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Economics Research with Janet Stefanov

Posted by on Monday, May 3, 2021 in Immersion Blog.

I’m Janet Stefanov, a current junior majoring in Economics and Math, minoring in Russian Language and Scientific Computing. Though I was raised in Kansas, I spent a large part of my childhood in Northwestern Bulgaria, specifically the town of Vidin. Growing up in Northwestern Bulgaria, I was a witness to the impacts of trade policy, economic policy, and economic history on people. Most importantly, I saw how economic life in Eastern Europe was shaped by its post-Communist identity. This period of my life sparked an academic interest in the economics of post-Communism.

Though I always had an abstract academic interest in mind, coursework at Vanderbilt really helped me figure out a tangible direction for my research. On that front, the coursework I completed in the Spring of my sophomore year was especially valuable. Two of these courses stand out as being particularly influential. The first was Math 2821: Applied Statistics with Dr. Lori Rafter, where I gained intuition about statistical methods and experiments, and the ways in which statistical knowledge empowers companies, researchers, central banks, etc. to gain a working knowledge of any situation that involves data. Equally important, I learned about some of the limitations of these tools. The second course was Econ 3022: Macroeconomics with Dr. Kathleen McKiernan, where I learned the workhorse models of macroeconomics, but more importantly, how economists conceptualize and model real-world choices and economic agents using the language of mathematics.

The combination of these two classes led me into a roughly defined field of academic interest at the intersection of macroeconomics and statistics/econometrics. Because I am interested in pursuing a PhD in economics, I saw Immersion as a useful way to get some research experience as an underclassmen, and to perhaps narrow my interests or discover new ones.

From discussions with other students, I discovered that the National Science Foundation sponsors Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) projects to introduce undergraduate students to research and graduate school. During the summer of my sophomore year, I applied to many REUs and was accepted to a few, including one at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology that focused on using data analytics to investigate economic development, which I ultimately accepted. I then completed the full 8 week research experience and have continued to work on this project with my co-authors throughout the academic year to prepare the paper for publication.

In the long term, through my Immersion Project and REU, I confirmed my interests in macroeconomics and statistics, and I discovered that I am really interested in researching endogenous growth theory and human capital. I hope that the research experience I gained through my REU is helpful to me as I am applying to graduate school and in my future research. I would advise students who are thinking about Immersion to think about career and personal development goals and try to figure out how to achieve these goals through an Immersion project. I would also advise that you give yourself enough time to be able to complete your project and to change it as necessary. The best immersion experience for you will change, and that’s almost encouraged, as long as you can get it done.

Janet Stefanov, Class of 2022
Mathematics & Economics

Janet Stefanov is a junior studying mathematics and economics with a minor in Russian. In addition to economics research, Janet is involved heavily in the Association for Women in Math and Vanderbilt Swim Club. In her free time, Janet enjoys cycling, visiting coffee shops, and scrolling through EconTwitter.