Ayushi during one of her visits
Ayushi is an Economics graduate from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. Upon her graduation, Ayushi joined Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) as an intern and was subsequently promoted to a Research Associate (RA) role. After working at J-PAL for three years, Ayushi is about to join an end-to-end impact measurement company as an Associate. This article documents her journey so far, with a specific focus on her preparation and experiences at J-PAL.
Ayushi’s Foray into the Social Sector:
When she started her undergraduate studies, Ayushi had no specific plans of working in the social sector. Her first experience of working in the sector came in the form of her work with Enactus at her undergraduate college and it helped her understand that she liked the work she did, in terms of interacting with communities and solving problems by coming up with innovative solutions. In her final year, Ayushi interned with NITI Aayog; during the course of this internship she realised she was drawn towards research and found it to be something she would want to explore further. Around this time, she also made a conscious decision to work in the social sector.
“I realized I wanted to help out the underserved communities in some way, that’s the sentiment I wanted to live and work with.”
With this thought, Ayushi started looking up organisations, and the specific fields within the social sector that she would want to apply for. She was clear that problem-solving and field research are areas that she enjoys. She applied for a multitude of organisations which included development consultancies like Dalberg and Bridgespan, think-tanks, and research centers.
“I wasn’t looking for a lot of money or any particular position specifically, I was more interested in the kind of experience I could get.”
General Team Structure and Recruitment Process followed at J-PAL:
Most projects at J-PAL have an option of either having Research Associates (RAs), Research Support Assistants (RSAs) or Interns working on them. While sometimes there are a few RAs/RSAs working on a single project, other times a single RA/RSA could be running the project. Need for interns varies according to the scope and requirements of the particular project. The recruitment process for RAs/RSAs is usually standardized:
Round 1: Fill out the application on the J-PAL career portal
Round 2: Two personal interviews by a hiring manager and one of the lead researchers respectively (for interns, this typically comprises a discussion about their previous experiences and their interest in working at J-PAL)
Round 3: Case study/ STATA test round (may also come in between the previous rounds)
Points to note:
STATA is the most widely used statistical software at J-PAL.
The case study round is essentially meant to gauge the applicants’ understanding of how Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) are designed and conducted.
For internship/support assistant positions, the process is more flexible—these recruitment processes might or might not have a STATA test depending on the requirements of the project.
Prerequisites for being a good fit:
Ayushi believes some of the aspects that would definitely help anyone who is applying to J-PAL include the following:
Field Research experience
Basic research/data analysis experience (ideally using STATA)
Being comfortable with data and research are key factors in being a good fit at the organization and enjoying one’s work at J-PAL, according to Ayushi.
“In addition to hiring Research Associates for conducting field studies, most Professors running the studies already have Data RAs at their universities. Thus, our comparative advantage is we can help in conducting field work like designing the study, implementing the study, data collection, managing field teams, etc.“
Ayushi’s Recruitment at J-PAL:
Glimpse from Ayushi's journey
Ayushi applied for an internship at J-PAL wherein the role of the intern was primarily to help with designing and implementing the survey tools and managing field teams. In her cover letter, Ayushi thus focused on her community needs assessment experience at Enactus and the field research with NITI Aayog which made her a good fit for the role.
She had two interviews following her shortlist which mostly revolved around her understanding of research, randomized control trials (RCTs), and her experiences at field research. Since Ayushi’s past experiences aligned with the requirements of the role she had applied for, she believes that helped her secure the role.
“The main factor is not what goes into the preparation but the fact that J-PAL looks for specific skill sets which complement the project one is applying for. Thus, the entry point for everyone is a bit different.”
Subsequent Interviews at J-PAL:
Upon joining the organization, Ayushi also learnt a lot about the different software and tools J-PAL uses and built her skill set for the subsequent interviews while applying for other studies at J-PAL. Her transition from an intern to an RA role happened as a promotion within the same project, so she just had to take a STATA test as a part of the process.
She landed her second study owing to the recommendation that she received from the professor who she assisted in the previous study.
“Since Development Economics is itself a very small community of Professors, I suppose word of mouth really works a good way within the organization.”
Ayushi’s third project was in the agriculture sector and this interview process again consisted of two rounds of interviews. The technical part of her interview consisted of her being presented with the potential intervention and having to come up with factors that could negatively impact the intervention, keeping the policies and local context in mind. Similarly, she was also given two intervention ideas and had to weigh the pros and cons for them and challenges they could face.
“Most of my preparation for different projects included getting an understanding of the scope of the studies happening in the area. I read up any RCTs that are being conducted in the specific field of the project and also built an understanding of what it is that the project is trying to do.”
Experience at J-PAL:
Since Ayushi got the opportunity to work on three different studies and see them through their entire lifecycle during her time at J-PAL, her learning curve was steep.
Her first project helped her get an in-depth understanding of what goes into running an RCT, while during her second project, her professors trusted her with handling the entire project operation in India. Ayushi’s third project was a high-stake project because she was working with some proficient and prominent researchers in development economics and the project was in partnership with the Government of Punjab; she was also directly managing a team of 350 people involved in the project. This project helped her hone her skill set to a great extent and presented as a great learning opportunity for her.
“I learnt a lot in the three years just by the virtue of being on these projects. The organization also has a great community of like-minded people, which allows for a great work culture as well.”
Along with these learnings, she also faced challenges in terms of high work-load initially due to working on small budget projects, and later due to limited number of people working on her project.
Prospects after J-PAL:
Most people plan on applying for PhD or Master’s degrees after their time at J-PAL; they also have the possibility of applying to work as an RA with a Professor they have worked under at J-PAL. Another suitable option for many people proves to be roles in the field of impact evaluation since that is one of the major skill sets that most J-PAL employees develop, not just for RCTs but also other methodologies.
Recommendations for Applicants:
Keep checking the Careers page on the website for vacancies
Contextualize your application on the J-PAL career portal according to every new project that you want to apply for
Go through the J-PAL website as a part of the preparation process - it has a well-maintained resources page that contains readings around RCTs as well as some modules on STATA.
Have a sound understanding of RCTs and designing as well as implementing surveys
Understand the sector of the project you are applying for and the research interests of the Professor you are applying to work under