Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: A teacher. But this was mostly because I was fascinated with the big red pencil that my teachers used for grading. I wanted to use the big red pencil and would play school at home with my sister and other friends, who were my hapless victims. Ironically, grading is now my least favorite part of my job as a professor.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: Growing up in India in the 1980s, poverty was endemic. Even as a child, I was moved by how many people lacked basic needs. When I traveled with my father during one of his postings as health secretary on tour to remote parts of the country to inspect health-delivery mechanisms, I saw people with their children lining up to get vaccinated or struggling to access basic health care facilities. As a teenager I visited the United States and Europe with my parents and was repeatedly moved by the contrasts in levels of wealth and prosperity between India and the advanced nations of the world.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: As a female economist working in the fields of macroeconomics and finance, I am invited to a number of conferences. A few years ago, I started noticing that there were extremely few women on the program — sometimes I was the only one, or one of two or three women, on male-dominated agendas. I was disturbed by the gender imbalance I experienced at these high-profile events. So I put on my analytical hat and brought data to the matter.
I coauthored a paper documenting the gender patterns of this conference. The findings were stark and hard to ignore. The research got considerable media coverage, and although it is a paper that is outside my primary research fields, I am gratified that it’s been widely read and discussed. More importantly, the organization has implemented a number of changes. One of our key findings was that the representation of women on programs is significantly higher when women are the organizers. I am proud that I was able to take a frustrating situation and turn it into an opportunity to affect meaningful change.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: “Financial development for economic growth.”
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: Cooking and travel. Research tends to be open-ended, uncertain, and takes a long time to complete, whereas cooking provides somewhat instant rewards. It also requires complete focus and is a great way to relax and be creative at the end of a long day. As an international economist, I have the opportunity to travel, which brings useful perspective, new experiences, and a chance to hit the reset button from time to time. Recently I combined cooking and travel by attending a wonderful class with a chef in Thailand!