Finding a Research Focus

August 28, 2018
Duy Duong
Duy Duong '18

Of the 8 different economics seminars offered during the 2017–18 school year, the Seminar in Economic Development, taught by Tamara McGavock, assistant professor of economics, was Duy Duong ’18’s first choice. “I've always been interested in global development issues,” he says. “How to frame that in an econ context is something that I'm particularly interested in.” 

For their research projects, students chose a developing country. Duong chose Vietnam, an obvious choice for him since he’s from there and could find data for his research. Next, he searched for a particular topic.

Class discussion came in handy there. Much of it concerned female workers and families. When Duong checked the literature, he didn’t find a lot of papers on Vietnamese women, which meant there was plenty of room for new research. 

Next, he asked himself what he wanted to learn about female Vietnamese workers. He had experience at home with the labor market, in particular workers’ rights and workers’ movements. So a topic on female employment and wages was a good fit. “But what’s interesting about that topic?” he says. 

McGavock suggested he take a look at policy, such as the impact of a change in law. Duong discovered a corporate tax decrease. And thanks to a summer 2017 internship with the Iowa Department of Revenue, “I do know tax policies,” Duong says. The internship “taught me a lot about how to read the lingo that is referenced in tax-related documents.” 

Duong’s research results were “definitely interesting.” He found that a 2% corporate tax cut led to a 69% increase in female wages at eligible firms relative to male wages at firms that were not eligible for the tax cut. Though in absolute terms, he says, “it’s a different story.” In other words, it was a minor increase because women’s wages were so low compared to men’s.

Learning to do this kind of research involved reading many papers for class and analyzing what those researchers did. “Each paper has its own flavor, has its own approach to researching, and of course different topics,” Duong says. He modeled his paper on the first one students read. They discussed it a great deal in class and did various exercises with it, which he relied on to do his own analysis.

“It was one hell of an experience,” he says.

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