Executive Director of the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab shares her career, motivations, and perspective on the Lab’s important mission.

The BIP Lab’s primary focus is to understand parental decision-making and apply that understanding to unlocking human potential.  Michelle Michelini, MPP'09, has a broad portfolio as BIP Lab’s Executive Director, overseeing research projects, grants and contracts, data, partnerships and dissemination of the Lab’s work. 

She recently had the chance to talk with colleagues about her career, motivations, and perspective on the Lab’s important mission.

Michelle Michelini, MPP’09

What drew you to work at the BIP Lab?

Susan Mayer was my dean during my time as an MPP at Harris, and I knew she and Ariel Kalil had started a lab focusing on applied behavioral research to support low-income parents. I was fascinated by the work they were doing to study parent decision-making and influence the way parents make everyday decisions on behalf of their children. It seemed both simple and revolutionary that helping parents make the decision to take their child to preschool or read or do a learning activity together each day with consistency can add up to make a big impact in the life outcomes of disadvantaged kids.

I had previously worked at the intersection of education research, policy, and administration and found that most of the programs that were being funded and implemented in public schools were either ineffectual or just scratching the surface. I was excited to work with Susan and Ariel and the BIP Lab team to find solutions that work where children spend the most time and by the people who influence their life outcomes the most, which is in the home and by their parents. I joined the lab to manage the national program evaluation of an ed tech program in partnership with J-PAL at MIT, and was drawn in instantly by the collaborative, entrepreneurial, and truly inclusive culture of our team.

As an applied research lab, we are reliant on every single member of the team from research assistants collecting survey data in the field to our PhD and post-doctoral students leading the data analysis on the backend of data collection! As a team we rely on each other’s perspectives and expertise and are in the habit of questioning our own thinking regularly – the work of the lab may have drawn me in, but it is our team that has hooked me.

What are you currently working on in the Lab?

Currently, I have my hands in all aspects of our lab’s research portfolio as well as its strategic operations and pre- and post-grant award processes. We have some exciting work ahead of us including parent surveys and experimental projects looking at the effectiveness of interventions such as education technology and different forms of messaging to motivate a change in parental behaviors.

What was the most useful piece of advice you received at the beginning of your career and how was it helpful?

In the context of women shattering glass ceilings, my first boss said, “Stop talking about it and just do it. And stop apologizing.”

I’m lucky enough to have had strong female leaders in my professional life, and the ones who have made the biggest mark on my personal and professional life do more than they talk, and are unapologetic! I do my best to “walk the talk” and invest my professional pursuits in doing work that shows (empirical) promise for shattering glass ceilings for many.

What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my family which includes two spirited children and one spirited poodle. We enjoy the outdoors, being active, being foodies and traveling. I also enjoy making and listening to music as a classically trained pianist and opera singer. When I have a quiet moment, I do also love to read books of all genres.

What is something that your experience at the BIP Lab has taught you?

My team has taught me so much about how to be a thoughtful and impactful colleague, friend, thinker, researcher, manager, problem solver, and of course how to be a better parent (in theory)!