Nottingham DTC student Gian Luca Tedeschi has just returned to Nottingham following his ESRC-funded three month international visit to the Department of Economics at Brown University, USA
Why Brown University?
Back when I first started thinking about a visiting period, I asked myself what would be the ideal university where I would go if I had the chance. Brown was without a doubt among the list of places I immediately thought of, as some of the papers that inspired me to do a PhD and influenced my research where written by academics working there. Around last summer, I was lucky enough to be able to get in contact with Prof. Oded Galor, and I was very excited when after a brief exchange he agreed to host my visit during the spring term of the following year.
Brown University is a leading institution, characterised by very high quality research. The Department of Economics is renowned for its focus on the study of deep-rooted cultural, geographical and institutional factors in explaining comparative economic development over history, which I consider my research field of interest. My visit was centred at the Growth Lab, a research group focusing on this particular strand of research. The person that hosted me, Prof. Galor, is one of the most important academics in this field, and is known for his pioneering research on the historical transition from stagnation to growth, and the impact of both human evolution and diversity on the process of economic development.
What did I do during my visit?
During my time at the Brown Economics Department I was able to disseminate my research with seminar presentations and by having one-to-one discussions with both staff and other PhDs. The fact that people there specialise in my field of interest allowed me to collect very valuable and specific feedback for my ongoing projects. While there, I attended their weekly seminar series, where internationally renowned academics were regularly invited. The Department also had various internal seminar series. I particularly enjoyed an internal seminar taking place at breakfast time where PhDs would discuss very early research ideas, early even for an internal brown bag seminar, with very informal discussions about how to develop these ideas.
The Economics PhD programme at Brown has a great focus on taught courses during the first two years, offering highly specialised classes. I was able to informally attend a PhD module focused on my research field, which was based on the study and discussion of papers at the frontier. The module also covered specific training in the use of GIS, a software whose knowledge is becoming more and more required in my literature.
Finally, the location of Brown University allowed me to experience the active research community clustered around the area. Due to the closeness to Boston, I sometimes attended Harvard and MIT seminars. I also participated to various conferences during my visit, where I was able to interact with both junior and established academics from all over the world. In particular, my visit concluded with the Deep-Rooted Factors in Comparative Development conference, taking place annually at Brown University, which is considered a major event in the field.
Was the visit helpful?
These three months were without a doubt a positive experience, and I am happy to have challenged myself to go through with it. I am an introvert person who likes routine, so change, new places and new people easily make me uncomfortable. In economics, however, research and the academic market have become increasingly global and collaborations are pretty standard. Therefore, the ability to experience a different research context, being exposed to new ideas and establishing future networks proved to be invaluable. While I definitely went through some tough moments, I can honestly affirm that I was never as inspired as during this period.
Advice to potential OIV applicants
For those who are considering a visiting period and reading this, my advice is: if you have the chance, do it. Sure, it is challenging and one may feel scared. My supervisors and partner had to give me quite a push before I decided to try. There are also many things concerning the whole visiting thing that may feel a bit obscure, which could push potential applicants away. Although my guess is that every visit is kind of unique, try to talk with someone who has done it, maybe they can provide useful info and help convince you. Finally, and I cannot stress this point enough, start organising the whole visit as early as you can. The application for the scholarship takes time, setting things up with the host university takes even more, and on top of that there may be visa-related bureaucracy. Therefore, plan the whole timeline and costs as precisely as you can. Even after all of this, the experience is still worth it in my opinion, and it is something you will not regret.
Gian Luca Tedeschi
Posted on Friday 24th May 2019