Sneha N - Mentor Story

posted at Sept. 11, 2019, 5:36 p.m.

1. Your Journey to Grad school

I began developing a real interest in economics only in the first semester of my undergraduate degree at Lady Shri Ram College. While I had chosen Commerce as my field of study, I quickly realized that I was enjoying my introductory economics classes a lot more than the typical business studies and accounting classes that are a part of the regular curriculum for a degree in Commerce. I had an excellent microeconomics teacher who helped me view the subject from an entirely new perspective and encouraged me to seek out additional resources and study material to supplement my coursework. I was drawn to the wide scope and universality of economics and felt I had a natural aptitude for it. The field of development economics particularly appealed to me as it would allow me to use my theoretical, quantitative, and analytical aptitude in economics to solve challenges in areas that I was passionate about – education and health. While I knew I wanted to pursue the study of economics at a higher level, choosing the right schools and programs was not a simple or straightforward decision. Firstly, graduate programs in economics require students to have taken certain prerequisite courses in probability, statistics, and calculus, which were not a part of my undergraduate curriculum. Secondly, most schools in the US do not offer terminal Masters degrees, and my three-year undergraduate degree made me ineligible for a lot of programs. And thirdly, I had to make a convincing case in my SOPs for why I was now choosing to switch my field of study from commerce to economics. It took me a lot of time and effort to shortlist schools and tailor my applications for each of them, but luckily, most of the schools I applied to found my applications persuasive enough to offer me admits. I finally chose to go to the Graduate Institute, Geneva for multiple reasons – a) the two-year Master’s degree would allow me to get a thorough foundation in the core economics courses, b) the program offered the opportunity to specialize in development economics, a field I was particularly interested in, c) living in Geneva, a primarily French-speaking city, would help me improve my (almost non-existent) knowledge of French, d) I could gain exposure to the work of a number of specialized UN agencies and other international organizations, and e) the Swiss residence permit doubled up as a free Schengen visa that would allow me to travel across and explore several countries in Europe!

2. What are you doing currently?

I chose to return to India after I graduated and soon after started working with NEERMAN, a research organization that specializes in impact evaluations and allied development policy research. My work primarily focuses on using experimental and quasi-experimental evaluation methods, and econometric modeling, to understand which development programs are truly impactful and how to implement such programs effectively. Over the past three years, I have worked on and managed several research projects and impact evaluations in the areas of adolescent empowerment and education, child marriage and teenage pregnancy, maternal and child health, and water-sanitation-hygiene. I am currently leading the evaluation and policy research component of NEERMAN’s national research partnership with UNICEF for their Adolescent Empowerment Programme (AEP). I am also working on a study evaluating the impacts of an mHealth intervention for community health workers under the Integrated Child Development Scheme in collaboration with a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Berkeley, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

3. What do you want to do?

My research experience so far has taught me that I need a more solid theoretical foundation in development economics and a more immersive academic experience in order to design and lead my own research studies one day. I’d like to build on my current research through a PhD program in Economics and gain expertise in cutting-edge techniques in applied econometrics, data science, and behavioral science, which would in turn allow me to become a more qualified researcher in the field of development economics, capable of analyzing, designing, and implementing development policies, particularly in the areas of health, education, and child protection.

4. Why are you interested in Mentoring?

I know firsthand how overwhelming and isolating the process of applying to grad schools can be. There’s a tremendous amount of (often conflicting) information available to you, from way too many sources. My own experience of applying to grad schools makes me appreciate and see value in Gradvine’s approach of helping students get advice from peers who’ve carved out the same academic/career path that they want to pursue. Mentoring would not only give me the opportunity to make use of the lessons I’ve learned to support students get closer to achieving their goals, it would be a personally enriching experience for me as well.