I conducted research for a Flagship Report on Latin American labor markets and how they have been affected during the post-2013 economic slowdown in the region. Many countries in the region experienced impressive economic growth during the first decade of the 21st century, which was largely driven by China's rapid growth and thus growing demand for Latin American commodity exports. As the Chinese economy has begun to level off to a more stable level of growth in the last few years, commodity prices have fallen and the Latin American economies have slowed. The World Bank report investigates how this slowdown has affected labor markets. Specifically, my project centered on the relative elasticities of wages and employment in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico during the current slowdown, compared to slowdowns in previous decades when these countries experienced higher inflation. Our hypothesis is that when inflation is low (as it is now), employment may adjust more than wages during a recession. This is an important policy question, as lower employment can have long term negative effects on a country's stock of human capital and, ultimately, its long term growth prospects.
As this is a quantitative research project, my day-to-day activities included online data collection, data cleaning, and analysis.
My quantitative methods classes were the most important in preparing me for the internship. They provided me with a strong command of Stata, a program I used almost daily at the World Bank. More importantly, these classes equipped me with an understanding of statistical analysis and the necessary cautions when interpreting data, which helped me to present concise and well-informed analysis of results to my supervisors.
Additionally, my special topics course on Economic Restructuring of Latin America provided me with helpful contextual knowledge of the economic and labor issues in the region, while my course on Globalization, Workers, and Development taught me core concepts of how trade can affect workers, which was the central theme of this project.
Working in the Chief Economist's Office, which is focused on producing research, I gained a hands-on understanding of the day-to-day work of a researcher. As a student, the research projects I've conducted in classes are relatively short-term and without real-world implications. When research is conducted for the purpose of informing policy, however, as it is at the World Bank, it is crucial to ensure data is as reliable as possible. I learned that the data collection process can be painstakingly tedious, and one must critically examine the source of the data, sampling methods, and other ways data may have been manipulated. This means a great deal of independent work for a researcher. As someone who enjoys analytical tasks but prefers a more collaborative, social work environment, it was very helpful for me to get a taste of this type of work. It has helped shape my understanding of the type of environment in which I perform best so that I can seek a role more tailored to my preferred work style after graduation.
In terms of "hard skills," working with data every day certainly boosted my proficiency with Excel and Stata, skills that are crucial in the types of analytical roles I plan to pursue after graduation!
My primary piece of advice is to get to know your professors, and don't be afraid to ask if they have contacts in the organizations that interest you. This can open doors to many big institutions that are hard to access through the traditional application process.
When at your internship, be proactive in making connections with people in other departments. I found that people are usually eager to tell you about their roles, and you never know who might be able to connect you to a career opportunity in the future.
Lastly, put on an attitude that you are responsible for your own professional development. It can be discouraging if you get stuck with busy work or your supervisor seems uninterested in providing you with relevant experiences. Take charge of your own experience and seek out the opportunities that will challenge you!