DEDP Alumni Spotlight: Digging deeper into research questions inspired at MIT

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Side-by-side images of Mikey Jarrell and Ashley Vicary
Mikey Jarrell (left) and Ashley Vicary (right).

This spring, we started the DEDP Alumni Spotlight series to catch up with graduates and discuss their journeys from the DEDP program to their current work. Read the first and second installments of the series with Nouf Abushehab (DEDP ‘20), Brian Daza (DEDP ‘20), Tomáš Dulka (DEDP ‘22), Helena Wajnman Lima (DEDP ‘20), and Chuka Ezeoguine (DEDP ‘22).

In January 2023, the Data, Economics, and Design of Policy program welcomed its fourth cohort of students, who came from around the world to MIT for eight months of learning, building friendships, and tackling challenging projects and questions. As the class of 2023 graduates and joins our vibrant community of alumni, DEDP faculty director Sara Ellison recently remarked, “DEDP alumni are slowly but surely taking over the world!” 

The DEDP master’s program began in 2020, and our 87 soon-to-be graduates and alumni represent 39 countries and have built relationships with each other that span continents and time zones (and have collected many passport stamps visiting their former classmates!). 

In the third installment of this series, we caught up with Ashley Vicary (DEDP '21) and Mikey Jarrell (DEDP '22), both of whom are starting their journeys as PhD students and future researchers this fall. Before continuing their graduate studies, Ashley and Mikey both spent time working on projects that they started as DEDP students, thinking deeply about research and policy, and connecting with the greater DEDP community.

Applying DEDP courses in the field and across disciplines  

Ashley Vicary, who is from Australia, credits the skills, connections, and community he gained during the DEDP master’s program with many of the opportunities he has pursued since graduating. After DEDP, he continued to collaborate with researchers from his capstone internship and was able to design and run a randomized evaluation testing information-sharing initiatives in Australian city government. Ashley recalls drawing on technical topics, like sample size and spillovers, from the MicroMasters courses and classes on campus at MIT, and applying that knowledge to find solutions to real-world challenges. 

DEDP students have the opportunity to explore diverse classes and opportunities at MIT: Ashley followed his interest in urban issues to complete part of his capstone project with the City of Rio de Janeiro, where he analyzed public transportation data. He also took an extra course on China’s growth, political economy, and urbanization in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. After graduation, Ashley returned to his previous work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Australia, started his randomized evaluation with city government, and reconnected with MIT professor Siqi Zheng to continue working on urban development research. 

After two very busy years of work, he will be returning to MIT this fall to start his PhD in the Urban Planning department, where he will study the intersection of urbanization and economics. Ashley hopes to continue working on optimizing public transportation systems in global contexts—work he first started as a DEDP student. What Ashley valued most about the DEDP program is that “everyone just gets to do such cool things!” Another highlight from the program was getting to play tennis with DEDP faculty director Sara Ellison (DEDP students can be found playing tennis, ice skating, and sailing on campus when not busy working together on problem sets).

Supporting current courses and students online and on campus

Mikey Jarrell, who is from the United States, was introduced to development economics by reading J-PAL co-founders and co-directors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s book Poor Economics, but the MicroMasters taught him concrete approaches to solving what felt like unsolvable problems. Coming from a non-traditional background (he has spent time as a professional golfer, English teacher, sportswriter, filmmaker, and working for an NGO in Kenya), Mikey was excited to come to MIT and learn how he could become part of the work he had read about and seen in courses. After graduating, Mikey stayed at MIT working as a research assistant for Esther Duflo and welcomed the current DEDP students to campus with a piece of advice: ”Attend every seminar and talk that you can, and enjoy having the space to fully devote yourself to learning.”

He is enthusiastic about the DEDP program’s success in leveraging the MicroMasters courses to identify exceptional students who might be overlooked through a more traditional admissions process, and has been working with faculty on new MicroMasters courses and updates to existing courses. Mikey says, “I feel super lucky to be doing this. By teaching a good class at MIT, you only affect twenty people, but if you work on a MicroMasters class, you can reach thousands of people. To help people who are doing important work and are motivated to help the world apply the MicroMasters courses to their jobs is very rewarding.” 

Mikey will be starting his PhD at the University of California, San Diego this fall and is interested in researching the market-wide impacts of lead exposure in low and middle-income countries, among many other questions.

Start your DEDP journey

DEDP alumni continue to make a difference through their academic and professional pursuits—and by remaining connected to the program and helping shape the experience of the students that follow them. With each new class of DEDP graduates, the success of the program’s innovative approach of sharing MIT courses online and bringing dedicated and talented MicroMasters credential-holders to MIT becomes more evident. 

The DEDP alumni community thrives through connections built at MIT and motivation and commitment to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, as Ashley and Mikey so clearly demonstrate. The DEDP program is excited to welcome future cohorts to campus and continue training the next generation of researchers, policymakers, and innovators. 

Interested in joining the DEDP master’s program? Begin working toward the DEDP MicroMasters credential—fall courses start on September 12. You can also learn more about DEDP master’s admissions, curriculum, and our current students on the MIT Economics website

Stay tuned for stories of our alumni’s impactful careers in development policy, tech, government, and more as our DEDP Alumni Spotlight series continues!

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