Study abroad

Each year IIES Graduate Students are given the opportunity to visit universities all over the world to gain experience and further their research. You can read more about a couple of our graduate students' experiences from these visits below.

Francesco Loiacono

Francesco spent 6 months in Chicago, visiting the Chicago Booth School of Business, from September 2019 to March 2020, only having to cut his visit short by a couple of weeks: "I have been lucky: due to the incoming coronavirus emergency, I had to anticipate my return to Sweden of only 2 weeks, so I would say I did not miss much!"

What was the purpose of your visit to Chicago Booth?

- The main purpose was to work together with Professor Emanuele Colonnelli, who I have been working with since 2014, prior to starting my PhD. Together with prof. Edoardo Teso (at the Kellogg School of Management), we are running an experiment in Uganda, to study how to increase transparency of the public procurement sector of this country. The purpose of my visit was to work together on the theoretical framework of the experiment, as well as to facilitate the implementation of the project in Uganda. At the same time, I took the opportunity to present my job market project to some of the top professors in development economics at the Harris School of Public Policy, the University of Chicago Department of Economics and Northwestern University. Finally, I experienced the beauty and the dynamism of one of the most fascinating city in the world, took some time to travel to visit family in Boston and Providence and explored new states, such as Puerto Rico, characterized by a completely different cultural flavour than the rest of the US.

What did you learn?

- While working with Emanuele and Edoardo was not a new experience for me, this time I witnessed the extremely stimulating environment they confront themselves with every day. It was also very nice to visit and talk with different scholars in the Chicago area, who have all found a piece of their time to chat with visiting students. The diversity of this experience was really rich: the Chicago hub attracts scholars not only from the city, but also from Universities outside the state of Illinois, with different researchers of the University of Notre Dame residing in Chicago rather than in Indiana.

- Finally, the Chicago Booth School of Business is not only a place where research is conducted at the highest levels, but also a centre that attracts the most talented managers, social entrepreneurs and policy makers, sharing their views around the most different topics, from business to corruption and to economic development. Having a chance to participate in some of these seminars was a mind-blowing experience.

What was different about Chicago Booth compared to the IIES?

- At Chicago Booth, there is a larger number of PhD students compared with the IIES, and this makes the work environment unavoidably more fragmented and less collaborative: it is more likely to see students working alone or in smaller groups, and communicating less than at the IIES. This is not true everywhere, though: at the Northwestern University, where I attended some of the meetings of the development economics group it was more likely to observe students working on projects together. One of the things I liked the most were the “development breakfasts” organized by Chris Udry and Dean Karlan, where students interested in development could discuss ideas with the professors in front of a cup of coffee and a bagel at 8 in the morning. I am excited to see that something similar is starting at the IIES, too, with tea replacing coffee while keeping the same intense flavour that I got in Chicago!

- However, (and this is what I missed the most from the IIES) there seems to be a general separation between the students and the professors and in general it is more complicated to bump into each other due to the huge spaces that the departments are spread across. The IIES is also truly unique with its lunches, games and parties!

- On the brighter side, though, UChicago and Northwestern organize a massive number of public seminars with the most diverse crowd of experts from around the US and the world. This makes both the universities more central spaces of public debate, encouraging students to confront themselves with what happens outside academia, too.

- This experience would have never been possible without the generosity of the Wallander and Hedelius Foundation. Their support to students like me in Sweden is one of the many reasons why we feel honored to work and study in this country. 

Tillmann von Carnap

IIES Graduate Student, Tillmann von Carnap visited University of California Berkeley during the fall of 2021, a visit through which he gained many insights.

Tillmann studies how farmers can benefit from improved access to urban demand through roads and rural marketplaces. In his work, he combines traditional data sources like household surveys with insights from new methods based on satellite data. 

He wanted to visit UC Berkeley because there are many researchers there working on rural development in Sub-Saharan Africa, including some doing pioneering research with satellite imagery.

- During my stay, I got in touch with the local faculty and students, among them other visiting students from all over the world. It was a great experience to be able to discuss with so many people working on similar topics. We often discovered common challenges, for example in accessing suitable data, and exchanged approaches to overcome these challenges. The highlight of my stay was when I presented my work on detecting rural marketplaces and tracking their activity using satellite imagery in the local seminar. I received a lot of useful feedback that I could incorporate into a working paper I compiled towards the end of my stay.

What did you learn?  

- I really enjoyed the breadth of research in development economics that was presented in the two weekly seminars at Berkeley. It was especially inspiring to see and think about how different kinds of data can be combined and re-used creatively to generate new insights. Two topics that stuck with me here are how we can use findings on short-term effects of development programs to assess their long-run implication without being able to collect actual data on them, and how academic researchers can support policy makers with actionable and reliable data when it is needed, as became evident during the Covid-19 pandemic."

How was UC Berkeley different from the IIES?

- In some ways, the Department of Economics at Berkeley and the IIES are quite similar: Both have a large group of development economists working on a broad range of topics and both lie on a campus surrounded by beautiful trees. In fact, one habit I tried to bring home from California is to, whenever possible, have my work meetings during walks around campus, instead of in an office. (Even though I'm very thankful that at the IIES, we graduate students have offices with windows that actually let us see those trees - students in Berkeley often have offices without daylight.)

- In Berkeley, I was impressed by students' and professors' spirit of making things happen and looking for what one can learn from each other. This spirit also shows in many cross-disciplinary projects there, for example with researchers in computer science or geography. While we in Stockholm have great collaborations across the different institutions doing economics, I think we could benefit from talking more to other disciplines.

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