RSF Robert K. Merton Scholar Bob Solow Celebrated for His Mentorship

January 23, 2020

A new article by Peter Dizikes, with pictures by photographer Sasha Israel, in the MIT Technology Review offers a thoughtful consideration of how Robert Solow’s intellectual preoccupations have shifted over the seven decades of his scholarly career and the legacy of his mentorship of both undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to probing Solow’s doctoral dissertation, which focused on economic inequality, the essay considers Solow’s advice to economist colleagues to not only consider technological innovations in their analysis of pressing economic issues but also to foreground how inequality affects the career and life prospects of the working and middle-class. Solow also points to concerning trends in the U.S. economy, especially declining labor solidarity and the decreased leverage of labor unions. 

Solow has served as a member of MIT’s teaching faculty since 1949. In his conversation with Israel, he describes his unorthodox methods of rewriting his undergraduate lectures at the beginning of each term, forcing him to find new ways to explain complex material and connect with students. Solow advised more than 70 graduate students over the course of his career, many of whom went on to become major figures in economics, including four Nobel laureates—Joseph Stiglitz, George Akerlof, Peter Diamond, and William Nordhaus. Diamond has been a member of RSF’s Behavioral Economics Roundtable, while Akerlof has been a member of the BE Roundtable, an RSF grantee, and a Margaret Olivia Sage Scholar. 

According to Solow, “You only have really good ideas once in a while. I would rather teach a really bright student than write a mildly interesting paper.” Solow’s dedication to both scholarly rigor and the mentorship of promising students serves as an inspiration for so many in the field.

Renowned economist Robert Solow is the Russell Sage Foundation’s Robert K. Merton Scholar and Institute Professor Emeritus at M.I.T. He was a visiting scholar at the foundation from 1999–2000 and became the Merton scholar in 2001. Robert M. Solow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1987.

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