Maliheh’s Fletcher curriculum

Fletcher students generally take four classes per semester, which means that Maliheh, whose progress through the second year of the MALD program we’re tracking in the blog, has now completed her twelfth class.  She offered to provide comments on those classes that had a particularly strong impact on her intellectually.  Here are her notes.

As I had mentioned in my previous blog post, I chose to apply to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in order to gain an international perspective on development and the socio-economic systems in which development takes place.  As a means of complementing my quantitative background, at Fletcher I took classes in econometrics, econometric impact evaluation, development economics, development aid in practice, and agricultural and rural development.  Compared to all the exposure that I had to different disciplines in physical science, I found economic analysis to be a hard and complex subject.  In many cases, it seemed far more complex than analysis in the physical sciences, simply because we cannot usually run controlled laboratory experiments, and because people do not always behave predictably.

I ran my first regression in the summer of 2004, as a student at Sharif University in Iran.  I was working as a research assistant, though I did not understood regression at the time.  After taking Econometrics (EIB E213) with Prof. Jenny Aker, today I understand that the study aimed to use regression to uncover and quantify interesting causal relations.  Prof. Aker equipped us with the facts, intuition, and experience necessary for independent econometric research and for critical reading of empirical research papers, which opened the door for me, creating  many opportunities to work at international organizations.

I used the skills I had learned in Prof. Aker’s class last summer, working at the World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist for the MENA Region.  The paper that resulted from my research will be presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum in Kuwait in March.  I found econometrics to be a field in which many abuses are possible, and in which things can go wrong with every step, from the formulation of the original ideas for the problem, to the printing of the final report.  Being statistically literate helps in recognizing when to be skeptical about statistical claims.

Born and raised in the Iranian countryside, I had the powerful experience of living in a rural area where my mother was our village’s only teacher.  I was in close contact with acute poverty and famine in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, and I could see how being poor can affect the way people think, decide, spend, eat, and educate.  Though, at that time, I could not foresee any solutions for these challenges, I have always been motivated by a desire to find solutions.  Later in my studies, I learned that connecting the poor to the growth process is the unifying theme of many development agencies.

In development economics with Prof. Steven Block, we learned more about poverty and its relationship with inequality and growth, long-run economic growth, short-run recovery from economic shocks, and major public-policy challenges facing governments when they implement economic interventions.  I also learned that a state’s natural resource wealth, including energy resources, can negatively influence its economic development, through currency appreciation, market volatility, political shortsightedness, and reactionary vested interests.  Therefore I could answer my old question on why resource rich countries, such as Iran, perform poorly on improving economic outcomes.

Spending last summer working at the World Bank, I also became aware of the tremendous policies and programs initiated and implemented by international organizations, and I was always wondering how they measure whether a particular intervention, policy change, or program actually causes change in development outcomes.  I found answers to my question back at Fletcher in the fall, when I took Prof. Aker’s course in econometric impact evaluation in which we were provided with a set of theoretical, econometric, and practical skills to estimate the causal impact of a policy or program.

Thus, not only did Fletcher’s curriculum help me to connect my past aspirations to my future goals, but my education at Fletcher was well matched with the need in industry.  There was a neat back-and-forth between what I learned, how I was able to apply it, and new questions that emerged and would be answered in later classes.  The relevance of my Fletcher curriculum so far has ensured there was never a gap between what I learned in the classroom and what I saw applied in the field.

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