Graduate Student Profile: Vikas Gawai

Vikas Gawai, PhD Candidate in Agricultural & Applied Economics

Hometown: Malvan, a tiny coastal town on the west coast of India

Educational Background: MS in Economics, UW-Madison; B.Tech. in Civil Engineering, V.J.T.I., Mumbai University


1. What are your research interests and current research projects?

I am an Applied Economist with a focus on policy evaluations related to technology, health, aging, well-being, and human capital in both the US and India. Currently, I am investigating the impact of various technologies, such as high-speed internet (Broadband) and agricultural technologies (Green Revolution), on health, welfare, human capital, and social security access. For example, my job market paper examines how the rollout of broadband affects the mental health of older adults in the US.

2. How did you first connect to your field of research?

First, I took several courses on health and aging, which sparked my interest in the intricate nature of global health. Further, I started working as a research assistant with Prof. Lauren Schmitz, who introduced me to unique health and aging data from the US and India and motivated and provided resources for me to formulate critical, policy-relevant research questions. My advisor, Prof. Jeremy Foltz, played a pivotal role in guiding me at every step of my academic journey. I also received guidance from other faculty both within and outside of UW-Madison.

3. What attracted you to UW-Madison? To CDE?

I was drawn to UW-Madison’s reputation as a highly valued and respected university. I joined the master’s program in Economics in 2016 and the Ph.D. program in Applied Economics in 2018. In my second year of my Ph.D., meeting Prof. Jenna Nobles exposed me to the research at the CDE. Later, I affiliated with CDE (and CDHA) and started attending seminars and training sessions. This proved invaluable for my research, especially in health and aging, a focus not emphasized in my home department. My research matches with CDE’s theme, especially the causes and consequences of health inequality and how early-life exposures to shocks contribute to variation in subsequent health outcomes. Opportunities at CDE helped enrich my academic pursuits, aligning perfectly with my goals.

4. In what ways has CDE impacted your graduate career? Are there any notable experiences with CDE you will take away with you in future academic and professional endeavors? 

CDE has played a pivotal role in shaping my graduate career through three significant avenues. Firstly, it exposed me to diverse and intriguing topics in economics, health, and aging on a global scale. This exposure broadened my academic horizons, providing insights into varied research areas.

Secondly, the weekly training activities, such as writing abstracts, giving feedback to peers, and offering funding support for conference attendance, were profoundly impactful for me. These experiences reinforced the sense of community and collaboration, embodying the spirit of “you are not alone, and we are there for you.” This collaborative environment has been instrumental in my academic journey.

Finally, CDE created valuable opportunities for me to engage with seminar speakers, facilitating meaningful interactions with scholars from various universities. This exposure to research conducted in different contexts greatly contributed to my understanding and appreciation of the breadth of research possibilities.

I will carry with me the invaluable experiences gained through CDE’s interdisciplinary and collaborative platform. The connections made, the exposure to diverse perspectives, and the broad overview of research potential will undoubtedly shape my future research pursuits and collaborative endeavors.

5. Do you feel your work relates to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, how? 

Certainly! My research strongly aligns with the Wisconsin Idea, emphasizing that education should extend beyond the classroom. Specifically, my work on broadband highlights the significant positive impact of the Internet on the happiness and well-being of older adults, especially in rural areas of the US. The findings emphasize the need for policymakers to invest in internet technologies, expand access to underserved regions, and prioritize channels like telehealth that directly affect the lives of older people. The popular media recognition of my work further underscores its real-world relevance and societal impact.

6. What’s one thing you hope people who are exposed to your research will come away with?

One key takeaway I hope people exposed to my research will gain is a heightened awareness of the challenges faced by the aging population in both the US and India. As the world is aging, my research delves into policies aimed at improving the lives of older people. I aspire for people to learn from my work about the effectiveness of policies in enhancing the well-being of older people. Additionally, I aim to highlight the potential mechanisms driving positive effects, guiding policymakers to focus on crucial aspects when formulating policies for the aging population. Ultimately, I hope my research contributes to informed decision-making and the development of targeted policies to address the unique needs of older individuals in diverse socio-economic contexts.

7. What future plans and aspirations do you have once you have completed your time at UW-Madison?

I plan to work in academic faculty positions, keep doing quality research, and communicate it with other researchers and policymakers.

8. What are some hobbies and interests that occupy your time outside of your academic work?

Watching movies, cooking, and walking long trails are definitely top of the list.