Dr Corey White and Dr Stefanie Fischer

From California to lockdown Melbourne: Monash welcomes new recruits

Despite travel restrictions and closed borders due to COVID-19, the Department was able to welcome its first new staff from abroad in a long time.

After a 14-month struggle to obtain a visa, Senior lecturer Dr Stefanie Fischer and Senior lecturer Dr Corey White arrived from California in July and spent two weeks in hotel quarantine with their baby in Sydney before starting at the Department of Economics.

"We finished the academic year in June 2020 and moved out of our house. We thought we would be moving then but it didn't happen. Every month there was a chance we would be able to leave, and every month our departure was postponed due to the pandemic and closed Australian borders," says Dr Fischer.

"We've been living out of a suitcase all this time and in the middle of it all we had a baby. What an adventure! Now I am just so happy to be here."

Previously they were both Assistant Professors of Economics at California Polytechnic State University on the Central Coast of California.

Dr. Stefanie Fischer is a labour and public economist and uses quasi-experimental techniques and field experiments to better understand the determinants of human capital. Within that umbrella, she has work that is focused on the early life determinants of human capital formation such as access to medical care for mothers and babies, and family planning.

Another focal point is understanding post-secondary education attainment. She is interested in how public policies and student behaviour affect outcomes like persistence and field of study.

"What motivates me as a researcher is to provide compelling evidence to inform public policy decisions as they relate to human capital.

"My hope is that this work has important implications for addressing inequality, since human capital is a central lever for economic mobility," says Dr. Fischer.

Dr. Corey White is an environmental economist who is active in the cross section between environmental economics and health economics. Some of his research explores how exposure to extreme temperatures and extreme weather affects various outcomes such as hospital visits and mental health. Why does climate change affect disadvantaged groups more? How come high income people can protect themselves more against the negative outcomes of climate change? These are some of his research questions.

"What inspires me is externalities. How my behaviour affects everybody else. In environmental economics these are always negative externalities, companies dumping waste and polluting for example. But in health economics externalities can be positive such as vaccine externalities on mortality and work absences," says Dr. Corey White.

They both chose to accept offers from the Department of Economics at Monash Business School because they were drawn in by the friendly environment for doing research.

"To have productive and interesting conversations with colleagues is so important and more than anywhere else that seemed to be the case with Monash. There's a number of people doing research on environmental and health-related topics and I am looking forward to finding out where we have interests in common," says Dr. Corey White.

Although they have not been able to interact very much with colleagues yet as they have spent most of the time since they arrived in Melbourne in lockdown, this is something they both look forward to.

"Everyone has been so professional and helpful. I am very excited to meet new colleagues and have discussions about research and ideas. And I can't wait to grab a drink with them and go to restaurants. I've hardly been to a restaurant since February 2020 when I came out to Melbourne for my flyout," says Dr. Fischer.

When they are not working both enjoy the outdoors: running, cycling, paddle boarding, and they look forward to exploring Melbourne and its surrounding areas.

Dr White concedes this is a strange time to be in Australia. "Hopefully Australia will succeed better than the US with vaccinations and vaccination passports. In the US we lived in fear of COVID-19 for 18 months, then we got vaccinated but we still had to worry about our baby," he says.

"It's hard to be in lockdown but it's nice to be safe. So far, we are enjoying the small things, like running in the Botanical gardens and the excellent coffee you can find just about anywhere. That would never happen in the US."