What It's Like Working as a Research Fellow at the Growth Lab

CID's Growth Lab is a dynamic program driven by faculty, fellows, and research assistants who are seeking to understand the facets of economic development and to uncover how countries, regions, and cities can move into more productive activities. Our Research Fellows are integral to the success of the Growth Lab: the role's responsibilities range from research in Cambridge to field work across the globe, and interactions with government officials.

Led by Ricardo Hausmann and a diverse, interdisciplinary team of research fellows, our work takes us around the world. Current projects include Albania, Ethiopia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.   

Tim Cheston, Semiray Kasoolu, Shreyas Matha, Ljubica Nedelkoska, Miguel Santos, and Nikita Taniparti share their perspectives on the role of a Research Fellow. 

What led you to CID's Growth Lab? Why did you want to work here?

Shreyas Matha: After graduating with my masters, I was looking to work at a place that addresses public policy questions but did not restrict itself solely to techniques in traditional economics. What appealed to me most about working at the Growth Lab was that the place is open to embracing experiments in newer techniques such as natural language processing and machine learning.

Semiray Kasoolu: The Growth Lab is a place of independent thinkers who are not afraid to use a holistic methodology to diagnose different development problems. And to me that freedom of research meant a lot. Another thing that really impressed me was the efficiency of deployment of those research findings to developing countries and to the counterparts in those countries. And that also really impressed me because that is very different from what I know about other development institutions.

What stands out about the Fellows role at the Growth Lab? What is your level of engagement with policymakers?

Tim Cheston: The fellows really are the front line of applying these ideas in the field, and they have a range of expertise and specialties and analyzing different data sets and applying them to different policy purposes. Traveling to Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, and working hand in hand with ministers and technical staff across all of those countries has been a real privilege, to see both the larger struggles that unite all of those countries but also the unique features of each one of those places.

SK: The role of a fellow at the Growth Lab is unique in that it combines three things. One is using quantitative methods to discover and probe for development problems. The second one is to validate those with field work and field trips. And the third one is to use those the first two to come up with policy implications and inform of policy work. 

Ljubica Nedeloska: I had the opportunity to engage with policymakers on both the technical level and the policymaking level and also on a variety of issues such as employment strategy, disapora relations, fiscal projections, employment projections, fiscal policy among other things. This experience gave me a very interesting chance to see inside how governments work. And I think this is very unique to the GL and I don't think it would have been possible to learn if I would have stayed in solely academia.

Nikita Taniparti: You're doing research--you're reframing the way that governments and policy makers ask questions... You get to interact with the minister or the government, and you hear why they can't just do the easiest policy option that you might think they should be doing. 

What is your favorite part about working at the Growth Lab? 

LN: What I like most about working at the Growth Lab is the interdisciplinary teams of highly motivated and highly talented fellows. I also enjoy working with some of the most brilliant minds in the field of economic development. This place has high energy and also high optimism which I enjoyed very much. And last but very important, I recently became a mom and the Growth Lab specifically offered very reasonable conditions for work/life balance. 

SM: I'd say my favorite part about working at the Growth Lab is that I get to work with a floor full of postdocs and Ph.D. students who are all interested in working on questions in public policy but also coming at them from new and interesting perspectives. 

NT: The Growth Lab is where you get this chance to use your intellectual curiosity to ask the questions that really matter. You're not just working on a really small part of something where you don't know the outcome. Our research questions that can be very theoretical are all driven by something that's happening in the world. We know exactly who we're working for, whether it's farmers on the ground or foreign workers in a different country. You know why you're asking the question and why you're asking it the way you do.

Miguel Santos: I like arriving in a location you know very little about, with a team of highly qualified people that challenge you constantly, and gradually learning about that place. This process of learning the nuances of a country and translating that into policy, and having the capacity to surprise people who have been there a long time, that's my favorite part of the job.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.