I’m going to be honest. When I was applying to college, I had no idea what I wanted to study. I knew I didn’t like science or math, or even history, enough to major in them. All I really knew was that I loved my Girl Up Club. Entering college, it was difficult to see how Girl Up’s core values could apply to traditional majors like economics, computer science, and mathematics. Now that I’m on the other side of graduation, I see that they’re more ingrained in every subject than I could have ever imagined.

I majored in economics, a choice by which many people at my school seemed confused. Classmates often assumed I was a public policy major based on my outspoken voice in campus politics or wrote me off as another “armchair activist” sellout. Yet, I chose economics to specialize in development economics, a field of economic study that examines the effectiveness and impact of social projects in developing countries–much like those funded by Girl Up! Throughout school, I took classes that taught me how to perform these analyses using the datasets provided by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) running the projects.

It’s the things you’re passionate about that make learning fulfilling.

When it came time to write my senior thesis, I was excited to apply my four years of studies to a women’s issue close to my heart: The economic empowerment of women in India. My paper explored the impact of the 2014 Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) program—which gave low-income individuals across India easy access to a zero-balance bank account—on women’s self-reported economic independence. I used a dataset spanning from 2013-2018 and found that, following the initiative, women were indeed more likely to have a bank account as compared to before. Furthermore, women with a bank account were more likely to have control over household decision-making. Previously, very little research had been done on the impact of PMJDY on women specifically, making my paper one of the first economic analyses on the subject.

It’s easy to think that you have to leave your extracurriculars behind when you go to college. But it’s the things you’re passionate about that make learning fulfilling. After graduating from Duke, I headed to the London School of Economics to get my Master’s in Applied Social Data Science to learn how to mitigate bias from data collection. As I look to my post-graduate career, I plan to use the analytical skills I learned in both programs to bring a nuanced perspective to my job–prioritizing the often-overlooked feminist perspective.

I encourage others to apply a feminist lens to their studies and careers as well, whether you focus on an understudied subject in your respective field or apply your skills to an organization that empowers women. That is how Girl Up girls grow up to become women who change the world!

Nehal Jain is a Girl Up alumna from Northern Virginia. She graduated with Distinction from Duke University in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminine Studies. She is currently at the London School of Economics studying Applied Social Data Science. She hopes to focus her career on empowering women through tech and health. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, playing tennis, and going to Barre classes.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the writer’s own.


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