Beyond Profit: How Personal Experiences Influence the Rate and Direction of Science and Innovation

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Sofie Cairo


Postdoctoral Fellow


Harvard Business School


DKK 585,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


We aim to expand frontier knowledge on supply-side driven innovation by investigating how personal experiences shape an individual's taste for and direction of science. We pose the research question: "Can exposure to preference shocks change an individual's appetite for engaging in science and his or her research focus. Specifically, we seek to understand if exposure to a serious personal or near family health shock during formative years or during one’s research career impacts entry into the innovation ecosystem and/or the scope and direction of one’s scientific inquiry as proxied by scientific publications. The mechanism is simple: Exposure to a health shock has the potential to shift one’s appetite for entering science and/or shift one’s research interest towards solving a specific scientific challenge – for the sake of curing oneself, a loved one or a group of fellow patients.


Understanding the forces that drive the rate and direction of innovation in society is crucial for economic growth. Thus, we seek to understand how to increase the overall rate and breadth of innovation in society, catering to a diverse set of consumers and promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth.


Leveraging the Danish setting, we merge rich bibliometric data on scientific publications by Danish researchers to the registers - such that we can understand, whether the individual has ever been exposed to a health shock that has shaped their scienfitic journey. Specifically, we analyze the link between scientific contributions on a specific disease and a personal experience with that same disease. Leveraging additional data on demand-side factors, e.g. share of population suffering from a given disease, we are able to decompose contributions from supply and demand-side forces on an individual's direction of innovation.

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