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Regular version of the site

One Person Can Lead You to the Life That You Never Dreamed of

Emre Dogan, Assistant Professor  at the  Department of Mathematics of the Faculty of Economic Sciences speaks about his academic career, research, hobby and gives important life advice to students

How did you decide to become an economist and work in academia?

I wasn’t much aware of what economists do when I applied to university and I was planning to have a degree in engineering or natural sciences. So, becoming an economist was a little bit of luck.

Somehow the exam results and suggestions from people around led me to economics: They said “You have very good scores and you are able to go to the best economics program in Turkey, well if you want to be an engineer, you will miss the top programs in Turkey. There is much mathematics in economics, so you will be good at it and you will enjoy it”. Thus, I chose the best school. Then everything followed, bachelors, masters, Ph.D. and now I am here.

What helped you the most in this way?

Towards the end of bachelors years, I was not sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t even dreaming about academia. It all started with the masters program and my thesis advisor. One person can lead you to the life which you never dreamed of. I really enjoyed what we did in masters in terms of research and I very much liked how he taught the lessons. It was really inspiring, I wanted to be like him, to teach like him. Personally, he was in close relationship with his students helping in any way about academics, life and everything. It was this warm environment and professional challenge.

What kind of research are you currently involved in?

I am currently working on the project “Random assignment by sequential distribution of top objects and an application is school choice”, projects on matching websites and platforms, cooperative game theory and strategy-proof mechanism design.

School choice is a very hot topic for the last 20 years especially in the US. Academicians had very striking observations and results in the first years of the millenium and changed some school placement systems in coordination with the local authorities. The authorities were already facing problems which they wanted to resolve, but first the academicians led them the way by formalizing their problems and other potential problems in a theoretical framework. The three criteria are actually very important once you want the system to work as good as possible: Efficiency in terms of welfare of students, i.e. you care about the welfare of students, otherwise just do not ask them and place them randomly in schools. But you want to ask them: “Where do you want to go?” and you want to please them. It is also politically important to do that to get their votes and so on. Fairness is another important concern. Once you start implementing a system, you face some problems. People start complaining about the mechanism, for example, a student with a better score was not accepted and so on. Of course, some of these complaints might be justified and students can go to court with such problems. So, you want to minimize the complaints not if you can get rid of them entirely.

Also you want the system to be incentive compatible by which we generally mean that the system you design leads students to reveal their true preferences to the authorities. Well, if it is not the case, it is very hard to track if the system works well or not. However, theoretically it was proven that these three criteria are not simultaneously compatible. There are two main competitors now in market as mechanisms: One guarantees the minimum number of cases with going to court, wiping out the envy-related concerns entirely. It is what academicians are promoting. But still many authorities are using the old mechanism, which is better in efficiency sense. Right now I am trying to improve the second one in terms of efficiency while at the same time minimizing the number of case that may go to the court based on envy-related issues. The hard task is to make it less manipulable than the original mechanism.

So, to sum up there are three criteria:

  1. Efficiency: Welfare of the students should be maximal
  2. There shouldn’t be justified envy of a student towards another student at some school, so that no student would go to the court and claim that he has right to be there instead of another one
  3. Incentive compatibility: We do not want students to try to manipulate the system by submitting false preferences in the hope for getting a seat at a better school

How do you spend your free time?

I play the flute and oud. Oud is a dominant instrument in the Turkish classical music. Those two are my main instruments. I play with a band, every Sunday we rehearse at a café or sometimes we have a concert. They do a little different music than I normally play. When I am on my own, I tend to play/practice more of classical music (though it is changing now). Particularly, they play bluegrass music, which is close to country music in the US. There are lot of different string instruments in the band. I met them here in Moscow 4 years ago. I started to listen to their music and learned their songs by heart after listening to them every week. Afterwards, they invited me to play with them. We had few concerts here.

Video from concert with Balkan Music Lab 

What advice would you give to HSE students while they are in college?

The problem of today’s society (not only in schooling) is that everything became market oriented. For example, you have to go to school to compete, otherwise you cannot find a job, and there is very strict path of how you should search the job and so on, but where is freedom?

As a result of this, now people are very stressed, I met a lot of such students and some of them left the school due to stress. They knew what to do, but they were stressed. That is very common phenomenon as far as I can see.

Be more involved in life, have more hobbies.

Another problem is that students physically attend the lectures but their mind is somewhere else. Whatever you are doing, do it at that time and use the rest of your time for good things. Go to the class, learn the topics at the lecture, so that you are not stressed to learn a bunch of topics from different courses in your little spare time. Just listen to the professor, do not waste your time playing with your phone. And after that, go out as you have free time to do anything, be more involved in life, not in a virtual one.

I am pushing my students to ask question, I know they have questions, but they do not ask too many. They should push for it and ask. I suppose it might be connected to culture, but they are the ones who should be leading this culture to change.

There are some stereotype paths, but try to be more open to new things, try to have some sophisticated hobbies like art, music and others.

What is the most promising field in economics?

Lately in my field, it has been the mechanism design in the allocation of discrete resources, matching and assignment. A number of abstract theories were explored and after that their practical applications followed. School choice is an important example. Another example is the kidney transplants. In US, they constructed a matching marketplace for kidneys with ture incentives without using the price as a mediator which helped saving lives.

Nowadays, there are a lot of different platforms, people shop and even get married through such platforms. They have been becoming more and more dominant in our modern-life culture. But how are they designed? Are they good enough to serve people’s needs? People’s intense connections to technology today expands the technological possibility frontiers in both the production and the service sector, raising new problems for economists. But, beneath any new problem, there may be a theory which might have been created hundred years ago. Whenever a new problem arises, you can immediately find something (tools or theory) which could help you to answer the questions.