UCL Institute of the Americas


Spotlight on Malu Gatto

29 August 2019

Dr Malu Gatto is a Lecturer in Latin American Politics at the UCL Institute of the Americas.

Dr Malu Gatto

What is the focus of your research?

Overall, my research focuses on political behaviour—although the actors of such behaviour vary. For example, some of my ongoing work focuses on the behaviour of policymakers towards gender quotas; in other co-authored research, I analyse the gendered strategies employed by parties and executives to recruit candidates and make political appointments. More recently, I have also become interested in the behaviour of voters. In one co-authored project, I analyse whether voters’ access to information of electoral results impact their voting strategies; in another co-authored piece, I examine the factors that shaped support for Bolsonaro among LGBTQ+ voters.

What appealed to you about working for the Institute of the Americas?

Many things! Having worked closely with an interdisciplinary area studies centre during my graduate studies, I got to see the benefits of being in a department that emphasizes regional expertise. Our focus on the Americas results in a thriving community of permanent faculty, visiting scholars, students, and speakers that have a deep connection to the continent.

The department is also serious about research-oriented teaching, meaning that faculty can create courses that are closely associated with their research interests. Teaching courses on “Gender, Politics, and Public Policy in Latin America” and “Development in Brazil” means that I am constantly engaging with topics related to my ongoing projects—so I can better keep-up with the literature, introduce students the latest published work, as well as share insights about conducting research on these areas.

Tell us about a project you are working on now

In collaboration with Anna Petherick (Lecturer at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford), I am currently working on a project that I am particularly excited about. The research investigates whether the impeachment of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, impacts voters’ assessments of other women running for office. Methodologically, this was a challenging project. First, we had to find a way to “isolate” the impact of Rousseff’s presidency/impeachment from other factors that could impact voters’ views on women in politics. Then, we also had to disentangle between respondents explicit and implicit gender biases. That is, people are generally unlikely to admit to prejudices that are frowned upon, so they tend to “correct” their biases when responding to surveys. But the act of voting is secret, so we also had to capture respondents’ “hidden” biases. To address these challenges, we designed an online survey experiment and recruited a nationally-representative sample of Brazilian voters. As expected, we find that reflecting on Rousseff’s presidency indeed shapes voters’ assessments of women’s appropriateness for political office, making them more sceptical. This effect is particularly strong among female voters, for whom Rousseff’s gender is more salient.

What do you find most interesting/enjoyable about your work?

I still can’t believe that part of my job is investigating and answering questions that I am curious about—and, in the process of getting answers, collaborating with incredibly smart people.

I also really enjoy teaching and the small class sizes at the Institute of the Americas allow us to have excellent discussions on a daily basis, which I find very exciting. The small class sizes also make it possible to assign different types of activities, so each of my modules have a policy-oriented activity where students are asked to engage with a policy area of their interest. In the past, students have written thought-provoking policy proposals and incredibly creative policy campaigns in the form of videos, podcasts, posters, and newspaper articles.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Three years ago, I co-founded the Zurich Summer School for Women in Political Methodology, which is a fellowship in computational and quantitative methods exclusively offered to women and non-binary folks. Every year, the Summer School has received more than 200 applications and offered places to attend the 7-day training problem to ~20 early-career researchers. Through this process, we also sought to better understand the state of methods’ training in Europe (a publication of our first findings is forthcoming in PS: Political Science & Politics) and to maintain a network of Europe-based scholars working on similar topics/methods.

What are your top tips for new students joining us in September?

  • Get in touch with your lecturers! Come to office hours, attend organized talks, and, let us know if you have ideas for events or other activities.
  • Get involved with UCL—beyond the department. There are hundreds of student clubs to join and daily events going on in the larger campus.
  • Participate in activities outside the university. London offers many opportunities to engage with art, music, literature, and politics of the Americas. There are always concerts, films, exhibits, and talks on offer (probably too many from which to choose!)

Can you tell us about your plans for the future?

I joined the Institute in January 2019, so I am just now settling in. I am hoping that this new academic year provides opportunities for new research projects and collaborations researchers. I have recently been appointed a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (in Washington, DC), so this will also allow me to further communicate my research with policymakers and strengthen ties with US-based institutions.