October 18, 2017
Inter-American Development Bank offices, Washington D.C.
“I saw in it a potential to use rigorous methods to solve major global problems,” says Aurora Ramirez Alvarez, Assistant Professor at El Colegio de México, of her initial attraction to economics as an academic discipline. With a PhD in economics from Brown as well as experience at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Mexican Finance Ministry under her belt, Alvarez focuses primarily on development in Latin America, primarily in Mexico. At the heart of her dissertation is a unique concept that combines behavioral analysis with econometric methods.
“I investigated whether or not media coverage affects crime perceptions and crime avoidance behavior in Mexico. There, and in most Latin American countries, crime is a big issue. But at the same time, the media often exaggerates crime news and violence. I found that people who were more exposed to media felt more secure relative to individuals less exposed to media.”
Alvarez notes that an important element of her work -modeling behavior, especially with regards to development and developing countries- is a nuanced art form. In studying crime and its public perception, Alvarez brings attention to a significant issue in Latin America, one that is often overlooked in the shadows of sensationalized media.
But Alvarez’s work extends beyond these interdisciplinary analyses. During her time at the IDB, she worked on briefings, reports, and research that were used more directly to influence policy within and outside of the bank’s portfolio. “It was a bit different because the work I did was more macro-focused, whereas most of my work at Brown was applied microeconomics. But it was really helpful because in reading and being able to do fast-paced regressions and analyses on hot topics in Latin America, I got to think about many important topics. And this was helpful in terms of getting ideas for what I wanted to do with my PhD studies.”
In that way, Alvarez encourages students who are considering pursuing PhD programs (or who are currently unsure if it may be for them) to try their hand at a variety of firms, organizations, and projects. She recommends that undergraduate students looking to work in the field of economics talk to professors, department chairs, and advisors to get a better sense of research and academic opportunities available to them.
“Brown is one of the top schools in the country (and the world) in the area of development. It has so many resources available to students. For doctoral students, we had breakfasts where we could propose and discuss research ideas in development economics. Those were really useful to get feedback on our work as well as hear the work of others in the field,” she mentions.
The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Department of Economics, and the Watson Institute offer various research grants to undergraduate students looking to study topics focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean.
-- Kriyana Reddy, CLACS Fellow