The Data, Economics, and Development Policy master’s: Learning and connecting at MIT during Covid-19

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A Zoom screenshot of 12 people, including students and program staff
From top left: (first row) Andres Parrado, Evan Williams (staff), Devin Mauney, Ashley Vicary, (second row) Wonjae Lee, Adrienne Luczkow, Raúl Castro, Juan Cisneros, (third row) Michelle Han, Jannis Hamida, Adrien Rose, John Walker, (fourth row) Pavarin Bhandtivej, and Sarah Gault (staff). Not pictured: Megan Farrell.
Photo: Evan Williams | J-PAL

Amidst the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic, J-PAL and the MIT Economics department safely welcomed the second cohort of students in the Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP) master’s program to campus this January. Ten students have taken up the challenge—and opportunity—to join on campus, and three more remotely, for the spring 2021 semester. 

The DEDP program is a blended online/in-person master’s degree with only one semester completed in residence in MIT. The opportunity to forge personal connections with classmates and professors in the spring is an integral part of the program, yet also the one made most difficult by social distancing restrictions. Nonetheless, students, professors, and staff are coming together to create a meaningful experience through a hybrid in-person and remote learning model. 

This semester, students will take some of their classes online and gather in person for weekly seminars and their econometric data science class, following MIT’s testing and social distancing guidelines. The thirteen students in this impressive group come from ten countries and range in age from 24 to 36. They hold bachelor’s, master’s, and JD degrees, and all have earned the MicroMasters program credential (a prerequisite for participation in the DEDP master’s program at MIT). While students could not meet for an in-person orientation due to travel quarantine policies upon arriving at MIT, J-PAL and the Economics department worked to create an orientation that brought the group close together.  

Kicking off the semester with virtual orientation and Math Camp

DEDP program faculty directors and MIT professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Ben Olken kicked off the program orientation with a warm welcome over Zoom. After watching their lectures online while earning the MicroMasters credential, Devin Mauney (DEDP ‘21) said of speaking to the professors, “I have the distinct feeling of being backstage with a band that I've been listening to for years!”  

During orientation, the cohort attended virtual sessions with J-PAL staff and MIT faculty on everything from research transparency, to working with administrative data, to the resources available through the MIT libraries. Students got to know each other through virtual activities including a Zoom-based scavenger hunt around MIT’s campus, and  discussed food and music from their home countries that they hope to share with fellow students if Covid-19 restrictions ease as the semester progresses. 

The 2021 cohort also forged connections with the inaugural 2020 cohort, who graduated in September 2020 and are pursuing work and research in their fields.

The most challenging part of orientation also turned out to be one of the biggest highlights. Math Camp is a series of lectures and problem sets designed to introduce new DEDP students to the math concepts they will need to thrive as graduate students in economics at MIT. While delving into topics from probability and statistics to econometrics and optimization, students were quick to bond and support one another. Several students said that Math Camp was a highlight of orientation, thanks to the stellar work of Math Camp TA and MIT Econ PhD student Mayara Felix. 

Making the most of the DEDP semester

Students are diving right in, already starting work as research assistants for MIT faculty and postdocs and making the most of their time on campus with busy course schedules. Outside of class and work, students are finding Covid-safe ways to get together outside and are staying in touch with Slack and Zoom calls. 

During their time at MIT, students will complete four courses in data analysis and development economics, as well as electives like machine learning. They will participate in weekly department research seminars and a weekly lunch seminar exclusive to students in the program. 

Following their spring semester on campus, students will complete a summer capstone internship project, getting a chance to apply the skills and knowledge gained during the semester and building their work experience to support their career goals after graduation. Learn more about the summer capstone and projects that DEDP students have completed in the past here

Join the DEDP program

Interested in joining the program in the future? The next application cycle opens in December 2021. In the meantime, interested applicants should start completing the MITx MicroMasters in Data, Economics, and Development Policy—our summer classes open on June 1, 2021, and more information about the MicroMasters is available online. The MicroMasters program is a key foundation for the DEDP master’s program and allows each cohort to earn their degree on an accelerated timeline.

Authored By

  • Evan Williams

    Senior Research, Education, and Training Associate , J-PAL Global