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90 Days of Summer

When it was suggested that I write a blog sharing my summer experience, I happily agreed, thinking it would be a good idea to sum up these last three vivid months.

But writing this blog has actually been the toughest part to do this summer.

Not meaning to say I didn’t work enough, but summing up the rollercoaster ride of an experience in just a few paragraphs gives a hint. To top it all, I have been preparing myself for my departure to the US in the past few days, all the while brainstorming a blog that could perfectly summarize my time in India.

This all started when I got an email from J-PAL (Abdul Jameel Poverty Action Lab) just 10 days before I was planning to leave for India for a month’s vacation. To give some context, J-PAL is a global research institute that conducts impact evaluations of social programs using randomized control trials (RCT).

J-PAL is highly notable in the research sector. I had been hoping to work with J-PAL since the day I joined the Master of Public Policy program at MSU. I was offered a 3-month internship to work with a Harvard University doctoral candidate on her research project, to be based out of J-PAL South Asia office in Bangalore, India. Despite not having much background on the topic of research, I happily accepted the offer, excited that I would get a hands-on experience of working on an actual field experiment. Glad to have found an internship in the organization of my choice in a beautiful city in my home country, I packed my bags to fly for India.

My first stop was my hometown, Dehradun, a small green hill station nestled in north India where the warm city greeted me with even a warmer welcome. As much as I would have liked to relish home cooked meals for the rest of my journey, my final destination took me south. Arriving in Bangalore was the most pleasant experience of my trip because it was the perfect retreat from the scorching heat waves of the north. (For those who have no idea how summers are in India, the temperatures easily exceed 110 Fahrenheits). My first few weeks in the office coincided with my research supervisor’s visit which was when I got acquainted with the summer’s research.

The research study focused on conducting a random field experiment on a significant labor economics issue in developing countries. While unemployment in our country remains at a high, employers cite difficulty in finding skilled workers. In this setting, online job portals have emerged as an important labor market intermediary in addressing this gap. These portals provide search and matching services serving millions of jobseekers and employers in India. Yet despite their prevalence, the job search remains an elusive process as labor markets abound with uncertainty.

A dearth of regularly available information on local labor market conditions and the nature of online job boards prevents capable job seekers from steering through the job market with prospective chances of employment, resulting in making the online platforms less competitive. Given the growing importance of internet-based job searches and the proliferation of job portals, the research experiment aimed at providing evidence on how easing information frictions on these portals can improve employment prospects for jobseekers by actively guiding their search efforts.

I, along with another intern, were responsible for the project’s implementation in India. With the project being in its early stages and its scope spanning nine cities across the country, our hands got pretty full soon. Before long, I realized that while the individual tasks for the implementation of a field experiment are not acumen heavy. It is the understanding of the experiment design that is challenging.

Mapping the researcher’s vision and fulfilling it with integrity is what is at the heart of the work. I remember spending weeks working, at times until 11 at night, to get the appropriate sample. Further weeks went to editing and re-editing our interventions based on feedback. My knowledge of research and analysis tools -- learned substantially in the classroom -- aided in performing data analysis tasks. I also realized that I need to spend more time in learning advanced analytical methods.

One skill that I definitely took away from my summer was multi-tasking and organizational skills. Sitting at my computer, I was not only managing my internship at J-PAL but also concurrently managing my research assistantship with IPPSR and an internship with Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Rather than being overwhelmed from all of this, I enjoyed being productive and making most of my time. Apart from spending my weekdays working in the office, I took time out every alternate weekend to explore new places around southern India enjoying the heavy monsoons, lush greenery and a long lost friends’ company.

In these three months, I went scuba diving in the blue waters of Andamans, took pottery classes in Pondicherry, hiked the stony mountains of Coorg and gobbled Indian street food from every nook and corner. In my last few weeks at work, I also got a chance to network and befriend many policy professionals visiting our office. It was also an opportunity to learn about their research projects and interests.

Now as my internship has come to an end and a new session in school awaits, I am rejuvenated and motivated to leverage my on-field experience into classrooms, and into my work with IPPSR. I know skills I want to learn and courses that I want to take that can help me in my future endeavors. My internship with J-PAL has definitely opened doors for my career aspirations and I am glad I got this opportunity to turn my summer into a meaningful one.

Sejal Luthra is a Graduate Student Fellow at IPPSR.