Erica Johnson

Degree Date: PhD, 2010
Program: Business & Public Policy
Placement: U.S. Department of Education

While at Wharton, Erica Johnson focused her research on school finance, specifically on the effect of minority representation on the allocation of state aid for schools. Today, she works at the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, where she is part of a team that designs large-scale research projects and evaluates education programs for the federal agency.

Talking Across Disciplines

Wharton, “she says,” not only gave her the skills she needed to reach her career goals, but also provided her with a vocabulary to work with people from various backgrounds. “Some people are economists, some are sociologists, some psychologists,” she says of her coworkers. “Because Wharton was so interdisciplinary, it really prepared me for being able to talk with people with varied backgrounds about my research. If people go into any policy position, it’s really important to be able to talk about your research to different people.”

Forging Relationships

Johnson was part of the Applied Economics program, but she also worked within other schools at Penn, including the Graduate School of Education, which administered a fellowship she received from the Department of Education. It was her advisor, Bob Inman, who turned her on to this opportunity — one of the many ways he supported her career development throughout her tenure at Wharton. “It’s easy to get lost if you don’t forge a relationship with someone who is interested in you and your research, she says. “Bob was always interested in my research and helping me find opportunities that would help strengthen my skills in a way that would be applicable to the job market.”

Research, an Evolving Process

Johnson also says she enjoyed the amount of control the program gave her in determining the pacing and timeline of being a grad student. “I thought in the beginning my advisor would decide exactly when I was done, and the research would be finished and I would graduate,” she says. “Now I see it’s a very evolving process. Even though I’ve graduated and have a job, the research process is not over. I’m still working on my papers, and I still want to get them published. It’s a much more fluid process.”