Amelia Cox meets Danae Kyriakopoulou: Managing Economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in London.
Danae Kyriakopoulou is an Oxford graduate from Greece and is now the Managing Economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in London. She has always been fascinated by the ever-changing global economic landscape and has shared her expertise through numerous speaking engagements and media appearances. Amelia Cox sat down with Danae to discuss the triumphs and challenges of her career and to find out what advice Danae has for aspiring young female economists.
So, who are you and what is it that you do?
My name is Danae Kyriakopoulou and I am an economist.
I grew up in Athens, Greece and after that went on to study economics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Since then I have been working as an economist at the CEBR in London.
The word “economist” can be quite daunting. Would you be kind enough to tell me a bit more about what it means to be an economist?
Economists can be seen working in many different professions. To me, economics is a way of thinking; a framework to see the world. I work as an economist in research.
My main role at CEBR is heading the organisation’s global macroeconomic research. This includes managing our macroeconomic databases and reports relating to the global economy. I also spend some time looking at specific sectors and economic issues within the global economy, ranging from infrastructure finance to the economic benefits of apprenticeships in developing economies.
Finally, I am often called to communicate the findings of my research to the public – be it through newspapers and TV, or through speeches and lectures at universities and business conferences.
How did you become interested in economics and end up in the United Kingdom?
At my school in Greece, I participated in a programme called Model UN, which brings together students from different countries in large conferences that simulate the United Nations. In that setting, I improved my English and also grew fond of debating (something which is not a big part of Greek culture). I would say that the variety of subjects which I studied at school in Greece including philosophy, combined with an interest in politics, and my experience on the Model UN programme, helped to shape my interests.
I was interested in the Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree at Oxford although admittedly, I did not know very much about economics at the time. I started taking A-Level courses after school to prepare myself for studying at a British university.
In my penultimate year at school, a family friend who lived in Oxford invited me over for a visit. I had the opportunity to look around the colleges on a summer open day and ended up choosing Brasenose College as I felt very welcome there. As the students showed me around, I learned about their experiences and that was that.
It sounds like your days at Oxford have really helped to shape your career path, can you tell me a little about how specifically?
Oxford truly laid the foundations of my knowledge of economics. From my very first class, economics was a framework that made sense to me. I decided to pursue it as a career during my undergraduate course, although it was my masters degree that allowed me to delve deeper into the areas of economics I am most interested in.
Having said this, working as an economist has been a steep learning curve. It is a subject that cannot be confined to the lecture room – you need to see how it is applied. Understanding how the theories match the data is essentially what I have been doing for the past three years. It is an important part of becoming an economist. Most of my personal development comes from the research and data analysis side of my job. I love always learning new things.
You mentioned a steep learning curve as a challenge. I would love to hear more about past challenges you’ve encountered.
For me, coming to terms with the fact that you cannot apply perfect models to actual data was a real challenge. Economics has a lot of assumptions and imperfections. In the real world, you have to sacrifice some of the mathematical rigour that you apply in the classroom to gain practical relevance.
On a more personal level, people often ask me if I am challenged by my demographic profile. It is a legitimate question – as a young female economist I am almost always in the minority in my professional encounters. Thankfully, awareness of this is growing, at least in this country, and there is a genuine effort to create opportunities for women in economics. This means that this reality can be turned from a challenge into an opportunity.
For example, over the course of my development so far more and more women economists have been featured in the media. To me, this makes great sense. After all, how you connect with the audience is very important and diversity matters a lot. Especially when it comes to communicating something as complex, technical and – to many – boring, as economics to the average person on the street, and keeping them engaged.
That’s great that you’ve seen the gender gap as an opportunity. Tell me about how it has been adjusting to a life in the spotlight.
At first when I was asked to give my opinions in the press, I found it nerve-wracking. Although I was always well prepared, having researched the themes I was asked to speak about, I often did not feel like an “expert”. On uncertain topics such as forecasting what could happen in the Chinese economy, I had to build up my confidence.
Now, I find speaking engagements very rewarding. Part of it was coming to terms with the fact that sometimes there is just no right answer as questions in economics are rarely ever black and white. I realised that I can still make valuable contributions within those constraints and that because of my knowledge and experience, I am better placed than most people to answer these questions. It feels very fulfilling when people write to me after I’ve been on TV or spoken at a conference to thank me for helping them understand important things that they couldn’t grasp previously.
Finally, would you be willing to share any advice for young women wanting to pursue a career in economics?
Read. A lot. Reading broadly about economics and a wide range of subjects including geography, philosophy, and politics can be really useful in developing the right mindset. I would also recommend following current affairs and trying to see them through the eyes of an economist, even general newspaper articles.
Congratulations on your success thus far, thank you for taking the time to discuss your career with Nina and good luck going forward!