Categories: News, Newsletter Issue 2023:1

An Interview with the Organizers of “Navigating Academic Careers in Global Health Economics: Ph.D. Student Mentoring Workshop”

By Anne M. Burton

Dr. Jessica Cohen
Associate Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

As an organization, ASHEcon focuses on health economics research in the United States, but there are many important lessons to be learned by studying health economics in other contexts. This past fall, leading scholars of global health economics organized a mentoring workshop for Ph.D. students that focused on advancing health economics research in low- and middle-income countries. The workshop was organized by Jessica Cohen (Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Associate Professor of Global Health at Harvard University), Mylène Lagarde (Associate Professor of Health Economics at the London School of Economics), Grant Miller (Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. Professor of Health Policy at Stanford University), Manoj Mohanon (Associate Professor of Public Policy at Duke University), Sean Sylvia (Assistant Professor of Health Economics at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Marcos Vera-Hernández (Professor of Economics at University College London). I interviewed Jessica Cohen and Han Zhang, a graduate student at Harvard University, about the mentorship workshop.

Anne: What was the format of the workshop?

Jessica: It was modeled after the workshop for women and non-binary health economics and health policy Ph.D. students organized by Marika Cabral and Maya Rossin-Slater (here). It was a one-day workshop with panel sessions, research-in-progress sessions, and open Q&A. We had two moderated panels. The first panel focused on the early stage of the Ph.D., including topics related to finding research questions, datasets, funding, and mentors. The second panel focused on the later stages of the Ph.D., including the job search and job options (such as the different types of job markets, how to look for post-docs, what different types of departments are looking for) and a bit about what it is like to be an early career researcher in global health economics. Between the panels, we had two options. Some students applied for and were assigned to research-in-progress sessions. These sessions were led by 2 mentors and included 3-4 students. Students in these sessions submitted a brief research proposal to the mentors ahead of the workshop. Within the sessions, students presented their research and got feedback from the mentors and other students. For students who were not participating in the research sessions, we had open “office hours,” led by the organizing committee, where we were available (in our individual Zoom rooms) to chat with students and answer their questions. 

Anne: How did this event come about?

Jessica: Grant Miller was the one who brought our group together to talk about what we might do to improve the sense of community and opportunities within Global Health Economics. The organizing committee, in our initial discussions, reflected on how much more limited the opportunities for publishing, presenting, funding, and community-building were for health economists working in low- and middle-income countries than for those working in the U.S. and other high-income countries. We noted how many of the doctoral students we mentored who were initially interested in low- and middle-income settings gravitated toward high-income settings because it was so much easier to get data, find mentorship, and publish their work. Many students whose research remained within low- and middle-income settings shifted toward other methodological approaches (such as epidemiology or decision sciences) because of the lack of opportunities within economics. Our aim was to create a workshop to help students who want to work on health economics in these countries get the mentorship and opportunities they need to continue in this field. We also conceived of this as, hopefully, the first of more events to bring this community together. 

Anne: What were some highlights of the workshop?

Jessica: Some of the aspects of the workshop that we found most exciting were the active engagement in the chat between mentors and mentees, the attention and support the mentees got from the mentors that read their research proposals, the interesting discussions about different types of job markets within health economics and public health, and the palpable feeling of building a new community in this space. 

Anne: How many mentors and mentees participated this year and what were some regions or countries they represented (current affiliation, research areas, etc.)?

Han: In total we had 33 mentors and 108 students participate. Forty students participated in the research-in-progress session and matched with 24 mentors. Mentees were mostly from economics or public health programs with research areas such as health economics, development economics, health policy, and public policy. They came from 20 countries, and most were enrolled in U.S. (56%) or UK-based programs (13%). In terms of continent, 58% of them were Americas-based, 22% from Europe, 12% from Africa, and 7% from Asia. Mentors were mostly U.S. and EU-based and we also included a few from other continents (e.g., Africa, South America). A majority of them were faculty members from academic institutions (e.g., Stanford, Harvard, Duke, UNC, Berkeley, UMich, UPenn, BU, UMass, Georgetown, LSE, UCL, LSHTM, Erasmus.) and the rest were from non-academic institutions including the World Bank, Center for Global Development, RAND, and CGIAR.

Anne: What was a main takeaway of the workshop, either for the organizers and mentors or the mentees?

Jessica: A main takeaway was the fundamental need for more support for economics students who want to focus on low- and middle-income countries, especially for those who would like to bridge the fields of health economics, public health, and medicine. We were thrilled by how appreciative the participants were for this opportunity. 

Anne: Do you have plans to hold this workshop again in the future?

Jessica: Yes, it is certainly our hope to offer it again. We are currently reflecting on what worked well and what could be improved for future iterations of the workshop. We are also discussing what other types of activities we can organize in the future, including seminars and special journal issues.

Anne: Is there anything else you want to add about the event?

Jessica: Just a huge thanks to the mentors and panelists who selflessly volunteered their time to the students.