This post was written by Dr. Christine Nanjala Simiyu (PhD), currently a senior lecturer at KCA University, Nairobi Kenya and a CEGA-EASST fellow at the University of California Berkeley during the spring 2017 semester.
During my stay at UC Berkeley in the Spring 2017 semester as an EASST Visiting Fellow, my time was spent learning about impact evaluation methodologies (which I was not familiar with before), attending and participating in research seminars, and developing and enhancing my technical skills.
I attended classes for this course taught by Dr. Paul Gertler, participated in lab sessions, and read the Impact Evaluation in Practice text book (find it here) three times to enhance my capacity in impact evaluation research methods, such as such as Randomized Control Trials (RCTs); Difference in Difference Methods (DIDs); Regression Discontinuity (RDDs) and Instrumental Variables (IVs). I also audited a development economics class taught by Dr. Edward Miguel, which exposed me to various research ideas and trends in development economics. In addition, the development research seminars continuously shaped and changed my research interests from what I previously had before joining the fellowship. I was able to further enhance my technical skills through learning centers available on campus, such as the D-Lab, where I learned Python, R-Programming, ArchGIS, STATA and LaTex. I was not familiar with most of the skills (apart from STATA) but I can now confidently write a whole manuscript using R and LaTex.
Following the development of these skills, I was able to design a RCT study titled: "Take-up, use and impact of sanitary products provision and educational training on education and health outcomes of adolescent girls in rural Kenya". The study evolved overtime from a basic idea to an implementable project. I was greatly supported by my mentors Dr. Sandra McCoy, a faculty in the School of Public Heath, and Drew Cameroon, a PhD student in Health Policy, who always worked with me and gave me a lot of feedback that improved the study design. The presentations I gave at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley during development seminars elicited various comments that also added a lot of value to the study design. Indeed, I am happy to announce that the project will be implemented in collaboration with CEGA faculty members and my mentors.
I summarize the experience of CEGA-EASST Fellowship as that of "exposure" and "transformation". I underwent a state of metamorphosis in terms of research orientation after being exposed to the technical skills and methods at UC Berkeley, shifting my research trajectory and interests. When I return to KCA University I will plan to use catalyst grant funding provided through EASST to start impact evaluation capacity building initiatives with the goal of enabling more elaborate and quality evidence based research to influence policy in East Africa. I also plan on following-up and implementing the study I designed while at UC Berkeley as an EASST fellow. In the long-run, I plan to start an East Africa Impact Evaluation Research Hub where the EASST network (both fellows and professors) can host and run projects in East Africa. Indeed, this fellowship has shaped my career path and the EASST network is particularly important for collaborations to make this dream a reality.
In closing, I was amazed with the friendliness of faculty members and students alike - they were all AWESOME! There are many intellectual discussions around your study topic and everyone is genuinely interested to support and help you to make your work great! It is truly worthy spending a semester at UC Berkeley as an EASST fellow and CEGA team is immensely supportive to make the stay great and memorable. Thank you all!