Friday, May 25, 2018

Member Blog: Chinonso Etumnu

Reflecting on my Anthony Grano Fellowship Experience


From May 14-18, 2018, I visited Washington DC to complete the Anthony Grano Fellowship program of AAEA. This piece is my reflection on what I liked about the program, some of the advice I got from the professionals I met, and the need to perpetuate the support the program receives because of my positive experience and that of previous fellows.

One of the good things about this program is that the organizers strive to schedule meetings with professionals whose expertise align with the fellow’s areas of interest. For example, one of my meetings was held with economists on the staff of the Food Economics Division of ERS, whose work on food safety, food prices and markets, food security and food assistance, and consumer behavior, food consumption and nutrition, align closely with my research interests. I also had the opportunity to meet with the director of food and agriculture at Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and our discussions have since progressed to potential research opportunities with the organization. Another good thing about my experience is that although the program focuses on meeting senior professionals, I had the opportunity to meet some young professionals too. Learning from professionals with such a blend of experiences allowed me to deeply understand the arrays of responsibilities held by agricultural and applied economists at government agencies and private organizations.

The professionals I met were very cordial and willing to share their career experiences with me. One question they responded to was what lessons they have learned and what advice they would like to share. Most of their advice centered on building and maintaining good relationships as our professional success partly hinges on our ability to collaborate, network and recommend one another for opportunities. Another set of advice centered on the need to keep an open mind and saying yes to opportunities at the beginning of one’s career. Since our career paths might be uncertain in graduate school, engaging in rewarding opportunities might be an avenue to discover oneself. The importance of developing both technical skills such as data analysis and modelling, as well as communication skills such as writing and public speaking, were emphasized. A final set of advice focuses on discovering one’s strengths, what one really enjoys and recognizing the opportunities that call on those skills. All these advice resonate with me, and I will keep them in mind as I progress in my academic journey and even after I finish graduate school.

Through this program, I have learned agricultural policy through the lens of non-academic economists, from the roles of the chief economist’s office at USDA, to how agricultural economists make real world impact through rules and regulatory processes, to how economic forecasts influence prices of agricultural commodities domestically and globally, and to the roles of a large governmental research agency in policy research. I am now better informed about the career paths of agricultural economists who work outside academia and whose career trajectory is tilted towards policy-oriented research and service. All these unique learning and networking experiences would help mold my professional career.

I consider this fellowship, in many ways, as a short version of a summer internship, where the intern can rotate through several offices of a big government agency and organization. Because of teaching and research responsibilities in the summer, graduate students may not be able to cease opportunities to intern outside their academic departments. Thus, this program provided me with a brief internship experience which may influence my career choices in the future. Even for those students who may be interested, eligible and have the time for summer internships at places like the USDA, participating in this program will provide them an opportunity to network with both senior and junior staff that may have the capacity to influence such internship decisions. It is therefore of immense importance, for the sake of graduate students, that all members of the AAEA see the benefits of the Anthony Grano Fellowship, and the need to continue the program.

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