Q&A with King Center Predoctoral Fellow Ei Thandar Myint
Ei Thandar Myint was a predoctoral fellow at the King Center as a member of the inaugural cohort, from 2021 to summer 2023. Her research interests span health, gender, representation, and development. In fall 2023, she is starting her PhD program in agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Tell us about yourself and your background. What were you doing before coming to Stanford and what drew you to apply for the Predoctoral Fellows Program at the King Center?
I was born and grew up in Burma (Myanmar). I came to the US after high school. I started at a community college in Northern California, then took a gap year to work before transferring to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where I completed both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics.
Having grown up in a developing country, I have always had a desire to solve problems in global development. However, it wasn’t until I took an intermediate microeconomics class at UNLV that my desire to pursue a PhD in economics was confirmed. Since my exposure to research in the field of development economics was limited at UNLV, I wanted to explore my research interests before committing to a PhD program. The predoc position at the King Center was very attractive to me due to the center’s focus on global development research themes.
Which King Center initiative did you work on and what global development challenge is it aiming to tackle? What was your role on the team?
I have been working with three professors at the King Center, Pascaline Dupas (economics, now at Princeton), Saad Gulzar (political science, also now at Princeton) and Soledad Prillaman (political science).
With Professor Dupas, I explored barriers to state capacity in Malawi, reproductive health decisions in Burkina Faso, and the impact of gender-based electoral quotas across village councils in India. The most recent project I have been working with Professor Dupas on studies the gender quotas in local governance and how they affect access to justice by using randomized reservations in India. On these projects, I work with large datasets and perform a variety of analyses, identifying challenges in the research and suggesting solutions.
I also worked on themes related to gender, representation, and development in South Asia at the Inclusive Democracy and Development Lab. In my first year, I primarily worked with Professor Gulzar on a project titled Who Trusts Whom? Measuring Social Trust Around the World. The goal of the project was to develop a global social trust index across gender, class, religion, and ethnic lines. My role in the project included designing, piloting, and implementing surveys in multiple countries to understand how distinct social groups experience the interactions that require social trust differently. I also wrote IRB and grant reports, conducted literature reviews, monitored, cleaned, and analyzed data, as well as drafted the results.
With Professor Prillaman, I worked on research studies that seek to understand the lower representation and engagement of women in politics in India and identify the mechanisms through which this gender gap can be reduced. For these projects, I dug into government websites for election data and information on seats reserved for women in all states in India, as well as designed a high-frequency check report to verify accurate data and ensure quality performance from enumerators for the gender networks survey in Bihar.
What did you learn from working on a research team with faculty members, graduate students, and other researchers?
Being a part of diverse research teams at the King Center has been a highly enriching experience. I have been fortunate to get to work closely with faculty members, benefiting greatly from our regular meetings where I have gained insights into their thought processes on developing research ideas, tackling complex questions, and solving problems. Moreover, I have developed essential skills in data cleaning and analysis, research design, effective communication, teamwork, academic writing, and delivering presentations. Additionally, attending research seminars has exposed me to cutting-edge studies, expanding my knowledge and helping me identify and refine my research interests with greater clarity. These experiences have enabled me to develop research questions I am eager to explore and contribute to solving.
As part of your predoc fellowship, you were able to take classes at Stanford. What was your favorite class or the one you felt you learned from the most?
I took a first-year PhD-level econometrics course on causal inference taught by Professor Guido Imbens, now also a Nobel Prize winner. I believe enrolling in the class enhanced the competitiveness of my application to econ PhD programs and also expanded my understanding of the latest research methods in applied econometrics.
How would you describe the research community at the King Center and Stanford? How did you connect with other predocs and researchers on campus either through your research projects or outside of them?
The research community at the King Center and Stanford is a vibrant and interdisciplinary environment where scholars from different disciplines come together to engage in cutting-edge research. Witnessing how researchers from similar and dissimilar fields share ideas and give and receive feedback during research seminars and conferences has definitely been an intellectually stimulating experience.
As a predoc at the King Center, I had a lot of opportunities and was able to establish connections with fellow predocs not only within the King Center but also across the university through a range of social and research-oriented events. Sharing an office space with other King Center predocs was truly an invaluable and enjoyable experience. It created a conducive environment for social interactions during brief work breaks, facilitating discussions about our ongoing research projects and allowing us to share insights from the seminars we attended together. We also helped each other when confronted with work-related challenges. Our connection extended beyond being colleagues—we developed lasting friendships, fostering a warm, supportive, and friendly atmosphere.
Where are you headed next? How did participating in this fellowship program inform your future plans?
I am starting my PhD in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley in fall 2023. My experiences at the King Center have confirmed my aspiration to contribute to understanding and solving the pressing challenges of global development. The program has certainly equipped me with essential skills to be prepared for my doctoral studies and grow as a researcher.