November 11, 2008

Poverty in Madagascar

Felix Forster ’09 explores its causes with Prof. David Stifel

Felix Forster ’09 (Rostock, Germany), who is pursuing a B.S. in mathematics and an A.B. in economics and business, spent his summer investigating the root causes of poverty in Madagascar under the guidance of David Stifel, assistant professor of economics and business.

My father is a scientist and so from a young age, I was fascinated by the process of intellectual discovery, by contribution to the knowledge of the world. And as romanticized as this sounds, it has been on my mind.

Lafayette’s EXCEL program, and in particular my research with Professor Stifel, a specialist in the field of developmental economics, has placed this vague concept of research in a tangible framework of knowledge about markets, statistical analysis, and collegial exchange. It has made me appreciate research even more because of the added substance and has served as my gateway to the professional world of economics.

I had taken Professor Stifel’s course in intermediate microeconomics, and I enjoyed his conduct with the students, his in-depth coverage of concepts, and I had talked to him several times about my interest in developmental economics. Shortly before the end of my sophomore year, when he was on research leave in Madagascar, I contacted him about the opportunity to become his EXCEL scholar. He agreed and at the beginning of my junior year, we started the work.

The research dealt with horizontal inequalities (across groups based on characteristics such as ethnicity or education) in Madagascar and it was a collaborative project with Professor Barrett from Cornell University. As the only research assistant, I was able to be part of each of the individual aspects of the research and eventually surpass my initial role to become a co-author of the resulting paper. It also needs to be noted that Lafayette’s small student population and the absence of a graduate school really allowed me to get such deep insight into the work and to contribute to the research in such a profound way in relation to my education level.

For several days, every week, I would utilize my knowledge from an econometrics course and feedback from the professor to merge data sets, compute summary statistics, generate graphs, and run regressions in the statistical software program Stata. I even composed parts of the paper that has been submitted for peer-review and was able to present our findings at Lafayette as well as the economics honors society’s annual research conference.

In this manner, my work with Professor Stifel has not only confirmed my professional interest in economics research, but also provided me with the fundamental skills to succeed with it in the future. I recently accepted a job offer with an economic consulting firm in New York City, where I will continue to build my quantitative skills and understanding of economic concepts. My research experience has served as a primary indicator of my qualifications for this job and will likely continue to play a substantial role in my application for economics Ph.D. programs in a few years.

Overall, I cannot stress how much my EXCEL research with Professor Stifel has contributed to my education at Lafayette and the shaping of my career thereafter. I am very grateful for this opportunity and am hoping to engage in similar work, with real policy implications like the ones we discussed for Madagascar, as I continue my professional life in economics.

  • Professor David Stifel Investigates Root Causes of Poverty in Madagascar
  • Economics and Business
  • Mathematics
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research

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