Panel at ASE: Top Researchers Share Their Advice

“How do you get ready to be a successful economist?”

This question—posed by Professor Wantchekon to open a panel on July 11th—resonates strongly here on campus. ASE students from Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, and Benin gathered to hear related advice from four highly talented economists: Dr. Illenin Kondo, Dr. Maria Sviatschi, Dr. Ismael Mourifié and Dr. Simon Alder. Here is what these experts had to say!

Dr.  Maria Micaela Sviatschi: After completing her undergraduate degree in her home country of Argentina, Maria Micaela Sviatschi worked in Washington, D.C., studied in New York, and now teaches at Princeton University.

When asked about the added value of a PhD, Dr. Sviatschi advised “You better be passionate about doing research and thinking about the same project for a lot of time” and explained that a PhD allows time for that deep reflection. She also urged aspiring PhD students to gain as much of a math background as possible.

Be determined, be passionate.

-Dr. Sviatschi

Dr. Illenin Kondo – Raised in Togo, Dr. Illenin Kondo initially studied electrical engineering before discovering a passion for economics. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Kondo emphasized the importance of collaboration: “My best advice is—stick to it, but, more important, be humble enough” to ask for help when needed. That spirit of collaboration can begin now: “Practice begins at home,” he explained, “You do not need to wait for your next reach, your next move… You can practice that spirit now.”

Work hard. Learn from your peers.

-Dr. Kondo

Dr. Ismael MourifiéOriginally from Cote d’Ivoire, Dr. Ismael Mourifié is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and the winner of a 2017 Polanyi Prize.

Dr. Ismael Mourifié built upon his co-panelists’ advice by providing useful tips for future applicants. He urged ASE students to find their niche when applying to PhD programs. Rather than writing a bland statement like “I want to do development economics” because “I like finance,” he stressed the need to identify puzzles and display the ability to craft a research question.

Dr. Simon AlderHailing from Switzerland, Dr. Simon Alder completed his PhD in Economics at the University of Zurich. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Alder rounded out the panel by giving students valuable advice on how to stand out as applicants. In addition to having excellent GRE quantitative scores, PhD applicants should demonstrate their passion in their area of choice, he said, such as by publishing a paper in that domain. They should also apply to programs whose specialties correspond with their own field of interest.

From left to right: Illenin Kondo, Maria Micaela Sviatschi, Ismael Mourifié and Simon Alder.

So: How does one become a top economist? The answer seems to be through collaboration and tenacity. Professor Wantchekon weighed in on these two virtues toward the end, explaining that “Isolation is the enemy of academics,” and that researchers must work together, especially in an era when “more and more, it’s not where you come from, it’s what you do.” Finally, a bit of grit can be the missing piece for success. “There is absolutely no way you will not fail,” Wantchekon insisted. “It’s not about whether you fall. It’s about whether you get up after falling.”