As of July 1, 2015, the PhD Excellence Initiative, with generous support from the Sloan Foundation, is pleased to welcome its second research fellow, Mbalou Camara. Mbalou joins the Initiative from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), where she graduated in 2015 with a B.A. in Political Science, Economics, and Global Studies, and minored in Spanish and International Affairs. As an undergraduate, Mbalou participated in four International Model United Nations Conferences located in Washington, D.C., and New York City; she also volunteered with the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Project as a student coordinator. Mbalou first began conducting independent research as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar during her junior year and used her findings as a platform for field work while studying abroad in Córdoba, Argentina. During her time at UMBC, Mbalou was an active a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honors Society as well as the Omicron Delta Epsilon International Honors Society in Economics.

Q & A with Mbalou Camara

In February of 2015, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Peter Blair Henry and Curtis James [the Ph.D. Excellence Initiative’s first fellow], at a luncheon hosted by UMBC’s Economics Department. I became inspired by their passion for using the tools of economics to create value in the world. Moreover, I was moved by Dr. Henry’s remark that “original data collection is the way to distinguish yourself as a researcher.” Spending the bulk of my junior and senior years of college conducting my own research, I learned first-hand how important it is to be well-versed and involved in the empirical and statistical aspects of your work.

Having studied economics, political science, and global studies all together, I also understand that now is the best time to translate my multidisciplinary background into a narrower focus. My time in the Ph.D. Excellence Initiative will allow me to explore my interests in economics while also improving my ability to collect and analyze large data sets through hands-on work. I plan to use this next year to clarify exactly where I fit in the field of economics so that, after gaining this valuable experience, I can embark on a doctoral path with a clear sense of direction.

While advancing my research project on income inequality in Argentina, I became more and more drawn to Joseph Stiglitz’s work on globalization, economic inequality, and free trade. I find that his ability to think globally in terms of economic reform is extremely useful to the world economy today. I am intrigued by his overall willingness to challenge and critique today’s global market economy and his constant call for governments to reform the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in both developed and developing countries.
Courage. To me, being courageous means that you are willing to take risks in the face of great obstacles and adversity. I believe that many achievements in the world today are a product of courageous and bold ideas or actions. However, it is impossible for economists to easily detect or put a value to what courage really is, because courage is associated with limitations or barriers that are unique to the individual: an act that may be considered courageous for one person could appear trivial to another. What makes an act courageous is not the act itself, but rather the unique hurdles that one must overcome in order to perform it.
The following books are ones that, no matter how many times I may read them, always bestow a greater sense of wisdom.

HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard

The Post-American World: The Rise of the Rest by Fareed Zakaria

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

And for Spanish-speakers, Veo veo by Gabriela Bustelo

Contribute your optimal skills and effort in any given situation. It is vital to do the best that you can in any task that comes your way and to remain resilient—otherwise you will never fully recognize your true potential. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt


Quoted & Quotable

“Refusing to deal with numbers rarely serves the interests of the least well off.”

-Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century

For other quotable wisdom, data points, and observations, you can find Mbalou Camara on these social platforms:

Mbalou Recommends

Giving back to the community at least once a month—whether it be by volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating old books and clothes to a nearby shelter, or offering homework help to young students at an after-school program. Nowadays, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in our own busy lives and overlook how fortunate we really are. Making community service a priority is one of the best ways to remain optimistic and feel connected with our greater communities.

About the Ph.D. Excellence Initiative

In 2014, the Ph.D. Excellence Initiative welcomed its first participants under the generous funding of the Sloan Foundation. In July 2014, the first Ph.D. Excellence Summer Workshop united the wider Peer Network and provided a forum for sharing research, methodology, and support. Interested in Applying to the Initiative? Go to Application Info (PDF). For updates, follow @PeterBlairHenry and #PhDExcellence