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.

Claire Thürwächter

During the 2022 spring term, Claire visited the Economics Department at Harvard University, where she was hosted by Professor Gabriel Chodorow-Reich.

- In line with the academic cycle at Harvard, I moved to the U.S. in January and returned to the IIES in May – just in time to settle back in Stockholm before everyone dispersed for the summer months. 

Claire's primary engagements throughout the stay were with the macroeconomics group of the Economics Department, which included the participation in the weekly Graduate Student Workshop, where PhD students present their ongoing projects to faculty and peers, as well as a macro-specific reading group and related seminars with external speakers. 

- I also joined the weekly Graduate Student Workshop in Financial Economics, that is run by professors at Harvard Business School. In the finance workshop, I also presented my work early on during my stay. That was a great and fun experience in itself. Subsequently, I had a lot of insightful discussions about the project with faculty from both macro and finance.   

- Over the course of my visit, I integrated very well with the PhD students from both groups since we got together on such a frequent and regular basis. Besides, I also got to know other visiting PhD students and could foster my academic network.

- Beyond these professional experiences, I explored the surroundings and went on short trips along the U.S. East Coast. It was great to complement my impressions from the Boston area with visits to rural Maine and New Hampshire – which reminded me a lot of Swedish landscapes - as well as New York City and Washington D.C.  

What did you learn?

- Despite the rather short time horizon, I learned a lot during my visit at Harvard. First and foremost, it was very rewarding to discuss my research with Harvard faculty. This helped me to identify relevant next steps and to gain a broader perspective on my projects. In addition, through the numerous workshops I attended, I learned a lot from the research of other PhD students. It was always insightful and fun to discuss their projects and I am impressed by the variety and quality of their work. All in all, it was also an enriching experience to live in the U.S., in particular after the rather local pandemic years.

How did the Economics Department at Harvard differ from the IIES? 

- There are clear differences in scale across the two places. The Economics Department at Harvard is larger than the IIES and comprises of a lot of faculty and graduate students. Consequently, there are more subfield-specific events and more graduate students working in a certain area. This leads to a more focused research exposure. In contrast, the smaller scale of the IIES makes interactions between faculty and students more spontaneous. It also brings about frequent interactions across fields, such that we have a natural exposure to broad frontier research at the IIES.

- Another difference is the close link between the Economics Department and Harvard Business School, which makes it possible to attend events at both places. This was particularly fitting for my research interests.

Is there anything else you want to share about your stay? 

- I want to end by thanking all the people that I’ve met during the past months that made this experience so enjoyable and memorable. In particular, thanks to Gabe Chodorow-Reich for hosting me, to Gabe and Ludwig Straub for their continued guidance throughout my stay and to all faculty that took the time to meet and discuss my research. Also, a huge thank you to the graduate students at Harvard for including me so nicely into their group and making me feel welcome from the start. And thanks to all other visiting PhD students that I got to meet and share this experience with.

- My stay was financed through a research grant from Handelsbanken and I want to thank the Tom Hedelius foundation for the generous financial support. 

Tillmann von Carnap

Tillmann 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.

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. 

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