Eye on Alumni Interview: Henrik Sigstad '13


This graduate of the International Trade, Finance and Development master program is a PhD student at Harvard University. Before entering Harvard, he spent a "gap" year working as a researcher in the public sector in his home country of Norway.

Tell us about your job at Statistics Norway.

I was working as a junior researcher in the research department, which is one of the more active communities doing research on Norwegian micro data, taking part in empirical research on labor supply and the measurement of inequality. As you might have guessed, this means my main activity was programming in STATA.

My most rewarding project was to model the Norwegian tax and benefit system and incorporate it into a structural model of labour supply. It forced me to learn the details of the Norwegian welfare system, get to know the Norwegian administrative data, and to learn a lot about econometric modeling in practice.

By working closely with experienced researchers, I got a preview into how life is doing research and it reassured me that I really wanted to do a PhD. I also acquired fluency in STATA, got time to think about my own research ideas and to apply to PhD programs, which made the year a perfect “gap” year.

How did the master program prepare you for research work?

I believe the most important way the master program impacted me was by maturing my way of thinking about economics. It taught me about the interaction between theory and empirics, and how to reason precisely around economic problems. The teaching at the Barcelona GSE was of a very high quality, and inspired me a lot.

Among particular courses that was directly useful for me in my work, Econometric Methods I shines out. It supplied me with essential tools for thinking about data modeling and inference, that I use almost every day.

I am also very grateful to professors at the Barcelona GSE, who were very accessible and inspiring, and supported me in my PhD application process.

Do you plan to return to the public sector after obtaining your PhD?

My primary plan is to see where the academic track will lead me. If I feel that I can contribute in a meaningful way as a researcher it will be difficult to persuade me away from that plan. However, I left mathematics for economics in 2011 because I wanted to do something that could more directly impact the world positively. Thus, if I find that the type of research I am able to produce is not relevant or convincing enough to improve policy, I might change plans.

Do you have any ideas about the direction you might take in your research?

Right now I spend time thinking about how to design empirical studies to shed light on theories of the political economy in developing countries. I am curious about how to construct micro data and apply econometric methods in order to understand political behavior and incentives in weakly democratic states.

Interview conducted in January 2015.

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