Dr Vibhor Saxena is an Associate Lecturer at the School of Economics and Finance. He currently teaches Introductory Statistics (postgraduate), Applied QM in STATA (postgraduate), Statistics for Economists (undergraduate), and Development and Finance (undergraduate). Dr Saxena completed his BSc in Mathematics from University of Rajasthan. Following this, he completed his MSc in Economics at the University of Edinburgh and his PhD in Economics at Heriot-Watt University. The Saint sat down with Dr Saxena for an interview.
TS: Given your research, it seems that you are particularly interested in Developmental Economics, what about this area of economics interests you the most?
VS: Development economics is a broad category, and it is not only limited to the Global South. My interests are energy, education, microfinance, inequality, and health. I use primary and secondary data sources to test the hypotheses developed by employing the economics’ arguments. I have worked extensively on South Asia and am currently expanding the regions of research to East Africa and the UK.
TS: In the past you have done research on inequality and discrimination regarding the caste system and son preferences in India, what inspired you to undergo this research?
VS: The simplest answer to this question is my experience as an Indian citizen. The origins of caste system, its rigidity, the information it provides, how it segregates society, and its role in the political economy has always intrigued me. It is important to mention that I worked on the caste-based inequality in the context of access to clean energy. Inequalities in clean energy and the mechanism of these outcomes did not receive enough attention in literature and this was one of the motivating factors.
The second paper on microfinance has been motivated by a sudden policy change in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The decision has been considered a political move and was a shock for many residents of the state. I have been able to show that sudden financial deleveraging has more impact on communities with lower levels of social insurance vis a vis marginalised social groups of India.
TS: Regarding your research in the past, was there anything in particular that surprised you once you had completed the research?
VS: Not in the completed research work, but this has happened in one of the ongoing research projects. I am working on son preference in India and resulting sex ratios. Although sex ratios have substantially improved in the country over the period of time, the figures at the early age groups (1 – 15) are acutely distressing. Considering that females tend to live longer, the overall sex ratios have improved, but there are clearly some unnatural causes at play which are severely distorting the sex ratios at the early age groups. I was anticipating some distortions due to the neglect of female children and access to modern technology in sex-selective abortions, however, the overall summary statistics is clearly worse than I expected. The work is ongoing and many more researchers, across the globe, are working on this abnormal phenomenon.
TS: What is one thing you enjoyed while undergoing the research? It could be regarding the experience of doing the research or perhaps something you enjoyed learning
VS: I have always enjoyed the wholesome approach to my research, including a direct link of the work into teaching and developing modules. However, dealing with different types of data and employing/learning econometric techniques have always been a most satisfactory part of my research. If I have to find “one thing”, I will summarise it to the evidence based econometric analysis.
TS: What research are you currently working on/ what would you like to research in the future? (note: Dr Saxena currently has two funded projects – one regarding covid and the other regarding food security and health in east Africa)
VS: I am currently working on four main projects. First, two closely linked projects in east Africa, which are mainly based on health and food security. These projects are mainly in the context of inequalities within societies. Second, I am working on the impact of shocks/financial deleveraging on education outcomes – this paper is in the context of Microfinance and is closely related to the recently published paper. Third, I am working on the role of energy access in education and health outcomes. I am in the process of collecting energy data from some government agencies in India. Fourth, I have recently collaborated with an economist at Glasgow, and we are looking to estimate the impact of domestic violence on educational outcomes in the UK – this project is in very early stages.
TS: Has COVID impacted the way you’ve carried out your recent research? If so, how?
VS: COVID has impacted the research in several ways. First, travel is not possible at all. This has significantly reduced collaborations, conferences, and data collection exercises. Second, lack of accessibility to office space has been a major obstacle. Third, and most important, the high-quality teaching at St Andrews requires a substantial amount of preparations for online delivery and this has taken most of the time.
TS: Do you ever incorporate information from your research into what you teach?
VS: Following the answer in part 5, yes. I have always employed my research in teaching and developing the module content. For e.g., my research on microfinance and related topics of developing countries directly links with the teaching content of EC4432. My experience as an empirical economist has been a building block of teaching modules of Statistics at the UG and PG levels. The overall research interests in development economics and applied econometrics have been extremely useful in supervising dissertations at the UG, PG, and PhD levels.
TS: What advice would you give to someone studying or doing research in Developmental Economics?
VS: In my opinion there are three main building blocks for the students who are interested in a career in development economics. First, evidence-based approach is extremely important in the field of development economics, and your focus should be on learning and practicing applied econometrics. Second, your empirical work should be based on solid economic reasoning, so never give up on the basic theories of economics. Considering the field is broad, I strongly suggest starting to develop a clear research agenda in the early stages of your career.
TS: What have you enjoyed the most about teaching at St Andrews?
VS: The quality of students is exceptional at St Andrews. I have enjoyed teaching students from different skill sets, diverse backgrounds, and interdisciplinary skills. Amongst the students, I have also felt like belonging to the wider academic community where interesting ideas have been exchanged with me.