skip to content

People > Student Profiles > topher mcdougal

Q. Why did you come to DUSP?

McDougal: DUSP seemed to have a combination of academic rigor and eclecticism that is pretty rare, in my opinion--ordinarily you get one or the other.

Q. How did your undergraduate education prepare you for your work in development?

McDougal: My major was Philosophy, but in my senior year I took a remarkable class with a history teacher named Tim Burke that enabled me to apply my fascination with 'societal progress' to questions of development in modern Africa. Needless to say, those applications seemed more exciting to me than any treatise on Hegel or Turgot.

Q. Did you have any experience in the field of development that prepared you for what you are doing here?

McDougal: Some: I worked at a school in Haiti, and consulted for the World Bank's Africa Technical Family on environmental mitigation projects. But a lot of my previous work experience was more planning-related.

Q. What has surprised you most about the program?

McDougal: I've been pleasantly surprised by the level of support that is forthcoming from the faculty and administration generally when a student has a project s/he is passionate about. In addition to research funding, I've also been well-supported in starting up the Working Group on Violent Conflict & Economic Institutions, and in expanding the MIT International Review.

Q. Have your ideas changed at all since arriving?

McDougal: Certainly, my ideas on a great number of topics - from factor mobility, to the relationship between human rights and economic growth, to the role of conflict in development - have been consistently and rigorously challenged, and oftentimes changed. This department is one which revels in what it terms the "heterodox", and its faculty enjoy debunking accepted wisdom in order to fashion a more complex portrait of the world. This can sometimes be frustrating when one is trying to assemble a unified theoretical framework on a given subject, but it keeps you honest.