Grad Spotlight: Rahul Dhar

Rahul is a fifth-year student in the dual Ph.D. program in Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) and Economics.

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Rahul Dhar, AFRE and Economics Dual Major Ph.D. Student

Why did you decide to choose AFRE for your graduate studies?

I found my way to AFRE in a very indirect manner. After getting out of the Army, I wanted to pursue higher education in a field that focused on human interaction and included math. Economics seemed like a good candidate but I had no formal training in economics. I decided to take some undergraduate classes at a local university. Eventually, I was introduced to an AFRE graduate working at that university, and he told me how great the AFRE program was for him. He also mentioned there was an option to pursue a dual major with the Economics Department. This was the first time I had heard the term “Agricultural Economics.” I later met with Dr. Rick Horan (Director of Graduate Studies at the time) and was very intrigued by the program that he described.            

The first deciding moment was that the AFRE department responded very quickly, which signaled that they saw value in me. This was not true of any of the other schools that sent me an offer. The second factor that pushed me the rest of the way over the fence was a visit to the school in spring. I was unable to attend the usual time set aside for prospective students, so I was provided the opportunity to meet with professors individually, as well as eat lunch with two current AFRE students. I recall being impressed by both the students and professors. As soon as I got back to my car, I sent an email accepting the offer, and it was one of the better decisions I have made in life.

What is your favorite thing about the AFRE department?

I think the people in the department are the best thing about it. I have made some great friends and shared many struggles through obstacles indicative of a PhD in ag econ (such as the arduous First Year). Since being in this program I have gotten married and had an amazing son. With such changes in life come many complications. Along the way, my advisors and professors were understanding and extremely flexible when those complications detracted from my ability to participate in class or complete classwork/research by respective deadlines. It alleviated many of the perceived burdens one might feel as a new parent. Every incident reinforced my belief that I chose the right program.

What has been your favorite class in the AFRE major, and why?

This is a very tough question because there are so many great professors in this department. I do not think I can say I liked one more than another. There were even aspects of the core classes, such as AFRE 900B (Applied Economics II), that I enjoyed. There are two things I have come to believe are critical for developing a new economist. The first is practical application of theory. For theory to be of any use, one must be able to connect theory to the real world, which is done to a high degree in most classes I took beyond the first year. This is especially true of AFRE 874 (Empirical Methods in Field Research in Developing Countries), which may seem obvious given the title. The second is being able to translate ideas into a coherent narrative to communicate those ideas to a wide audience. Many AFRE classes also require a term paper, which can also be used in one’s dissertation. I think writing experience is far more practical in developing good research practices than taking an exam, although I recognize there are merits to exam-based teaching methods. Classes that require term papers include AFRE 861 (Agriculture in Economic Development), AFRE 961 (Advanced Topics: Agricultural Development Economics), AFRE 841 (Analysis of Food System Organization), and AFRE 891 (Research Design and Writing in Applied Economics), all of which I enjoyed.

If you could go back in time and give any advice to yourself as a first-year AFRE student, what would it be?

Do more reading the summer prior and enter the program with a better idea of where to start. It took me a while to develop the topics for my dissertation, which I think could have been reduced if I had a better starting point when I began researching.

What is a saying or expression that you probably say too much?

I am not known for using any particular saying or expression (none of which I am aware). What I may be known for are sometimes intense discussions over particular issues that may be important to me. I am very passionate about certain topics or ideas.

If you could have one song play every time you entered a room, what would it be, and why?

This may be a bit cliché, but I would play Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) for two reasons. One, I love CCR, and two, I dislike war.

What one invention would you uninvent, and why?

Social media. I think there is a strong negative correlation with happiness and social media use. I do not believe the benefits are sufficient to justify the negative consequences from its use.

What thoughts instantly make you feel more relaxed?

Being in a PhD program can be extremely stressful. I think it is also common that many, including myself, face the imposter syndrome at some point. When my thoughts drift in that direction, I remind myself that I passed the prelims, which implies either I am not an imposter, or I am so good at being an imposter that no one can tell the difference. In either case I must possess some level of competence. It also helps to interact with classmates that face the same struggles to remind myself that many have similar doubts.

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