Katy Milkman


Changing for Good


Katy Milkman is best known for her award-winning research on to identify and overcome barriers that prevent positive behavioral change. Her insights have been applied to topics such as savings, exercise, vaccination uptake, and discrimination. 

Milkman is currently the James G. Dinan Professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to her teaching and research, she is a best-selling author, host of Charles Schwab’s popular behavioral economics podcast ‘Choiceology’, and the former president of the International Society for Judgment and Decision Making. Milkman is also the co-founder and co-director of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the Wharton School, a research center with the mission of advancing the science of lasting behavior change.

I was trained as an engineer, and I’ve found that thinking about change like an engineer comes in handy. You have to figure out what forces are working against you, and then science has lots of insights to offer about what exactly you can do to overcome those particular obstacles.

 - Katy Milkman

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Milkman earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 2004, graduating summa cum laude in Operations Research and American Studies. She then obtained her PhD in Computer Science and Business from Harvard University in 2009 and began her career in academia, subsequently joining the faculty at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Milkman has held several teaching positions at Wharton, including Assistant Professor of Operations and Information Management (2009-2015), Associate Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions (2015-2018), and Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions (2018-Present).

Milkman has received numerous awards for her research, including an early career award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences. In 2017, she was named one of the world’s top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants and she was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Radar Award. Her academic success has culminated in dozens of published articles in leading social science journals such as Management Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and The Journal of Finance. Unlike much research in behavioral science, Milkman’s work has escaped the realms of pure academia and has been regularly covered in major media outlets such as NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and Harvard Business Review. 

Milkman also excels as a science communicator, writing frequently about behavioral science for major media outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, and Scientific American. In 2018, she began hosting Charles Schwab’s popular podcast “Choiceology with Katy Milkman”, which explores key lessons from behavioral economics about decision making. Her bestselling book ‘How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be’ was met with critical acclaim and recommended by Amazon as one of the best books of 2021.


“Making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.”2

“We see that people are significantly more likely to set goals on goal setting websites around Mondays and the beginning of a new year and after birthdays and other fresh start dates like the start of the month or following a holiday that feels like a start to people. Like Labor Day, for instance. Those moments give us that optimism.”3

“The key lesson of my career studying behavior change was that the flashy shots, the big shiny goal, or one-size-fits-all thing we reach for—that’s not how you achieve it. It’s the smart, strategic, who’s your opponent, who are you up against, let’s tailor the strategy approach that really works.”5

“Giving your peers advice may cause you to introspect in ways you wouldn’t otherwise, and dredge up insights about what could work for someone else in similar shoes that you wouldn’t have bothered to consider if you weren’t in the position of an advisor.”4

“It’s inevitable that we slip up in the course of trying to achieve anything worth achieving. We need to understand better how to deal with that falling off the wagon phenomenon.”5

“Rather than perceiving time as a continuum, we tend to think about our lives as episodes, creating story arcs from the notable incidents or chapters in our lives.”5

Additional Resources

Ted Talks



Academic Papers

  • Milkman, K. L. (2021). Megastudies improve the impact of applied behavioral science. Nature.
  • Beshears, J., Lee, H. N., Milkman, K. L., Mislavsky, R., & Wisdom, J. (2021). Creating exercise habits using incentives: the trade-off between flexibility and routinization. Management Science, 67(7), 4139-4171.Berger, J., & Milkman, K. L. (2012). What makes online content viral?. Journal of marketing research, 49(2), 192-205.
  • Benartzi, S., Beshears, J., Milkman, K. L., Sunstein, C. R., Thaler, R. H., Shankar, M., ... & Galing, S. (2017). Should governments invest more in nudging?. Psychological science, 28(8), 1041-1055.
  • Beshears, J., Choi, J. J., Laibson, D., Madrian, B. C., & Milkman, K. L. (2015). The effect of providing peer information on retirement savings decisions. The Journal of finance, 70(3), 1161-1201.
  • Dai, Milkman & Riis (2013) The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks That Motivate Aspirational Behaviour. The Wharton School Research Paper No.51
  • Milkman, K. L., Chugh, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2009). How can decision making be improved?. Perspectives on psychological science, 4(4), 379-383.


  1. Milkman, K. (2021). How to change. London: Vermilion.
  2. Dai, Milkman & Riis (2013) The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks That Motivate Aspirational Behaviour. The Wharton School Research Paper No.51
  3. About - Katy Milkman. (2021). Retrieved 10 December 2021, from https://www.katymilkman.com 
  4. Milkman, K. (2021). Katy Milkman. Retrieved 10 December 2021, from https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20805683.Katy_Milkman
  5. Dr. Katy Milkman on The Science of How People Change | Finding Mastery. (2021). Retrieved 10 December 2021, from https://findingmastery.net/katy-milkman/
  6. Milkman, K. (2021). How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Retrieved 10 December 2021, from https://nextbigideaclub.com/magazine/change-science-getting-want-bookbite/27907/
  7. Speaking with Katy Milkman about “How to Change”. (2021). Retrieved 10 December 2021, from https://behavioralscientist.org/speaking-with-katy-milkman-about-how-to-change/
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