Unique webinar showcasing emerging economists celebrates 100th event

6 December 2021

Monash economist Dr Ashani Amarasinghe and PhD candidate Ivan Yotzov of the Warwick University Economics Department have run the weekly webinar since April 2020.

In February 2020, during the pandemic’s turbulent early days, Monash economist Ashani Amarasinghe was facing a crucial career junction.

“I had just submitted my PhD and was trying to get ready for the job market, but all the conferences were shutting down and I couldn’t travel,”  Dr Amarasinghe, now a Research Fellow with Monash empirical research laboratory SoDa Labs, said.

“And It’s so important in the early stage of your career to network and share your ideas. All the (senior scholars) had places they could present; but for juniors there was nothing at the time.”

Dr Amarasinghe decided she wanted to create a global networking outlet uniquely for isolated PhD students. She reached out to Monash SoDa Labs Director Professor Paul Raschky. “He said: ‘Why don’t we start a webinar series?’”

The result has been the Applied Young Economists Webinar (AYEW) series, produced by Monash SoDa Labs and the Warwick University Economics Department in the UK, which has now become a highly respected international webinar and recently hosted its 100th event.

Initially, Dr Amarisinghe sought feedback with economics departments from Australia’s G8 universities, and “I got an overwhelming response - everyone said ‘Let’s do this’.”

She then joined forces with PhD candidate Ivan Yotzov of the Warwick University Economics Department, a strategic partner of Monash Business School, so the webinar could showcase more young scholars and reach a greater audience across multiple time zones.

Praised by Prof Raschky as “among the first movers in a global market of global webinar series”, the pair have now held the weekly event through multiple lockdowns and other pandemic upheavals on their respective sides of the world.

Logistics of an international webinar

The AYEW was officially launched on 22 April 2020, and set up to comprise events in both European/US East Coast and Australasia/US West Coast time zones.

Nineteen months on, there are now 1500 people on the AYEW mailing list, and up to 70 attendees at weekly webinars.

Mr Yotzov said webinars start with a PhD candidate presenting their paper, followed by a discussion period “where we try our best to stimulate discussions and leave enough time in every webinar for the speaker to receive feedback on their work”.

“Our audience is mainly early career researchers and PhD students, but senior academics also regularly join, and they have the experience to give commentary that can really then change the direction of research,” Dr Amarisinghe added.

“As a presenter you are getting really good commentary on your work, and being exposed to new ideas from all over the world, which (potentially) enhances your paper in the long run,” she said.

Two series run every year, from February to June and August to November.

Twice-yearly calls for papers are issued, with a rigorous selection process. The last round received 50 submissions for just 18 presenting slots.

“(Presenters) get a chance to reach a worldwide audience in one virtual space, and we get attendees from universities all over the world,” Dr Amarasinghe said.

A wide range of institutions including Australia’s G8, Columbia, Northwestern, Chicago and Pittsburgh universities, the Paris, London and Barcelona schools of economics and King’s College are habitually represented in both presenters and attendees, she said.

A springboard to job placements

Dr Amarasinghe said she estimated most of their 2020 presenters had found jobs.

“It is fantastic to see people who have presented in the series go on to find great jobs and publish their papers in top journals. I sincerely hope this trend continues,” Mr Yotzov added.

They have also organised several extra initiatives for job market candidates, such as a Job Market Roundtable in December 2020, chaired by three senior academics who issued advice and guidance.

Patrick Healy, a first-year PhD student now on the AYEW team as a much-needed administration assistant, said the AYEW was an inspiration to students of all levels.

“The talented young economists who present in the webinar provide perfect role models for the level of research that myself and other PhD students should aim for,” he said.
A recent presenter, Silvia Griselda (University of Melbourne) described her AYEW  presentation as a great experience.

“I received invaluable suggestions that improved my research and paper considerably,” she said.

Economics Professor Sascha Becker said the AYEW had done much to compensate early-career researchers for the setbacks they suffered during the pandemic.

“AYEW is a fantastic invention, a truly global webinar. Ashani and Ivan have done an amazing service to the community of young scholars,” Prof Becker said.

“100 speakers means 100 presentations with a worldwide audience, showcasing Monash and Warwick as global partners.”

“Literally thousands of scholars, young and more mature, have come to know Monash as an innovative university and a great community of scholars.”