Empowering Women Through Research

May 3, 2017
By Katie Gibson

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it,” the chef, TV personality and cookbook author Julia Child famously advised her readers. For Child, that something was good food, and making it accessible to American home cooks. For Sara Lowes PhD 2017, that something is closely linked to the name of her program: Political Economy and Government. 

“My research is at the intersection of development economics, political economy, and economic history,” says Lowes, who came to HKS in 2011. “The PEG program was a great fit for me. Since it’s by definition multi-departmental and interdisciplinary, it allowed me to pursue creative and interesting work.”

The PEG program is a collaborative endeavor between HKS and two departments in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences: the Department of Economics and the Department of Government. Students combine coursework from all three places and are able to draw on the resources and expertise of faculty advisors across the disciplines.

“I’ve had really strong relationships with and support from faculty members,” Lowes says of her time as a PEG student. “That’s been the best thing about my time here. They’ve encouraged me to pursue my own research interests without worrying about field boundaries. Being able to take courses across departments has also helped with this process.”

Lowes began her interdisciplinary pursuits during her undergraduate years at Middlebury College in Vermont, where she studied economics and political science. “My research is motivated by understanding why some countries are poor and others are rich,” she says. “I was interested in how institutions and culture affect economic development. I still am.”

Over the years, Lowes has conducted fieldwork in Vietnam, Bolivia and various African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and most recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a recent project, she examines how labor coercion and violence in rubber concessions during the Congo Free State era affects present-day development in northern Congo.

“Part of that work has been the process of building an infrastructure on the ground,” she says. “I have a team of enumerators in DRC that I work with to collect data.” The technology used to collect that data has evolved quickly in recent years. “We used to use PDAs,” she says with a laugh. Now the researchers use tablets, which allow them to collect data easily in remote locations and then upload it when they return to the field sites in areas with a data connection.

Drawing on her field research, Lowes has produced several papers and book chapters, including, most recently, a paper on how matrilineal kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. She examines the ways in which matrilineal structures affect husbands’ authority over their wives, children’s health and education, and bargaining within a household. Ultimately, “children and women benefit from kinship systems that empower women,” Lowes wrote in a guest blog post for the World Bank.

Once she graduates from HKS in May, Lowes will take up a position at Bocconi University in Milan, teaching economic development to undergraduates and master’s students. She’s ready to take on a new challenge, on (another) new continent.

Tags: Doctoral Programs Doctoral Programs

Sara Lowes

Sara Lowes PhD 2017 will head to Milan after commencement, when she will take a teaching position at Bocconi University.


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