How do our choices about time and money relate to happiness? Looking for answers in her doctoral work, Ashley works with the White House Social Behavioral Sciences Team in Washington, DC to explore how time incentives influence job performance and satisfaction. She further collaborates with start-up companies like MyBestHelper and Kazoohr to explore the impacts of the sharing economy and workplace relations on our mental well-being.

Research Description

My dissertation research seeks to explore how people navigate trade-offs between time and money. In a typical day and across a lifetime, people face trade-offs related to time and money. These trade-offs play a role in major decisions such as whether to choose a higher paying career that demands longer hours (vs. making less money and having more free time) and in mundane decisions, such as whether to spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning gutters (or paying someone else to do it). Although we are often faced with these decisions, remarkably there is very little empirical research assessing the trade-offs that people make between time and money. As part of the Public Scholars Initiative, I am working with two start-up companies and the government to develop strategies for companies to help employees use their time and money in happier ways.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

To me, being a public scholar means being committed to translating and applying basic research findings outside of the traditional university context. I believe that the strength of the public scholar program lies in its ability to bring together a community of diverse scholars who are committed to re-imagining the PhD, and ensuring that academic research remains cutting-edge and relevant to our ever changing world.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

I believe that the PhD experience will be re-imagined vis-à-vis the students who participate in this initiative. By providing official recognition, and a platform for students to voice their passion for public scholarship, it will become easier for students to know who and how to ask for more 'diverse' PhD experiences. To stay relevant, I believe that it is critical that PhD programs continue to branch out into the 'real-world' and embed students in the 'thick of things' – in industry, in tech, in social media—to facilitate knowledge about the world beyond the university walls, and in turn, to use the insights gained from these 'real-world' endeavors to inform and support the advancement of basic research in our respective fields.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

Already, my PhD work has opened up career possibilities that I did not think were possible. For example, I am currently working with Development Offices at UBC and the University of Chicago to research psychological factors that impact people’s charitable giving decisions. Relatedly, I recently wrote a practitioner-focused paper for the Council of Advancement and Support of Education, an international organization of fundraising professionals. These “applied” experiences have opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist for PhD graduates outside of the traditional academic landscape of post-docs, lectureships, and professorships. Through the collaborations that are being made possible through the Public Scholar Initiative, my career possibilities will continue to expand—working with partners outside of academia is a helpful reminder of the usefulness of completing a PhD, as well as a helpful way to identify areas of personal growth related to the attainment of industry or government positions upon graduation.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

We are engaging with the community and with social partners on numerous levels. Locally, we are collaborating with a start-up company from Vancouver, MyBestHelper, that is seeking to transform the sharing economy, and in doing so, making our city a more socially connected and friendlier place to live. We are also collaborating with a start-up company from Austin, Texas, YouEarnedIt, that is transforming workplaces into happier, more generous, and more relaxed environments. Finally, we are in discussions with the Social Behavioral Sciences Team at the White House to explore how time-saving incentives can impact employees' job satisfaction. We hope that these partnerships will not only yield direct benefits for the collaborators that we are working with, but will also provide a wealth of useful scientific insights. 

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

First, I hope that my dissertation research directly benefits the groups that we are working with. By collaborating together, and studying employees and customers as our research participants, I hope that this research can help to strengthen the work of these cutting-edge organizations. Second, I hope that this research provides useful recommendations for the general public about how the trade-offs made between time and money impact well-being. Research from our lab suggests that people do not always make the best decisions for their own and others’ happiness. Thus I hope that this research results in accessible guidelines about how people can spend their time and money to maximize health and happiness.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have always loved reading, writing, and public speaking. As a first generation university student, I initially didn’t realize that graduate studies existed. However, once I got first-hand experience with research during undergrad, I became hooked (okay, slightly obsessed) with the research process, and have never looked back. More specifically, I have always been intrigued by research in social psychology showing that simple interventions can dramatically change people's behavior, with downstream benefits for society.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I grew up in Coquitlam, attended Douglas College, and completed an honors psychology degree at UBC. When I was invited to stay at UBC for my PhD, I jumped at the opportunity. My undergraduate experience was one of limitless possibilities, and I wanted to continue 'dreaming big' in graduate school. Although I have travelled extensively for research, and recently completed an exchange at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, UBC has always felt like home.


We hope that these partnerships will not only yield direct benefits for the collaborators that we are working with, but will also provide a wealth of useful scientific insights.