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An unexpected journey - into data and a niche career intersection

15 January 2021
Dr Nathan Deutscher wins the Ian Castles Alumni Prize


Receiving the Ian Castles Alumni Prize is a tremendous honour, and an opportunity to reflect on what the scholarship has meant for me.

I always thought a PhD might lie in my future – I delight in working with data and seeing things for the very first time. But having come late to economics while at the Treasury, and with many life commitments (including a six month old!), I felt I had left my run too late.

The Sir Roland Wilson scholarship and its generosity made it possible. 
Possible – to invest in myself and re-imagine what my contribution to the public service could look like, without demanding huge sacrifices from my family. 
Possible – also to fast-track the journey to the academic frontier – travelling to world-class workshops not when I had something to say, but when I was working out what that should be.

In return, the scholarship asks us to be ambitious – not for ourselves, but for what our PhD can accomplish. This is both a burden, but also liberating, in that success comes in many forms. The conversations my peers have started within their agencies, and their contributions to scholarship and policy debates serve as ongoing inspiration.

In my case, I’ve been privileged to be part of a succession of scholars partnering with the ATO to bring to life a new set of Australian administrative data assets, which are being used to inform policy.

And I’ve been able to shed new light on intergenerational income mobility in Australia – the extent to which socioeconomic status is transmitted from one generation to the next – with papers published in several leading economic journals.

But beyond my own research, it’s a delight now to have researchers across the globe reaching out and wanting to work with this data. The investment in this data set, to which the scholarship has contributed, will pay dividends for many years to come. 

And finally, this scholarship has brought with it entry into a wonderful community of scholars, as well as the broader academic community. The support I have found there – in polishing off the PhD or looking for further academic inspiration and sounding boards back at Treasury, has been invaluable.

I am now one of a growing community of alumni carving out a niche, sitting at the intersection of timely policy advice and thought-leading academic work – splitting my time between Treasury and ANU. It’s not where I expected my career to take me, but I’m both a happier and better policy adviser and researcher for the journey and where it’s taken me so far.


The Ian Castles Alumni Prize is awarded to the scholarship alum who has achieved extraordinary success in their field, or made outstanding contributions to public policy in Australia or internationally. 
Nathan’s research on intergenerational income mobility has had large policy impact and increased our knowledge of the Australian economy. His work received substantial media and academic attention and has already won a number of prizes.

The Sir Roland Wilson Foundation is a partnership between The Australian National University, Charles Darwin University and the Australian Public Service.