Imelda Flores Vazquez

Sr. Economist, Econometrica Inc.


Dr. Flores Vazquez grew up poor in a small Mexican town. She was fortunate enough to find the best math teacher in high school. Dr. Flores was always a good student but not especially interested in math. Her teacher saw she had potential and she got her interested in math. With her teacher’s support, she won a bronze medal at the Mexican Mathematics Olympiad. That led her to a full scholarship at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico to get her BA in mathematics. At the University of Guanajuato, she met more professors that encouraged and supported her and she ended up doing a Ph.D. in economics at New York University (a top 10 department for economics in the U.S.). After that, she was an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but she was interested in doing research for policy decisions, so she got a job in the Texas government. After that, she was in the hospital industry for a few years, and now she is back doing research that impacts policy decisions. Her current job with a federal government contracting company allows her to work on research projects that are used by many federal and state government agencies for policy decisions.

Dr. Flores thinks her biggest accomplishment is coming this far having grown up in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. She learned English at the university because her professors encouraged her to learn, to a pursue Ph.D. in the U.S. She never imagined she would be where she is now having grown up in Cedral, Mexico. It is an accomplishment that makes her proud and sad. It makes her sad because she saw many equally or more talented girls and women who grew up with her back home who were unlucky and did not have the opportunities she had. She hopes one day every Latin girl or boy has the opportunity to grow professionally the way she did, no matter where they come from.

Her second biggest accomplishment was the paper she published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), "Effect of Removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program." The NEJM is one of the most prestigious journals in the world, but she considers that paper an accomplishment not only because of the prestige of the journal but also because of the light it shed on a policy issue that matters to many women on both sides of the aisle. It is her most read paper by far (142K page views and counting) because it was about an issue that matters to many people including millions of women who did not read it but felt the effects of the policies studied in the article.

Dr. Flores uses statistical models to evaluate government programs and policy and regulation proposals. The idea is to see what effect the program or regulation had. For that, she needs to control for confounding factors and find the correct control groups so she is sure she is measuring only the effect of the program or regulation and not other events that happened around the same time the program or regulation came into place. Specific examples of the statistical models she uses are regression discontinuity, propensity score matching, difference-in-differences, instrumental variables, etc.

Some advice Dr. Flores gives for students: “you have to get comfortable with answering ambiguous questions. It is okay to acknowledge that you don't even know where to start when you are given an ambiguous question; don't panic. Get as much practice as you can during your studies trying to solve open-ended applied questions. At most jobs in industry and government, they don't expect a perfect answer; they just want something useful. It is okay to acknowledge that your answer is imperfect and it doesn't account for everything or that you can only answer the question partially.

Also, be confident in your skills. If you are a math undergrad you have a ton of skills that are very difficult to acquire. You actually have the advantage over many other recent graduates. In interviews, don't focus on your shortcomings (like not being sure if you can answer all ambiguous questions they throw at you); focus on the fact that you have a ton of experience solving questions and translating real-world questions into models.”

“A time tocelebrate my heritage. I love attending events and bringing my son so he canlearn about his heritage. I also learn in the events I attend. We have such arich history that I think I will keep learning about our heritage for the restof my life.”