Research Associate, Payments and Governance - J-PAL South Asia

Language Requirement 
Length of Commitment 
One year
Start Date 
June 01, 2019–July 01, 2019

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) was established in 2003 as a research center at the Economics Department at MIT. Since then, it has grown into a global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty. J-PAL is propelled by a first-rate team dedicated to research, policy, training, and other vital work, supporting J-PAL's mission to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.

J-PAL South Asia, which is based at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) in India, analyses and disseminates research results and builds partnerships with policymakers to ensure that policy is driven by evidence, and that programs proven effective are scaled up. We have a growing number of partnerships in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Flexible start date, no later than July 2019.

Project Description:

Professors Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus, and Sandip Sukhtankar seek a qualified applicant for the position of Research Associate based in India. The position offers an opportunity to gain first-hand field experience while undertaking cutting-edge development research. The RA will work on multiple research projects under the Payments and Governance Research Program.

India has witnessed major changes in social policy over the last few years. These changes, based on universal bank accounts (Jan Dhan), biometric authentication (Aadhaar), and mobile phones (the “JAM” platform), and ensuing JAM-enabled Direct Benefits Transfers (DBT), have elicited animated debates. Proponents view the shifts as essential to improving anti-poverty programs and efficiently using public finance. The Chief Economic Adviser to the Government describes this as “a quiet revolution of social welfare policy”. Yet critics point out a number of challenges that could prevent the JAM platform from delivering its full potential, including implementation challenges, subversion by vested interests, exclusion errors, unexpected perverse consequences, and unknown cost-effectiveness.

In this sensitive environment, it is essential to have scientifically rigorous and representative data on the impacts of social policy reforms. The Payments and Governance Research Program works closely with the Government of India and several state governments to design policy reforms for subsidy programs and conduct a series of rigorous impact evaluations. The program aims to introduce global best practices in integrating high-quality research and evidence in policy-making, with real-time data collection on the most topical policy issues and with potential for immediate impact on the lives of hundreds of millions. Besides contributing directly to policy formation, these methods will also help to promote a culture of evidence-based decision-making at the heart of the Indian policymaking process.

The Payments and Governance Research Program is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is housed in the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab South Asia at IFMR (J-PAL South Asia), which is one of six regional J-PAL offices across the world. Globally, J-PAL is headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Research Associate Roles and Responsibilities:

The RA will work closely with academic researchers and other field staff to perform a variety tasks including, but not limited to:

  • Designing survey questionnaires, conducting qualitative and quantitative research, running pilot exercises, refining study design and survey instruments
  • Managing field teams: Recruit, train, and supervise both field-based and data operations teams consisting of project assistants, field managers, field-based surveyors, data entry operators and other field and office staff. 
  • Oversee the implementation of the evaluation in accordance to the research design in association with our partner organization.
  • Maintain relationship with partner organizations at both headquarters and field levels 
  • Supervise data collection and data-entry and ensure good quality of the data at each of these 2 stages.
  • Assist with data cleaning and preliminary data analysis.
  • Assist in preparation of documents and presentations for dissemination.
  • Report to PIs on all of the above mentioned activities.

Desired Qualifications and Experience:

  • A Bachelors's degree in Economics, or related fields.
  • Experience living in a developing country is a strong plus.
  • Excellent management and organizational skills along with strong quantitative skills.
  • Fluency and excellent communication skills in English and Hindi. 
  • Flexible, self-motivating, able to manage multiple tasks efficiently, and a team player.
  • Ability to manage high-level relationships with partner organizations.
  • Knowledge of data analysis software is preferred (ideally Stata).
  • Familiarity with impact evaluations and randomized controlled trials, in particular, preferred.
  • Ability to give and receive completely frank feedback
  • Willingness to live in rural or peri-urban areas and travel extensively to study areas is essential.

We are looking for a commitment period of 14 months for this position.

Note on Work Authorizations: 

Candidates must have work authorization to work in India. This covers citizens of India, Nepal or Bhutan, Persons of Indian origin (PIO), and an Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).

How to Apply

Complete the J-PAL/IPA Common Application. After completing a brief registration, choose the Research job category, then select “Research Associate, Payments and Governance -J-PAL South Asia”. 

Note that you are able to submit your application before your references complete their recommendation letters; however, you must include their contact information before submitting your application.

Given the volume of applications received, only shortlisted candidates will be contacted for an interview.