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From Doctoral Student in Gothenburg to Assistant Professor in New York


In late May Anja Tolonen defended her thesis in development economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg. In September she starts her new job as assistant professor at the prestigious Barnard College in New York, where she wants to continue her research on gender and natural resources management in developing countries. She thinks her experience abroad has been crucial in attaining this position.

"It feels great! My position as assistant professor, a type of junior professorship, means in addition to research that I will be responsible for undergraduate studies in development economics and hold several courses per year. It is a tenure track position, which means that after six years I will be evaluated on merits in teaching and publications. If I comply with the requirements the position will be converted to a permanent one", says Anja Tolonen.

To get this type of job with great responsibility and influence is relatively uncommon for new doctors. More common, at least in Sweden, is to start your academic career with a postdoctoral position for about two years.

Anja Tolonen's new workplace Barnard College belongs Columbia University, an Ivy League university, and was established to give women an elite education. Until 1983 Columbia didn't admit female students. Even today Barnard College is only open for women and there is a strong focus on gender research.

Global focus

Anja Tolonen has known for a long time that she wants to become researcher. Already in her undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Gothenburg she decided to aim at a research career. She began the doctoral program immediately after graduation. Last spring, she defended her thesis on the mining industry in Africa.

"The mining industry is often associated with poor working conditions and environmental degradation. Of course, the industry has many problems, but I show a more nuanced picture of reality. There are also positive aspects, such as improved labour market for women and less domestic violence."

So far there has been very little research of this type, which analyzes development, natural resource economics and gender from a microeconomic perspective. Several policy institutions have shown interest in the study. The UN has published the results in a policy series and the World Bank have asked Anja Tolonen blog about the research. (See links below.)

Experience from abroad

A previous experience from the United States has benefitted Anja Tolonen's job search. During her doctoral studies she spent some time at the University of California, Berkeley. This experience in combination with and a letter of recommendation she believes helped her getting current job.

"The research community is very friendly and it is often useful as a graduate student to contact a senior researcher that conducts interesting and relevant research. The Universities of Gothenburg and Berkeley have exchange programs for graduate students. I contacted Professor Edward Miguel, a well-known scholar in development economics, who welcomed me a as visiting researcher and supported me in my research. Also the department in Gothenburg is very flexible and encourages us students to go abroad and participate in the international research community."

Anja's message to graduate students is therefore clear:

"Go abroad end get experiences from other countries and research environments! Attend conferences, meet with talented scientists, visit other universities. These things are inspiring and will also help you to improve your research and spread it to others. It is definitively worth all the time it takes."

In the United States she also got an insight into the academic labour market for and the process of finding a job. She also benefitted from the Department of Economics at Gothenburg, which since 2014 actively supports graduate students in the international job search process, and markets their Job Market Candidates.

"Last autumn I sent about 45 job applications along with my Job Market Paper, which is the most important chapter in the thesis. I was called for seven job interviews, and eventually had three offers to choose from. As I said I have previously lived in the US, but never in New York. It will be very exciting and I hope to take advantage great cultural life in the city", says Anja Tolonen.

Links to Anja Tolonen's research:

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and the World Bank's blog Let's talk Development.

"Mining Booms in Africa and Local Welfare Effects: Labor Markets, Women's Empowerment and Criminality"