Rediff features an interview with Raj Chetty, a hot shot economist at Berkeley. The interviewer -- Arthur Pais -- actually allows Chetty to explain his research projects and its policy implications, and they are all very interesting. Sometime ago, there was a profile of Chetty in the AEI magazine, The American, covering much the same ground. But the interview is far better, simply because Chetty is a gifted communicator, and because Pais lets him talk.
You became a professor at Berkeley when you were 23...
Many people wondered if I was a student or a professor, but one of the things that is great about academics is that it is almost purely merit-based. It does not matter how you look, how you dress, or how you act. Once you establish that you are an expert in your subject and have good ideas, you immediately earn people's respect. Youth is to some extent viewed favorably (unlike in other professions that have a strict ladder system) since breakthrough discoveries are often made when people are young. My colleagues treated me like anyone else in the department as soon as I arrived at Berkeley, even though most of the graduate students in the department were older than me.
With the students, I tried to take advantage of the fact that I was roughly the same age as them to make it easier to approach the professor. In one of my classes, my teaching assistant (a graduate student) and I started the class with a practical joke. She began the first lecture and pretended to be the professor. I sat in the back, dressed informally like the other students. I started raising several questions once she started the lecture, eventually asking whether she was really qualified to teach the class. I then suggested that perhaps I should teach the class myself. The students were quite surprised that one of their peers would be so brash. She said, "Sure, why don't you give it a try?" I got up and began teaching. The students figured it out and enjoyed the joke. It was particularly funny because one of the students asked me while I was sitting in the back if I knew whether this professor was supposed to be hard!
Thanks to Swarup for the pointer.