Dr Ayushi Bajaj has been awarded a DECRA award from the Australian Research Council for a three-year research project on the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy.
“It is a great motivation to pursue my research agenda, as the award indicates that my work has the potential for real world impact,” she says.
The Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) is awarded up to five years after resesarchers have completed their PhD.
In total $84 million has been announced for 200 new research projects under the scheme this year. More than $7 million was awarded to 17 early career researchers at Monash University. Dr Rohan Sweeney, from the Centre for Health Economics is the other recipient from Monash Business School.
“Honestly, I wasn't really expecting to get the fellowship, especially in the current climate. It came as a pleasant surprise, and particularly this year, as we all just need any good news that we can get," says Ayushi Bajaj.
"It puts a sense of responsibility on me as well, because as a young researcher I have been entrusted with a lot of resources to deliver on my project. “
Ayushi, you were awarded over $300,000 for this award. What will you focus on?
“I got the award to pursue my proposed project titled ‘Global Economic Uncertainty, Liquidity and Monetary Policy in Australia’. The key aim of the project is to analyse the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy. The intended outcomes of the project include offering a new theory with the potential to guide future research and policy making.
"I think the project has become particularly relevant now given the renewed interest in topics around globalisation and international trade. The assessors might have recognised this and the importance of getting a better understanding on how future uncertainty affects current economic outcomes and what can be done about it.”
How will it impact your work?
“Now I will be required to mainly focus on research, spending at least 80 percent of my time towards the completion of the project over the next three years.”
What are you working on that you are excited by at the moment?
“Currently, I am working on a project related to the DECRA project, on which in fact my proposal was based. In that project, I do not talk about international trade but I develop an economic model for a closed economy to study the impact of economic uncertainty in that environment. With the DECRA project, I will expand this framework for an open economy to dwell into questions of globalisation and trade.
"I'm excited to see how the dynamics of my current economic model will play out, when we incorporate some real-world data into it. And, once that's done, it will be the bridge to get started on my DECRA project next year.”
The Department of Economics will launch the Yew Kwang Ng prominent seminar series in 2021. Professor Yew-Kwang Ng (Kwang) will be on a longer visit to the department in 2021 and we are very happy to welcome him back.
Kwang, served as a faculty member in the Department of Economics from 1974 to 2012. He was, in many respects, the face and soul of the department. Ken Arrow referred to Kwang as “one of the leading economic theorists of his generation” and James Buchanan paid tribute to Kwang’s presence on the world stage by calling him “an Australian ambassador”.
Throughout his long and lustrous career, Kwangs has received many accolades, the most prominent award perhaps being Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia in 2007.
The breadth and depth of his research are staggering. He published his first paper at the age of 23, in the Journal of Political Economy, and he has maintained a remarkable level of intellectual engagement ever since. In Welfare Economics: he introduced the theory of the third best, advanced a theory of measuring happiness that renders utility cardinal, and his work on two-part pricing is standard reference in the field. He pioneered the approach of Mesoeconomics that releases macroeconomic analysis from the confines of the perfectly competitive model. Moreover, Kwang with his friend and colleague Xiaokai Yang, introduced corner solutions to a range of marginalist frameworks giving birth to inframarginal economics that makes the issue of the division of labor tractable.
Over the course of 4 decades Kwang was a regular participant in seminars, a mentor for younger staff, and a wonderful colleague. He retired from Monash in 2012. He is currently Professor of Economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Challenging for experimental economists when labs close
Right at the start of semester one the discussion started among the Monash Experimental Economists. The COVID-19 pandemic was closing down country after country and Professor Erte Xiao, Director of the Monash Laboratory for Experimental Economics (MonLEE) was worried how they would keep running the real-life experiments in the lab with students, so necessary to their research. Not long after, the lab was closed and experiments moved online.
“We had no choice but to switch to online platforms. Lata Gangadharan and I had a paper where the editor wanted us to run more experiments. Doing them online was the only way,” explains Professor Xiao.
As a starting point of the transition, MonLEE lab manager Nina Xue helped to create a protocol for how the online experiments would run: how to set them up, the change to a new appropriate software, how to recruit, pay the participants and keep track of the students online during the experiments.
The research pair consulted other experimental economists around the world for their experience in conducting the experiments online.
“The quality of data you collect from online experiments might not be as good as when you conduct experiments in a lab. You can’t fully control what students are doing online, which you could do in the lab," says Professor Xiao.
"It might mean that you have to recruit more participant to increase the sample size. On the other hand it might be cheaper to run experiments online so you can afford to do more of them.”
For longer and more complicated studies, it is difficult to maintain the students’ full attention and acquire reliable results. That is possibly one of the main reasons why not all experimental economists have resorted to online experiments.
“I think maybe people are completing unfinished projects this year and thinking more about ideas. Only about a third of the experimental economists at Monash were interested in online experiments when we sent out a survey,” she explains.
