Brandeis International Business School

Vina Nguyen PhD’14: Translating theory into better lives for regular people

Vina NguyenWhy did you want to earn a PhD in international economics and finance?

I was born in Vietnam in 1986, the year of “doi moi”, which marks the beginning of the Vietnamese economy transforming from central planning to market oriented. Throughout my childhood, I witnessed first-hand how economic policies could change millions of lives at once. Therefore, I immediately enrolled in economics classes upon arriving in the United States for high school, followed by an economics major in college. Among the different fields, macroeconomics really spoke to me since I was most interested in how to translate theories and research into government policies. I believed a PhD program in international economics and finance would allow me to study in depth the policy-relevant questions with an international angle and to reflect on my personal experiences.

What drew you to Brandeis International Business School?

When researching different PhD programs, I paid close attention to their faculty, their curricula, and the placement outcomes. The International Business School stood out for its excellent faculty, its wide range of classes with practical applications, and its successful placements in policy institutions. The school’s proximity to Boston was also a plus, since I really enjoyed my visits to Boston during my years at Smith College. 

How did the PhD program here help you meet your goals?

The program’s relatively smaller size is very beneficial, allowing for more interactions with the faculty and a more close-knit group of students and alumni. I am personally grateful to all the professors and especially my advisor, Professor George Hall, for being not only encouraging, but also very open-minded about what I wanted to do with my research and my career. For example, during my job market, I received offers from policy, academic, and private sector places. I never felt any pressure from the faculty to choose one path over the other. Instead, knowing that my lifelong dream is to help better economic policies and the lives of ordinary people, they wholeheartedly supported my choice to join the IMF.

What was your favorite experience at Brandeis?

Funny enough, I find the preparation for the qualifying exams both terrifying and very rewarding. During those months, you have to take stock of everything that has been taught and organize a lot of materials in the most coherent way. By doing so, you start to see how all the pieces fit so well together.

Another favorite memory is presenting my research to the faculty and my classmates. I miss the sharp questions that forced me to reexamine every assumption and the stimulating exchange of ideas from which new research sprouted. It was truly a wonderful environment.

What made your experience at Brandeis unique?

Again, I am grateful for the small but diverse class of students. Many of us were international students with unique personal experiences and cultural backgrounds. We quickly became very good friends who spent countless hours doing homework together, discussing all sorts of economic theories and developments, or simply enjoying a potluck. Doing a PhD is not easy, and it helps immensely to be surrounded by a supportive community of fellow students.

PhD in International Economics and Finance
Class of 2014

Economist, Euro Area team, International Monetary Fund

Undergraduate degree
Economics, Smith College

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