African Scholars Spotlight: Dr. Faith Masekesa
The African Scholars Spotlight series highlights the work and journey of economists from the African continent who are working on issues of poverty and using experimental methods.
Dr. Faith Masekesa joined J-PAL Africa as a postdoctoral research fellow to support our administrative data partnership with the City of Cape Town. Before joining, she worked as a senior research manager at The Asian Banker and as a research associate at the Southern African Social Research Institute. Faith holds a PhD in development economics from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. Her research interests span development economics, econometrics, experimental and behavioral economics, social protection and social policy.
Could you tell us about what led you to J-PAL and why you want to pursue a career in academia?
I value the opportunities academia offers for cross-disciplinary thinking and research. I’ve also always wanted to play my part in contributing to Africa’s sustainable development, which I believe can only be achieved through evidence-driven policies. I enjoyed the behavioral and experimental courses I took during my studies, and when a professor pointed me in the direction of J-PAL, it seemed like a natural fit. My goal is to become an effective policy practitioner and eventually a professor so that I can share my skills and knowledge with a wider audience of aspiring researchers.
What has the path to an academic career been like for you? Were there any challenges you faced along the way?
Getting into academia was by no means easy. Starting right at the beginning, finding funding for postgraduate studies was incredibly difficult, and figuring out which programme to choose took me quite some time. Putting together research proposals and finding a suitable supervisor willing to cover my topic were daunting tasks, not to mention the challenging requirements of obtaining high GRE and GPA scores.
The journey into academia can often feel like an endless series of hoops one has to jump through unassisted, and I think this has a very real chance of putting aspiring scholars off the idea of pursuing an academic career. This is especially true considering that many students struggle with confidence issues and, despite being interested in academia, may feel too nervous to attempt the jump into PhD programs.
What or whom had the most impact on your career journey so far?
I was lucky to have a very supportive PhD supervisor and sub-supervisor who helped me during and after my PhD studies. It was also very fortunate that the National Graduate Institute for Policy offered a course in experimental economics, as it helped build my confidence in pursuing behavioral/experimental research. I think there is a significant gap in terms of support provided to students in the pre-PhD stage, though, and more students would consider pursuing research as a career if they were better guided into it.
Do you have advice to offer other young aspiring African scholars thinking about a career in economic research?
It can be a fulfilling career because your work will play a part in improving the welfare of the poor and the advancement of developing countries. There are many problems in the world which you can play a part in solving by either doing individual research or collaborating with other researchers across the globe. Also, the beauty of research is while you are conducting a study, you will also be learning more about that particular case as there is no one size fit all when it comes to policies for development. Furthermore, with a career in economic research you have the ability to focus on activities that you find to be interesting.