Like many of her colleagues, Professor Xiao is keen to get back in the lab with students once the pandemic is more under control. But she still thinks there will be a use for online studies in the future.
“They can work well on short, simple experiments. There are some procedures we can adopt to ensure anonymity and retain participants’ attention during the experiment,” she says.
In the future she would also like to collaborate more with other universities, even overseas, for larger online studies.
“If we can work this out and get interest from other universities we can share the resources. Collaborations become easier when it is all online. I guess that is something positive we have learned from this situation, it opens other doors and gives us more options.”
So what happened with the paper? “Well, we reported back to the editor that we’d run some more experiments and he was happy with that. Now we have to finish the revision – and we’ll see,” says Professor Xiao.
CDES busier than ever under lockdown
As COVID-19 forced countries went into lockdown, the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES) became busier than usual. Partnering with collaborators such as NGOs, individual researchers and other research organisations in developing countries, it was able to conduct rapid actionable research and communicate these findings to policymakers to assist in the response to COVID-19.
"We were working along two lines of thought. We wanted to contribute to the public policy debate about different stimulus measures so we wrote pieces on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia," says CDES director Asad Islam.
"We also wanted to quickly spread information on safety and protective measures to poor people in developing countries, so in collaboration with our partners we hired people to reach out to 100,000 people in India and Bangladesh."
CDES also wanted to give other researchers the opportunities to run similar projects in other countries and after an application process, several Monash projects were awarded funding.
Topics include understanding how COVID-19 influences the wellbeing of the elderly in Australia; evaluating the ethical appeal of ventilator allocation protocols; the impact of COVID-19 on employment in developing countries in Asia; and the response of India’s public hospitals to COVID-19.
In parallel, CDES are running very popular webinars, reaching worldwide audiences. "We wanted to understand broader issues than we usually deal with and talk to people who are in the policy circle, " says Professor Islam.
"This series has been hugely successful. For a seminar on COVID-19 in South Asia we had over 350 registered participants. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of world's the best sustainable development economists, participated in one of these seminars.
This is not only interesting content but also great for creating impact and brand building for Monash," says Professor Islam.
Previous topics have covered gender, the Indian economy under COVID-19 and how the poor cannot protect themselves against the pandemic. Future webinars will focus on food security and nutrition, the future of cities after Covid-19, challenges in international trade due to covid-19, and policy challenges for Southeast and East Asian countries.
And the research continues.
"We are working on food security, discrimination, stigma and mental health in developing countries to try to understand what kind of messaging could be more efficient in reaching out to and helping these people to tackle the pandemic.
"We are offering tele counselling services in Bangladesh so women can get a weekly tele counselling and can call back at any time to reach out for help about mental health and contacts for how to access food. In India, we are fighting fake news as there are a lot of misconceptions around the virus. For example, a lot of landlords are refusing to rent to doctors because they think the doctors are bringing the virus back."
CDES has the support of the faculty in offering more research grants for further long-term projects with a large impact. And the webinar series will continue at least until the end of July.
"We plan to go beyond in order to present some of the early research results which are currently now in the field," Professor Islam says.
"It is our moral obligation to respond to this crises. We can fill some gaps in a way that the colleagues in departments might not be able to do quickly and have more impact outside of citations and publications."
Several staff members from the Department have received Dean’s awards this year in both teaching and research. Congratulations!
Asad Islam is the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in research for his research in Development Economics. His research-based policies for improving educational outcomes for rural children, particularly females, in Bangladesh and adopting improved methods of rice cultivation for low income farmers have been implemented by government and development agencies. These have not only had impact already on large numbers but are likely to improve the livelihoods of millions. His research gets cited and discussed in many development fora and he has been hugely successful in attracting large external research grants.
It has been a very successful year for teaching in the department. No less than three people have been recognised for their outstanding teaching skills.
Wayne Geerling receives a Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence. For his clear and engaging teaching methods of fundamental economics to large auditoriums. By using interactive resources, pop culture and multimedia he ensures classroom teaching is relevant, interesting and achieves better learning outcomes.
Wayne has also received a Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Business and Economics from the Monash Student Association.
For the unit Principles of microeconomics Wayne was awarded a Purple Letter as the overall satisfaction score was 4.78 out of five. The course is one of the top 9.1 per cent of all Monash units and one the students consider outstanding.
Vai-Lam Mui is awarded a Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. His complementary approaches and activities aim to engage students in intellectual dialogues to help them cultivate the skills of using economics to understand the world.
Marco Leccci receives a Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning as a Teaching Associate. For creating an effective and supportive learning environment that encourages critical thinking and fosters a deep understanding on how economic principles can be applied to real world problems.
Kushneel Prakash received the award for Best paper for his third paper entitled 'Petrol prices and Subjective wellbeing' at the Monash Business School Phd colloquium. 24 PhD students presented at the conference in November.