Name: Dr Donhatai Harris
Age range: 30-35
Research institution: Department of Economics, University of Oxford
Research career length: 2 years
Research Council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: Oxford, England
Brief summary of research: Behavioural and experimental neuroeconomics
A-levels equivalent (Thailand): Mathematics, Economics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry
BA Economics, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
MSc in Economics History, London School of Economics; and MPhil (Research), University of Cambridge
PhD in The Nature and Causes of Favouritism: Evidence from New Economic Experiments and Primary Attitudinal Survey', University of Cambridge.
Assistant Merchandiser/Business planner for Harvey Nichols
Centre of Housing and Planning Research, University of Cambridge
Centre of Financial Analysis and Policy, the Judge Business School
Joint Interdisciplinary Post-Doctoral Fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council
Since the Second World War, scientists and social scientists have attempted to understand why our actions when in large groups differ from how we might otherwise behave. Donhatai Harris uses brain-scanning techniques to help understand how our brains operate when making such decisions, and what are the factors that influence how likely it is that an individual will conform to a group.
I am a firm believer that if you want to do something, you should go ahead and do it. After studying for a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics, I had a stint in the fashion industry, working for Harvey Nichols as an assistant merchandiser and business planner, before going into academia. I’m glad I did this since if I hadn’t, I would still be wondering what a career in fashion would be like.
My first research posts were at the University of Cambridge in the Centre of Housing and Planning Research and at the Judge Business School, which is where I did my PhD . I then applied for a two-year joint postdoctoral Fellowship , staying in Cambridge to complete the first year, before being offered my current post of Career Development Fellow at Oxford. I like economics but also enjoy studying people's behaviour, so I am fortunate that my research is very ‘interdisciplinary’. I work with economists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and am fascinated by how much these subjects overlap.
Belonging to a group like a gang or a club, has been shown to influence behaviour, but we don’t really know much about how this happens. My research combines experimental economics with a scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to discover what takes place in the brain when we make certain decisions. fMRI shows which parts of the brain are active when carrying out specific tasks. We’re looking at things such as the size of group, gender, race, nationality and political belief to explore whether different types of individuals are more or less likely to conform, and under what sort of circumstances. Hopefully, this knowledge will help inform people who make political decisions to create groups that function in a more ‘pro-social’ way.
In addition to my research work, I spend six hours per week teaching Undergraduate students in small tutorials and larger classes, and am involved in making decisions about teaching and examinations. Like all academics, I attend conferences and submit papers and articles to academic journals.
Last year I spent three months at the University of Zurich, learning about neuroscience and seeing research being done in an fMRI scanner. It was great getting to learn completely new and different things and attending seminars given by neuroscientists.
I believe that one of the great experiences in academic life is learning to work with other people. It is not easy when everyone has great ideas and is passionate about what they believe in. But research collaboration is a really creative process and it is fun. One of my research collaborators said to me 'Don't get bogged down by all the academic papers, look around you and see what you can learn' - I think this is some of the best advice I've been given. There is so much to learn in the world, which is why I love working in research.