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Student Spotlight: Melanie Craxton

Portrait of Melanie Craxton

May 20, 2018

Meet Melanie Craxton (PhD '18), MS&E graduating PhD student.

Melanie will join the Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) group in the Deals, Mergers, and Acquisitions arm of Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"I became interested in the intersection between behavioral economics and energy policy, inspiring many of the projects I have undertaken during my time at Stanford."

Why did you choose Stanford MS&E?

I was looking for Economics PhD programs, but wanted to specifically focus my research on applied energy issues. I chose Stanford MS&E instead of an economics program because to me it represented a perfect marriage of economics, policy, and engineering. I saw this as an ideal environment within which to pursue my strongly interdisciplinary research interests. Furthermore, I was specifically interested in researching issues of decision making under uncertainty in the energy, and specifically electricity, sector. Both Jim Sweeney and John Weyant (the principal advisers of the Energy Policy research group) have strong backgrounds in these issues. In researching their work, interests, and backgrounds, I knew that Stanford MS&E was a much better fit for me, personally, than any of the other programs I had been considering. Having spent time in the Energy Policy group pursuing my PhD under Jim and John, I now know to articulate the characteristics of our group in MS&E as a focus on problem-driven research and an emphasis on the role of an economist as an engineer, investigating the structures and mechanisms driving policy and its impacts in the world within which we live. It was these characteristics that truly attracted me to Stanford MS&E in the first place and have kept me engaged over the course of my PhD.

How did you become interested in your research area?

My dissertation takes an engineering approach to economic questions of optimal policy and its efficacy, particularly in the energy policy space. It seeks to understand and incorporate the vast number of market, informational, and behavioral failures that we observe in the imperfect world in which we live into the parsimonious, mathematically grounded structure of neo-classical micro-economic theory. I specifically focus on the efficiency and equity impacts of policies in the electricity sector such as the popular rooftop solar pricing policy, Net Energy Metering. My work has also included theoretical contributions in extending neo-classical theory to incorporate the growing number of behavioral biases that we observe individuals to make decisions under rather than acting "rationally" as economics typically assumes. To me, energy is the lifeblood of our global civilization; without it, the world as we know it would not exist. Everything, to some degree, requires energy of some form to function and therefore I find the understanding of energy use to be fundamental in achieving almost any other goal. The increasingly distributed nature of our electricity grid and the growth of technologies that have shifted power behind the meter into the hands of consumers has also driven me to become more interested in behavioral economics. In today's world, not understanding and accounting for these biases can seriously threaten the efficacy of policies intended to improve social well-being. It is for these reasons that I became interested in the intersection between behavioral economics and energy policy and inspired many of the projects I have undertaken during my time at Stanford.

What are your career plans and how did you decide on them?

My immediate plans following graduation are to join the Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) group in the Deals, Mergers, and Acquisitions arm of Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) in Christchurch, New Zealand. Valuation and quantifying risk and uncertainty have been critical components of much of my work pertaining to forward-facing energy policy, especially that with a focus on the impacts of climate change.

My choice to join PwC's QRA group reflects my desire to apply these skills more broadly. Furthermore, I hope to hone other skills that will allow me to tackle an increasingly broad portfolio of projects in the private sector. With regards to long-term plans, I hope to take the skills and experiences I obtain from PwC to an application in a consumer-facing energy technology company. However, I find that oftentimes the path we end up traveling is not always the one we anticipate, and therefore I am entering the private sector with a very open mind as to where it may take me. Perhaps even back to academia—who knows!

What advice do you have for students?

With respect to prospective PhD students, my advice is to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that Stanford has to offer, both within MS&E and more broadly. Our department is heavily interconnected with many other departments on campus and these connections are one of our student's greatest assets. Most students in MS&E work on problem-driven research. There are therefore many others around campus who may be considering the same problems, but perhaps from a different angle. My biggest advice is therefore to attempt to broaden your horizons as much as possible with respect to your own research. You never know from where, or from whom, the inspiration for your dissertation or another research breakthrough will come from.

What other activities are you involved with on and off campus?

I think it is safe to say that anyone who knows me, either on or off campus, can attest to the fact that I am involved in a large number of activities. Throughout my time at Stanford I have been involved with many things, but the activities that I have spent the most time doing have been outdoor pursuits including, but not limited to, biking, ultimate frisbee, running, backpacking, and hiking. On campus I coached Stanford frisbee's B team for a while and off campus I have helped run beginner-friendly frisbee clinics in addition to playing on a number of different teams at a variety of tournaments both in the area and as far afield as Italy. During my PhD I also started competing in triathlon races and last year I completed my first full-distance Ironman race. There have been trail running clubs, biking groups, countless backpacking trips, and a large number of other activities over the past several years that I have been a part of. The Bay Area, and Northern California more generally, provides countless opportunities for breaks from research and I am lucky to have been able to take advantage of many of them.

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