Avinash Singh Bhati (PhD '01)
Why did you join the PhD in Economics program at American University?
After obtaining my MBA at the University of the District of Columbia, I took a business forecasting class with Dr. Whitman – an economist at the school that ran The Center for Business and Economic Statistics – and enjoyed it very much. Fortunately, a research assistant position opened at the Center and I was able to work with him for nearly a year. Upon completing my MBA I realized that I was disinterested with business and I approached Dr. Whitman for his advice. He thought that joining a PhD program in economics would be worth considering. My interest in the analytical and statistical analysis of phenomenon would serve me well there. Based on his advice, I started applying to all local universities and AU offered me admission.
Could you tell us about some of your experiences while at AU?
Life at the economics department at AU was initially pretty challenging. I had very little background in "hard-core" economics. The only classes I had taken in micro-economics were through my MBA so, the emphasis was less on theory and more on applied aspects. My first course at AU in micro-economics was a 700 level course taught by Dr. Feinberg. I could barely keep up with all those Hessians and Jacobians and had a tough time figuring out how they applied to anything real. Fortunately, my math background helped and soon I was getting a feel of things simply because I understood the math more clearly than the verbiage. As you can imagine, I disliked the history of economic thought classes where math couldn't rescue me. Also, I took my elective comprehensive examinations in math-heavy areas such as Mathematical Economics and International Finance.
As I was writing my thesis my visa came up for renewal. As a result, I began to look around for some off-campus jobs and was at the point of considering quitting the PhD program altogether. I figured I could probably plead my way into getting an MA degree from the department and go on with life. As luck would have it, the Urban Institute offered me a position under the condition that that I complete my PhD degree. I asked my supervisor at the Urban Institute about the idea of doing my dissertation in the field of modeling criminal recidivism and he loved it. Dr. Amos Golan agreed to chair my dissertation committee and he was very helpful in thinking through and formulating the econometric models that I used and my colleagues at the Urban Institute helped with the criminology part of the work.
How did your career evolve after completing your PhD at AU?
On the face of it, my career seems not to have evolved that much since I graduated. I still work at the Urban Institute, although I have managed to add the prefix "Senior" to my original job title of Research Associate. I still collaborate on research projects with Amos. Yet in reality my intellectual development has been far from stagnant. Within a year or so of finishing the PhD, I started writing grant proposals and obtained a few. This opened a whole new world of applied research that I had never dreamed of while in graduate school. I get to do research and publish in journals from a variety of fields (economics, sociology, and criminology) and I also get to attend a diverse set of conferences for both researchers and practitioners.
How do you see the years ahead of you?
Having spent nearly a decade in the field of applied policy researcher and practitioner on crime-related issues, I am considering starting a consulting business of my own at some point. My orientation towards mathematical and quantitative research as opposed to specialization in one applied field or another seems to be pushing me in that direction.