MIP network member Benjamin Domingue is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. He is interested in how student outcomes are leveraged to inform our understanding of student learning, teacher performance, and the efficacy of other programs. He has a particular interest in the technical issues that make it challenging to draw simple inferences from such student outcomes. Another strand of research focuses on the integration of genetic data into social science research. He is particularly interested in understanding the genetic architecture of educational attainment and the way in which schools can and do moderate the association between genes and educational attainment. Domingue received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Describe your area of study and how it relates to current policy discussions surrounding inequality.
I think the relevant area for this conversation is the research I do that's at the intersection of genetics and social science. Fundamentally the point here is that in the last 15 years we’ve had a real transformation in our understanding of the human genome, and that is quickly shifting and shaping what we know about disease and health and a whole variety of other human behaviors. We’re getting much more information about the genetic makeup of these traits. And this information is something that we can now look at side-to-side with the evidence and information we have about the social processes that are also related to these traits. Contrasting these different sources of evidence raises new avenues for research. At this point I think it’s still very much a basic scientific series of questions. There’s not a ton of stuff in this area that I think is incredibly actionable at this point for policymakers. But as genetics becomes increasingly important in biomedicine and a variety of human endeavors, I think this research will start to become increasingly germane to both policymakers and the general public. But I do think it’s worth maybe flagging that, unlike other areas of inquiry, this is not something that I think should be at the forefront of policymakers’ thinking when they formulate policy.
What areas in the study of inequality are most in need of new research?
That’s a great question. If I were to break up the two big picture types of research that I think are most relevant for the study of inequality, they would be these. First, big, descriptive studies that document the kind of existing persistence and prevalence of certain types of inequality. A lot of the work of Raj Chetty fits that mold. The work of Sean Reardon is something that in the educational space is very germane to this question. Basically big studies that tell us about the existence of inequalities, how they came to be, how long they’ve been around, how they persist. I think those are really important because they’re basically a map to understanding the lay of the land, as it pertains to inequality. That’s the first kind of study that I think is really important.
The second kind of study that I think is really important is basically the compass to go along with that map. So if we have a desire to reduce inequality, then I think studies that tell us about the exact policy interventions that reduce inequality are really important. And that is something that there is constantly work being done around. We need more of this type of work, especially given the contested nature of the U.S. political landscape. I think attempts to craft interventions that are both efficacious and that yield broad political support would be an important area.
What advice do you have for emerging scholars in your field?
The thing that I found that’s been most beneficial in terms of both productivity and also making this an occupation that is enjoyable and sustainable for me, is finding good collaborators. Establishing a good network of collaborators, I think, really leads to better research. It’s going to put you in communication with a broader set of views and methods that you may not otherwise come across. It’s going to really enhance the work you do. And it’s also, in my opinion, the fun part of this job. It’s that dialogue around ideas that is so crucial. Such dialogue can’t just be something that happens over the course of years, across competing journal articles. It should ideally be something that’s happening in the space of a single collaboration, between collaborators.