March was more than a little bipolar, but it ended on a high note. Late last night, I found a highly anticipated email from Esther Duflo, one of the director's of the Poverty Action Lab (PAL), offering me a position as a research associate with her organization.
PAL is one of several nuclei which are giving rise to a new paradigm within international development. For over 50 years, development “experts” at the World Bank, UN, IMF, etc. have offered a multitude of recommendations that are based on absurdly limited data. In a sense, development, which is in it infancy, is not altogether different from the state of modern medicine a few hundred years ago, when doctors would widely prescribe remedies such as leeches with no basis for their efficacy. To remedy the problem, a number of economists, based out institutions such as MIT, Harvard, Yale, and LSE have proposed that like medicine, development adopt randomized control trials as the benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of interventions. Although various groups within the paradigm have their own opinions about methodologies, the concept is the same. Hence, all of these groups are running randomized control trials evaluating a panoply of development interventions, from microfinance to police training programs, assessing their effectiveness with hard data. Although applying randomized control design in a development setting is far more complex than in a laboratory, I think it’s a great idea.
I discovered PAL purely by chance. While I was searching for a survey instrument that I could adapt for monitoring/evaluation of the community health program at the clinic, I ran across their website. After reading a little, as with any interesting organization, I check their job opportunities, and found a number of positions based in India! I slapped together an application to meet the deadline for submissions, which was two days later (I am hugely indebted to my previous supervisors, Lisa Broek, Joan Toohey, and Jon Roesler for submitting letters of rec within two days).
After a phone interview with the directors of PAL, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. I was offered a Hyderabad-based position (which is ideal, since I really didn’t want to be out in rural India for a year) working on an evaluation of a health insurance intervention.
The links for PAL and CMF follow, as does an interview with Esther Duflo: