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PhD Alumni Profile and Spotlight: Olaf Unteroberdoerster

A PhD Trailblazer

Olaf Unteroberdoerster, PhD

Olaf Unteroberdoerster, PhD '98
Vallendar, Germany

Current employment: Deputy Division Chief, Asia and Pacific Department, International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C
Traveling and working with people from Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa, Dr. Olaf Unteroberdoerster, MS ’98, PhD ’98 has lived a life filled and enriched with memorable international experiences.  “I’ve been on so many missions and worked with colleagues from such countries as Thailand, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Peru and many more,” he said. “It’s all certainly been very appealing for somebody who studied at Brandeis.”

Having spent over a decade at the International Monetary Fund, Unteroberdoerster has covered various policy issues in the greater Southeast Asia region–from oil subsidies in Malaysia to the financial markets in Hong Kong.  Since 2009, he’s been in Washington D.C., helping produce the fund’s twice-annual Asia and Pacific Economic Outlook, and leading a team of economists as Mission Chief for Cambodia.

His role has allowed him to advise on key economic issues, see the world, and meet with senior government officials, including Central Bank governors and ministers of finance. He recalls his first country assignment, in which he put together a budget report for his mission chief that featured his projections for revenue, investments and other metrics. The next day, he was startled to open the local newspaper and see his numbers on the front page. “It was empowering to see that what I was doing had relevance and influence,” he said.

Unteroberdoerster first came to Brandeis International Business School (IBS) as an exchange student from Germany during his master’s studies. After completing his master’s, he returned for his PhD on the strength of the professors he’d worked with during his exchange semester.

“I immediately liked that the program was relatively small, but extremely diverse,” he said. “As the first class [of PhDs], we were kind of the guinea pigs, but we were also the pioneers. Though we took a risk by being the first class, we viewed it as an opportunity to help shape the program."

The economist speaks well of the support he received from Brandeis faculty as well. “[PhD thesis advisor] Rachel McCulloch worked closely with me and gave really specific drafting advice,” he said. “She has been a role model for how I work now with younger colleagues coming into the fund.”

Drafting economic reports has gotten more complex in recent times, with a greater emphasis on issues like the interconnectedness of different regions, which Unteroberdoerster studied extensively at Brandeis IBS. “It’s not just fiscal or exchange rate issues anymore, but the linkage between the financial system and overall macroeconomic performance,” he said. This year’s Regional Economic Outlook report, which he co-wrote, examined the European crisis’ effect on Asia and found that although the region has led the global economic recovery since 2009, growing trade and financial linkages have left it highly exposed to an escalation of financial turmoil in Europe.

As a message to current Brandeis IBS students, Unteroberdoerster implored them to not get discouraged by the recent troubles in the economy. “If you have an inquisitive mind and derive satisfaction from the pursuit of contributing to that greater knowledge, getting a business or economics degree is the right approach,” he said. “The rest, I think, will take care of itself.”