Conor Artman: From Music to Math

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How long have you worked at CAH?

I’ve worked at the lab for about 2 years.

What brought you to CAH?

I was deciding between being an analyst at the Federal Reserve Board and going to grad school, so I talked to Dan (I had previously interned with CAH). I loved the lab’s work environment, and I wanted to be doing work that would let work in academic and applied research, so Dan (humbly and understatedly) said I could come back to work at the lab “if nothing more interesting came up.” The next day I emailed him and didn’t look back.

What is the primary focus of your research?

My primary focus is problems and questions at the intersection of behavioral science and statistics–so for applied work, I’ll help researchers or partners come up with ideas for interventions, make an analysis plan that best translates scientific hypotheses to statistical hypotheses, and then pick an experimental design that makes sure we’re capturing the best data possible. On the other hand, when we’re given a wealth of data from a partnering company, I also work on applying and adapting tools from other fields (like duration analysis or ARIMA models) to look at granular data to inform our inferences on individual-level decision making. Aside from that, I’m interested in relating information theory and risk analysis to individual-level decision making in finance and health contexts.

Your favorite experience while working at CAH?

It might be from when I first joined the lab: Catherine, Vlad, and I went with Dan to help facilitate a weeklong speaker series at the Chautauqua Institute–Dan would speak on a topic in the morning, hold an afternoon session to talk about a small study we could run around Chautauqua’s little town, and then Catherine, Vlad, and I would spend the rest of the day putting materials together, running the study, and analyzing the data. In the morning, Dan would summarize the study and move on to his next topic, usually with another guest speaker. It was great to get curious people involved to make Chautauqua into a small living laboratory, for a week–we met a lot of interesting people and had a lot of fun doing it.

If you weren’t a researcher, what career path would you have followed instead?

I would have been a composer! I hated high school and had a talent for music, so I very nearly went to school to study music theory and composition (specifically for video game and film scoring). At the last minute I thought I’d try out academics in college, and I liked it, so I transitioned from music to economics and math.

Which living person do you most admire?

My coworker Catherine Berman for her preternatural sleeping abilities — she can nap wherever and whenever she pleases, and I covet this talent

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Sheer intelligence. There are very, very few people who are truly original, inventive, and intelligent enough to become successful all by themselves–I think Jon von Neumann comes to mind as one of those people, as a rare example. It’s never bad to be humble or to pay it forward. I think science is the art of failing forward, and the most successful scientists I’ve met can happily jump from failure to failure because they’re learning at each point of the way. I think overvaluing people’s raw thinking ability over other essential traits (grit, humility, creativity, curiosity, etc.) is the best and fastest way to miss great opportunities.

Which BE words or phrases do you most overuse?

Probably some combination of “default”, “opt-in/opt-out”, and “mental accounting”.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Being really awesome at piano would be nice–there are so many electronic tools out there that apply to the piano/keyboard, and if you’re already great at playing piano already it’s really easy to imitate basically any other instrument. Circling back, being able to nap on command anywhere is up there.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Getting good at math! I hated it in high school, I actively placed low (into pre-calculus) when I started college, and through some really great professors I slowly grew to like mathematics. Now I’m in the middle of applying to PhD programs in statistics!

Who are your favorite writers?

I like historical fiction and sci-fi: James Clavell, Isaac Asimov, Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I don’t think there’s one in particular, and it depends on what kind of history interests you most, but I like historical figures with strong components of self-reliance, talent, and perseverance built into their stories. Frederick Douglass was amazing, Srinivasa Ramanujan has a great story, Jon von Neumann could be thought of as a historical figure for his influence on loads of fields, and, through the eponymous musical, I’ve come around to Alexander Hamilton recently.

What is your motto?

I don’t have one, but there are two that I like: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” and “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.”

Do you have any shoutouts?

All the usual suspects (my parents and siblings), and my friends for helping me grow. (Hainer, Aubrey, Matt, Shreyas, Mark, Ryan, Luben, Zack H, and many others.)