We recently sat down with Ruchi Avtar (‘19) to hear more about her unique perspectives as an alum of our Economics MA program.
Before joining the program, Ruchi studied Economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, one of the top universities for economics in India, graduating with honors in 2018.
“I decided to go for a Master of Arts in Economics to learn more about the field and then figure out what I wanted to do within this field. I was lucky that Columbia was one of the few master’s programs that accepted students with three-year undergraduate degrees,” says Ruchi. “I still remember getting the [admissions] interview request from Columbia,” recalls Ruchi, and ending up “doing the interview at 9 or 10 pm in India.” She adds, “When I got the admissions letter, I was super excited and it was pretty much a no-brainer that this was where I wanted to go. ”
Ruchi soon found herself in New York City, adjusting to life in the big apple and at Columbia University. She praises her “nice and supportive cohort” and the tight-knit environment that helped her get through the rigorous coursework: “you know you’re not doing it alone, and other people are going through it with you.” She also credits the TAs within the department for being “really helpful by making sure we understood the material.”
She remembers attending many events within the MA program to help her explore her interests and connect with her peers. Events that stand out to her, particularly, are the variety of Women in Economics panel discussions organized by her fellow students. She also enjoyed attending the many social and professional-development events hosted by MESA. Off-campus, she loved exploring New York City, mentoring neighborhood children through fun field trips, and volunteering at the local food bank.
As a graduate student, Ruchi took advantage of the many opportunities within the department and throughout GSAS to explore her interests as thoroughly as possible. She went outside the department to join SIPA’s (School of International and Public Affairs) Macro Lab and the Capstone Project working with the US Department of Labor on Labor Rights Accountability mechanisms in international trade agreements. She also worked closely with Professor Jeffrey Shrader over the summer as a Graduate Research Assistant on a project about marginal costs of environmental regulation compliance.
Ruchi got permission to take a course in experimental economics during her last semester at Columbia. This was perhaps the most impactful, as Ruchi credits this course and Columbia’s research opportunities to find her true passion, going for a Ph.D. in experimental economics in the future. “Without having the opportunity to take this class, I would not have been exposed to my main area of interest for Ph.D. work,” Ruchi adds. She worked with Professor Alessandra Casella to conduct experimental and behavioral economics research, remembering fondly “going to office hours every Tuesday to work on designing the experiment.” Her research paper, “Statistical Discrimination in Long-Term Interactions: Evidence from a Lab Experiment, ” also allowed her to acquire a solid foundation in research interests for future Ph.D. work.
Ruchi graduated in 2019, deciding to get more research experience for a few years. She worked as a part-time consultant at the World Bank and then as a Senior Research Analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The solid foundation of research, analytical, and writing skills developed at Columbia helped her contribute substantially as a co-author on numerous research papers and blog posts at the Bank. However, the thought of doing her own quantitative research intrigued Ruchi, and she started her Ph.D. in Economics at NYU in 2022. She is very grateful for the “supportive faculty at Columbia” for helping her feel prepared to pursue a Ph.D. and advising her throughout the application process.
Looking back at the program, Ruchi encourages students to get involved with different events and form close connections with alumni and faculty to get the most out of Columbia. She remembers “emailing professors and alums to get advice” and credits the fact that “everyone is so helpful and willing to talk,” which greatly impacted her academic career at Columbia and the choices she made post-Columbia.
We are so impressed with Ruchi’s ambition and accomplishments and are excited to see where it takes her going forward!
By Gabrielle Okun, Economics MA Program Coordinator