Sarah Mercedes Hughes, Dissertation Fellow

Dissertation Fellowship, 1997

Sarah Mercedes Hughes Alumnae Dissertation Fellow, 1997 Sarah Hughes is a senior fellow in the International Research Division of Mathematica Policy Research. In her words, “Working in applied policy research, I lead complex impact and performance evaluations of economic development projects, large-scale surveys and qualitative data collection under contracts with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the World Bank, and other entities working to alleviate poverty in developing countries. Choosing a non-academic career was partly a logistics issue; I wanted to stay in the Chicago area. But the most salient reason was my desire to use my research skills in the global development arena, an interest that predates my pre-Northwestern years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa. Over the years, I have developed a specialty in improving data collection methodologies as a means to ensure that public policies are based on good data. In support of this, I’ve conducted in-person computer-based surveys using laptops, tablets and smartphones in Africa, Europe and the U.S. and have specialized in longitudinal surveys on sensitive topics with vulnerable and hard to reach populations. One of my current projects is leading data collection for an impact and performance evaluation of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars program, a $500 million 10 year initiative to provide education to 15,000 academically promising but very poor students from developing countries. I have also directed evaluations of farmer training programs in Morocco and Burkina Faso, directed projects in Honduras, Kenya, Paraguay and Togo, and have focused on improving data quality for a large primary education evaluation in Uganda. From 2008-2015, I directed data collection for the Bank of Spain’s Survey of Household Finances, the sole source of micro-level household finance data in the country. Among other specialized skills I’ve developed along the way, I directed a 23-country research project in which I designed and led data collection training for interviewers with disabilities (hearing, vision and physical impairments) from Central and South America. My biggest career joys come from teaching data collection methods to researchers in developing countries, which aligns with my conviction that an informed population is best able to make decisions in its governance. Reflection on the Alumnae Fellowship Receiving the Alumnae Dissertation Fellowship was a turning point in my academic career and prevented me from dripping out of the pipeline, as many women with children do during their PhD studies. I had my first child during my coursework and my second while writing my dissertation. The fellowship allowed me to cover the cost of childcare without cobbling together the adjunct teaching and other paid work that had drained my mental and physical capacity in the previous two years and, instead, to focus on research and writing. While I sincerely hope that my record has been broken many times, I was the first female graduate student in the political science department to have children and finish the PhD. The fellowship was a key support in making that happen.

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