During the summer of her sophomore year in college, Oksana Leukhina, a senior economist at the St. Louis Fed, heard a piece of advice from Jamie Rubin, the spokesperson for the State Department at the time, that changed the trajectory of her career.
“He basically said that if you want to make it in politics without connections, you need to be a true expert in something so the senators would have to think of your name when something came up and pick up the phone and call you, because you're an expert,” she said.
When Leukhina heard this advice, she was studying political science and participating in a program through which she was taking classes at Georgetown and interning for a senator. She aspired to become an international diplomat. After considering what Rubin had to say, she decided to follow her interest in mathematics and economics and pursue a doctorate in economics at the University of Minnesota.
In a Women in Economics Podcast Series episode, Leukhina discussed her career in academia, including her recent research papers on college education and the journey to get to where she is today.
Leukhina was born in the Soviet Union, which dissolved when she was a child. She first came to the U.S. as a high school exchange student.
“At that time, Russia was so different than it is now. And it was really like coming to a completely different world, a different culture,” she said.
Leukhina also spoke about the challenges she faced in her first year of graduate school while she was figuring out what exactly she wanted to do. She stressed the importance of networking and mentoring to be successful in the field of economics.
“I think mentoring is super important. I reach out on my own, so there are mentors in my life that don't even realize that they are my mentors,” she said. “I basically seek advice whenever I can get it. If I see an opportunity to get some advice, I will go ahead and get it.”
She commended the culture of camaraderie at the University of Minnesota, especially the prevalence of co-authorships. Developing a network of co-authors while in an academic or research-based job is essential, she said, along with reaching out to senior colleagues about projects and plans.
Leukhina gives advice as much as she seeks it herself.
“And personally, I placed a few undergraduate students into top graduate programs, and we keep in touch, and they still reach out to me and ask me for advice,” she said. “Sometimes about little things, but it's very important to make yourself available to younger scholars, because that's one way to make an impact.”