Professor Mary O'Mahony
Professor of Economics
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I became interested at school when I studied economics as a subject. I was goods at maths but I had a practical streak that made me realise that I did not want to be a mathematician. Economics covered interesting real life issues and the analytical focus of the discipline meant I continued to use my maths skills. This interest continued through undergraduate and graduate study.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
My broad research area is measuring and explaining international comparisons of growth and productivity. Specific topics covered by this include the impact of labour force skills, information technology, intangible capital and innovation in generating productivity. This involves extensive measurement exercises including harmonising definitions, concepts and data sources across countries. The focus has mainly been in comparing the EU with the US and Japan at the industry level. Recent work has been concerned with measuring performance in 'hard to measure' sectors such as health and education.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I am part of a large network of researchers in Europe, the US and increasingly in emerging economies who generate internationally comparable data. Our most noted achievement to date has been the EU KLEMS database on industry productivity accounts covering all EU countries, the US, Japan, Australia, Canada and Korea. This database has thousands of downloads and is used extensively in academic research and policy analysis. It has also informed measurement by international and national statistical offices. We now have a World KLEMS consortium which includes China, India, other Asian countries, Latin America and some African countries.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
Being part of large network, with strong links to statistical offices and the policy community, allows frequent interaction with individuals who are intellectually stimulating. I am inspired by all those committed to research, from the Harvard professor who is seen as the father of our network to the PhD students who present at our conferences.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
I received extensive funding from the European Commission throughout my academic career. I coordinated three framework grants and participated in several others. It would not have been feasible to undertake this type of research without funding.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
My department is a stimulating academic environment. It covers a broad range of disciplines and so I am exposed to different perspectives than can usually be found in an economics department. The students are very bright and interested in their courses, so a pleasure to teach.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
I find this a difficult balancing act. I'm heavily involved in administration at King's, having held major roles in my previous job. I find university processes often cumbersome with little obvious benefit. I am very committed to teaching but nevertheless I manage set aside sufficient time for research and am an active participant in international conferences.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I work most evenings and Sundays but set aside Saturdays for looking after my home. It is easier now than in the past as my children are flying the nest (my daughter starts university this year and my son will go next year). I paint as a hobby, attending a regular class on Tuesday evenings and occasional weekend courses. When I paint I switch off from work completely.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
I have benefited enormously from being part of a large international research networks. I have devoted considerable effort to keeping these networks going, through continually applying for research funds and attending many conferences. Seeking out research networks in their areas, and joining others in funding bids, is something I would recommend to early career academics. Ensuring a good work-life balance is essential to being a successful academic in the long run. Over time I have learnt how to organise my work most effectively so that I have time for my family and my other interests.