market and socio-economic background on financial behaviour, how different types of investors act around stock market events as well as political economy. He has looked at how import competition with China affected political outcomes in the US.

The conclusion was that extreme trade shocks dramatically increased polarisation. Voters living in affected areas mostly went extreme right and in some cases to the very liberal left.

After more than nine years in Sweden Prof Majlesi and his family decided they were open to move. They had only five cities in which they were willing to live: Boston, Washington DC, London, Melbourne, and Sydney.

He received offers from universities in four of those cities but in the end decided to try his luck at Monash Business School.

“The easy option would have been to go back to the US. We have many friends there. It’s just that I liked the department here much better. You need some reassurance when you move to the other end of the world. And I could see that the department had made some impressive hires. Those people wouldn’t have moved and stayed at Monash if they didn’t think the department was good enough,” he says.

When he is not working Prof Majlesi loves football and coffee.

“My six-year-old son is now also obsessed with football. We both play and watch the sport. I’m a Liverpool supporter. I also like reading novels. My wife translates novels, mostly mid-century American novels, from English to Persian.

“She is also a musician and plays the Persian instruments Tar and Se-tar. She hopes to find an ensemble to perform with here. I’m also very positive about the city of Melbourne. The fact that you could have random conversations with people has been a highlight of my time so far. And the coffee is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

What are you looking forward to now for research and also personally?

“The last 20 months were very uncertain and disruptive for my career as we never knew when we were going to leave so it was a very unproductive period.

“Now I have this urge to get back to my old self and to work hard again. I very much look forward to interacting with my colleagues and I hope covid-19 won’t put a restraint on that,” he says.

The Department would like to welcome the following new research fellows:

Dr Mallory Avery, who is a research fellow with Prof Andreas Leibbrandt.

Dr Sebastiano Della Lena, who is a research fellow with Prof Arthur Campbell and Prof Yves Zenou.

Prof Jeff LaFrance and Dr Gennadi Kazekevitch (former deputy Head of Department and Education Director) have retired. Dr. Kazekevitch will continue teaching one unit as a sessional employee. We thank them for their incredible service to the department and wish them all the best for the future.


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