Gemma Tetlow

Gemma Tetlow

Programme Director, Public Finance and Pensions Research Programme


MSc Economics, University of Warwick
BSc Economics, University of Warwick

PhD Economics, University College London

What first attracted you to IFS ?


After finishing my masters I was looking for a job where I could apply what I had learnt to real-world problems with policy relevance. The IFS offered a good balance between academic rigour and the application of economic theory to interesting, current issues.


Can you give some examples of projects you're working on at the moment?


We have just completed a collaborative project with researchers at similar institutions in five other European countries, which sought to compare and contrast the ways in which the public finances of each country were affected by the financial crisis and the ways that different governments reacted. This was a very interesting project in which we gleaned insights that would not have been possible without the combination of both deep institutional knowledge of each country and contrasting circumstances and behaviour across countries. The resulting papers will be published in a special issue of the journal Fiscal Studies and will be launched at an event in Brussels.


I am also involved, with a network of other researchers across the UK, in exploring what potential there is to make better use in research of (de-identified) data that is regularly collected by the public sector for administrative purposes. Such data have enormous potential to help answer a wide range of important, socially relevant questions about how the world works and the effect of government policies. But there are important hurdles to cross first to establish and overcome some limitations and to ensure that any such data are used safely, securely and confidentially and that members of the public are reassured that this is the case.


What kind of things do you do during a typical day at work?


A large part of what we do at IFS is conduct careful analysis of microdata to shed light on interesting, policy-relevant questions. In order to do this, I spend time reading journal articles to understand what has already been done and what questions remain unanswered. I also undertake econometric analysis of microdata and then write up and present these results for both academic and non-specialist policy audiences.


I spend quite a bit of my time talking to external audiences to help disseminate IFS findings and improve the quality of public debate and scrutiny of economic and social policies. These audiences include the media, civil servants and politicians, private sector organisations and charities and special interest groups.


As I also lead a team of researchers and manage a number of projects, I spend some of my time meeting with other IFS staff to discuss how they are getting on, talk to existing funders, and put together new funding proposals to ensure that we have the right resources in place to enable us to carry out the work that we want to do.


What do you particularly enjoy about the job?


I enjoy a lot of things about my job but perhaps the most important are having the opportunity to think rigorously about economic questions from an unbiased, non-partisan starting point and working with highly skilled colleagues who are passionate about their work.


How has your career progressed, so far, at IFS?


I joined IFS as a Research Economist after completing my bachelors and masters degrees at Warwick University. While working at IFS I have completed a PhD in economics at UCL.


Like many new recruits, when I first joined IFS, I started working mainly on a single project: assessing the adequacy of retirement savings of older workers. Even from an early stage I had input into various stages of projects – from analysing the data to helping to write up reports and presenting the findings.


As my career progressed at IFS – first as a Senior Research Economist and now as a Programme Director – I had more input into how projects progressed and what projects I was working on, including taking on greater responsibility for raising funding for our work and managing more junior members of staff. The range of topics that I work on has also expanded and, as a Programme Director, I have also had the opportunity to get involved with wider IFS management and strategic issues.


What have you learned from working here?


I joined IFS straight from university so there was a very steep learning curve at the beginning but I continue to learn new things every day. The knowledge and skills I have acquired are very diverse – from detailed knowledge of the policy areas that I work on and what the latest developments and seminal contributions in the relevant academic literature are, through to how to summarise my research in a 30 second sound bite for Radio 2. I have also developed other more general skills, such as public speaking, project management and people management.


How would you describe the working environment?


The work environment at IFS is quite informal and collegiate. The open-plan office makes it easy to discuss work with colleagues and generally people at all levels of seniority are more than happy to answer questions and provide input, even on projects outside their immediate field of interest.