Faculty Spotlight: Simanti Banerjee

Simanti Banerjee
Simanti Banerjee
About Simanti Banerjee: 
I am from Kolkata, an eastern Indian city of 5 million people where people very much like their food, their sports and their art. I grew up loving chemistry and biology so a fateful encounter with the field of environmental economics in one of my master’s courses decided my career path. I arrived in the U.S. in 2005 and received my Ph.D. from Penn State University in environmental economics with a focus on economic experiments on farmland conservation policies targeted towards reducing habitat fragmentation. After that, I spent two and half years as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Stirling, in Scotland. Before arriving at UNL in 2014, I spent a year at Oberlin College in Ohio. There, I had the amazing opportunity to teach undergraduate classes that had students majoring in economics, history and music, to name a few. Trying to explain economic concepts to students from such diverse backgrounds has been instrumental in shaping my classroom instruction.


What is your position at UNL? 
I am an assistant professor of Experimental & Behavioral Economics in the Department of Agricultural Economics. I conduct human subject experiments with university students to understand economic decision making in contexts such as farmland conservation policy, charitable giving, public good provision and leadership. In building this research program two key areas of emphasis are social networks, and risk and uncertainty. I am also part of a multi-campus (UNL & UNMC) research initiative on social neuroscience bringing together neuroscientists, psychologists and economists to understand the neural/brain circuitry of economic decision making in domains such as environment and health.

I will be teaching courses on Environmental Economics, and Experimental & Behavioral Economics. Students in these courses are expected to make research presentations, participate in experiments and lab sessions, hear and write essays on radio podcasts and eat pizza (while watching a movie on a class topic!). Teaching provides strong motivation for my human-subject research while serving as a great source of data to assess the roles of different instruction methods in effective learning. 


What drew you to UNL? 
I was drawn to UNL’s strong agricultural focus, its membership in the prestigious Big 10 Conference, UNL’s location in the State Capital where it is close to various stakeholder agencies, and the professional and social camaraderie within my department and IANR. The prospect of doing research with Nebraska landowners was very appealing as was the general sense of excitement and interest that I gauged on campus given how extensively UNL has been hiring in the last few years. 


What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most? 
I love the exchange of ideas, the prospect of learning new things, the opportunity to gain a better understanding of opposing perspectives through my interactions with students and faculty, and of course, the chance to influence young minds. A student once came up to me during a guest lecture in an environmental studies course and said that a classroom economic experiment that I ran and in which he participated transformed his beliefs about economics and about himself as a person. That’s a special day, which I expect to remember for a long time! 


What do you consider your greatest achievement?
As a graduate student, I was part of a nonprofit – the Association for India’s Development, which raised money and managed multiple socio-economic developmental projects in India. I oversaw a small project on providing out-of-school informal education to 20 primary school children in a region of rural eastern India to reduce the school dropout rate. Successfully managing this project has by far been my greatest achievement to date.


What is something that most people don't know about you? 
I am a radio podcast junkie and use material that I hear on the radio to inform my teaching and research, such as the NPR Pledge Drive!


What is your life like outside of work?
I love to travel and do so at the first available opportunity. I enjoy photography and am conflicted at the ease with which I have taken to my camera phone and started leaving my DSLR at home.