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Robert Garlick, Ph.D.

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Assistant Professor of Economics


Robert Garlick is an assistant professor of economics at Duke. He received his Bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy from The University of Cape Town and his Master’s degree in economics and statistics from The University of Michigan. Garlick also received his Ph.D. in economics and public policy from The University of Michigan.

Before joining Duke, Garlick worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the World Bank’s Development Research Group. Adjacent to his work at Duke, Garlick now serves as an affiliate of the Poverty Action Lab through MIT.

Garlick’s research focus is labor markets in developing economies, specializing in reducing search and matching frictions to increase employment, productivity, and profit. He also studies the intersection of labor markets and government policy on public works and income support.

On Mentoring

Who are some good mentors you have had, and are there mentoring practices or traits from them that you have tried to incorporate into your own approach to mentoring? 

I’ve been lucky to have fantastic mentors both in graduate school and here at Duke, particularly Duncan Thomas, Peter Arcidiacono, and Erica Field. They’ve all been very effective mentors in very different ways. I’ve used these interactions to build a toolkit of different approaches and styles so that I can pick and choose which works best for each student in each situation.

How have you evolved as a mentor compared to when you first started mentoring?

The biggest change is steadily decreasing how much I solve students’ research problems and increasing how much I push them to solve their own problems. I try to do this by helping them to break the problems into smaller pieces, reframing seemingly new problems in terms of things they already know, and pointing them to examples of similar problems others have solved. These are the same principles I use in teaching but it took me a surprisingly long time to apply them as carefully to mentoring.

The benefits of a mentoring relationship for the mentee are obvious, but what do you, as the mentor, gain from it? 

I’ve learned a huge amount from my mentees in terms of both methods and topics. Even infrequent meetings with an informal mentee can be very educational. But I’ve learned the most from the graduate students, predocs, and postdocs with whom I’ve co-authored. In each case, they’ve made a key contribution to the paper that I would have struggled to make. In many cases, they’ve also taught me new skills I can use in subsequent work.


Excerpts from Garlick's nomination

“Several research assistants have been introduced to Professor Garlick’s wider research network and became co-authors of Professor Garlick over the years, showcasing the inclusivity of his mentoring practice.”

“Professor Garlick has demonstrated great accessibility to students over the years. He is responsive to student emails, offers guidance during in-person or Zoom office hours that are easily bookable online, and is approachable after class to answer questions.”

“Professor Garlick balances his mentoring and teaching activities with robust research and grant writing activities. His research centers around understanding the education and labor markets in developing countries. Top tier journals, including the American Economic Review and American Economic Journal, have already published his work, and his research agenda has produced numerous further working papers that are currently in the publication pipeline.”