St Andrews Economists: Dr Margaret Alice Leighton

Dr Margaret Alice Leighton is a lecturer at the School of Economics and Finance. Dr Leighton is originally from Canada and completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Allison University in Economics. She joined the University of St Andrews in 2015, after receiving her PhD from the Toulouse School of Economics. The Saint sat down with Dr Leighton for an interview.

TS: What do you enjoy most about teaching microeconomics? 

ML: I love introducing students to microeconomic models: that’s why I enjoy teaching first year microeconomics so much! These models take real world situations, many of which we know from our own lives, and really simplify them. It is like taking an x-ray of society. Once you learn these models, you start to see them in the world around you.  

TS: I noticed that much of your research revolves around development economics and labour economics. What about these topics interests you?  

ML: These are both very applied topics in economics, meaning that research in these areas often informs policy decisions. Part of my motivation to work in these areas is to contribute towards building better policies that allow people from all walks of life to flourish.    

TS: Do you ever incorporate information from your research into your lectures? 

ML: Definitely! Depending on the module, I regularly use my own research as examples, or sometimes give a special one-off session to share what I am working on.  

TS: How did you begin publishing research papers? Did you conduct research during your time in university? 

ML: Like most researchers, I began publishing research by having my papers rejected from many journals! For the most part, this was after completing my PhD. I was lucky enough to do some research during my time in university, although it was not in economics. I spent the summer of my second year working on a dendroarchaeology project. In that project I collected tree ring samples from old buildings (the “dendro” part), which I then combined with local tree growth records to better understand the history of the buildings themselves (the archaeology side).   

TS: What research are you currently working on/what would you like to research in the future? 

ML: One of the current projects that I am most excited about combines both development and labour economics. The project seeks to evaluate an intervention that Save the Children are running in rural Tanzania to help families provide a stimulating home environment for their young children, eventually helping these children be ready for primary school. By evaluate, I mean understand if the project is working, and also how it is working. I have the opportunity of working closely with the project team for this research, which is really interesting and challenges me to make my research accessible to people with different backgrounds.   

TS: What has been your favorite teaching moment? 

ML: Students often tell me that they see the world differently after studying certain topics in economics – especially in first year. This new perspective is what drew me to economics when I was a student, so it is a real pleasure to share that with others.  

TS: What are your hobbies outside of teaching? 

ML: My primary timeout is playing traditional Irish and Scottish music on the accordion. Before the pandemic, I used to play with other musicians every Tuesday night in the Whey Pat: I hope we can have a session there again soon! 

TS: What advice do you have for students who are passionate about economic research? 

ML: I would encourage you to engage in research as early as you can. The School of Economics and Finance runs the Undergraduate Research Assistant Scheme every year, so it is worth keeping an eye out for projects that interest you there. Even more importantly, seek out opportunities to do your own research: definitely plan to do a dissertation in your fourth year, apply for the Laidlaw Scholarship when you are eligible, and remember that essays are research too – choose modules on topics you are passionate about, and that allow you to dig deeper into your own areas of interest.