Steven Dallas (PhD '18) Shares What He Loved About His Time at NYU Stern and What Ultimately Motivated Him to Become a Lawyer
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Steven Dallas (PhD '18) shares how his research insights into calorie labeling on menus impacts consumer’s food choices, what he loved about the Stern PhD community, and what ultimately drew him to pursue a career in law and public justice.
You recently graduated from the PhD program at Stern. What was your area of study? What was the topic of your research?
My PhD was in Marketing, and my research focused primarily on behavioral pricing and food labeling. My dissertation related to offers that my advisor, Vicki Morwitz, and I call “pseudo-free” offers, which are offers that are presented as “free,” but include a nonmonetary cost (e.g., “free” Wi-Fi if you provide your name, email address, and phone number).
Our research found that people love pseudo-free offers, and generally are just as likely to accept a pseudo-free offer as a truly free offer (which does not require the payment of a non-monetary cost), which demonstrated that people do not account sufficiently for the non-monetary costs when deciding whether to accept an offer.
You received news coverage for your research on calorie labeling on food products. Can you tell us about that research, what you learned, and why you were drawn to this as a topic.
That research was one of my favorite projects that I worked on during the PhD program. New York City was the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to require calorie labeling on chain restaurants’ menus, and I wanted to understand why the calorie labels seemed to have little effect on consumers’ food orders.
We learned that where the calorie information is located on the menu matters. Specifically, we found that—because Americans read from left to right, and thus process the information to the left sooner—consumers ordered lower calorie meals when the calorie information was to the left of the menu item, as opposed to the right of the menu item. Additionally, when we conducted the study with Hebrew-speaking Israelis, who read from right to left, we found that when calorie information was placed to the right (rather than the left) of the menu items, consumers placed lower calorie food orders. This provided an exciting validation of our theory.
What drew you to do a PhD at Stern?
I was drawn to Stern by the people. The professors—and students—at Stern represent that all-too-rare combination of incredibly accomplished and smart, and remarkably kind and down-to-earth. I received incredible support and mentorship at Stern, and I am forever grateful for the lifelong friends and mentors that I made during the PhD program.
Can you share your favorite Stern memory/experience? And how do you stay connected to Stern?
I have so many incredibly fond memories. However, it was really special when I passed my dissertation defense and we celebrated with champagne in the Marketing Department conference room. That experience epitomized all of the support and love that I always felt from the professors and other students in the Marketing Department. Our fantasy football league and March Madness competition each year was also a lot of fun, and representing Stern graduate students at Yankee Stadium and getting hooded at Madison Square Garden were experiences that I will never forget.
I am frequently in contact with many professors, and (pre-Covid) I tried to visit Stern every time I was in New York City.
What drew you to pursue a law degree at Duke University?
I decided to pursue a PhD in Marketing because I wanted to conduct research that could produce insights that would help improve people’s lives and ultimately lead to policy changes that could lead to consumer healthier food choices.
Although I believe strongly in the transformative power of research, I came to the conclusion that, based on my skill set (much of which was developed and nurtured at Stern), I, personally, could do more to positively impact people’s lives as a lawyer.
Why did you get involved in Duke's Wrongful Convictions Clinic?
My decision to get involved with the Wrongful Convictions Clinic was based on my desire to help people—in this case, people who have been incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit. In addition, during the summer before my senior year of high school, I took a course on wrongful convictions, which introduced me to this area of law, and made me aware of how challenging and intellectually stimulating it was. I also knew that there was nothing more exhilarating than fighting for justice and to return an innocent man or woman to his or her family, where he or she should have been all along. I can confidently say that contributing to the exoneration of a man named Willie Shaw, who spent almost six years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and who was facing five more years in prison, has been one of the most gratifying and humbling experiences of my life.
What are your plans after you graduate this spring? Do you plan to stay involved with the Wrongful Convictions Clinic or projects like that?
I will be graduating from Duke University School of Law this May, and, over the next two years, I will be clerking for two federal judges. From August 2021 to August 2022, I will work for United States District Court Judge Jill Parrish of the District of Utah, in Salt Lake City, and from August 2022 to August 2023, I will work for Circuit Court Judge Anthony Scirica of the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. After that, I am not sure where I will be, but I am committed to pursuing justice and will be taking all of the lessons that I learned from my work with the Wrongful Convictions Clinic with me wherever I go and wherever I work.
What were your favorite NYC activities that you enjoyed when you lived here?
There are so many NYC activities that I miss, but two of my favorites were going for long runs in Central Park and karaoke on St. Marks Place.
Any favorite shows you are streaming these days?
I am really enjoying Veep and The Undoing on HBOMax!