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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Sandra Matz

The top young thinkers in economics, education, political science, and more.

Sandra Matz dreams of building a new kind of shopping website that empowers consumers to feel less overwhelmed when making buying decisions. No longer will you have to filter through millions of results on in search of the best briefcase or bathmat or blender. Instead, Matz's dream site will use whatever digital footprint you share (say, your Facebook page, browsing history, or Spotify playlist) to identify your central psychological traits (including your degrees of conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, openness to experiences, and neuroticism). Once the site has a good sense of who you are, it will generate the product and service recommendations most likely to satisfy your particular personality.

Amazingly, much of the technology needed to build Matz's dream website already exists, partly thanks to Matz herself. The University of Cambridge's Psychometrics Centre, where Matz contributes her expertise, has created several tools that use digital footprints to predict personalities. One such tool, Apply Magic Sauce, uses Facebook likes to tell users more about themselves. It will even inform you of your overall life satisfaction.

We'll be publishing profiles of this year's list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of March. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day at Pacific Standard.

Matz is now studying how these insights into the power of digital footprints can be used to customize online advertising to better appeal to users' personalities. She's already sharing her findings with leading companies such as Grayling. Matz hopes that her research not only helps businesses advertise more effectively but also helps consumers lead happier lives by connecting them with the products best suited for them. "I strongly believe that this research can have a very positive impact on people's well-being," Matz says.

As a first-generation college student, Matz says she never expected to attend graduate school. Now, she's a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Cambridge and winner of two of the most prestigious awards in her field. In 2014, the leading data governance organization DataIQ awarded Matz the New Talent Award. The judges described her work as "brilliant." In 2015, DataIQ recognized Matz yet again, naming her among the United Kingdom's top 100 "most influential people in data-driven business."

Matz aspires to become a professor, and also a mom. "There are now more and more inspiring women in academia who manage the challenging task of being a successful researcher and a loving mother, and I want to become one of them," she says.

In her spare time, Matz enjoys traveling and rock climbing—she picked up climbing while exploring the cliffs of Thailand's coast. Matz points out that rock climbing requires many of the same qualities as academia: "perseverance, patience, mental control, balance, and the will to succeed."


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