Works and Days


"presidents summer fellowship 2017"

PSF: An Insider Perspective on Microfinance

A beautiful photo of my coworker's daughter showing off her beautiful hair during a work retreat at Mbezi beach

“When we designed microcredit, the purpose was to help people get out of poverty, but some people moved away from that motivation.”  

These words by Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, have stayed in my mind the whole time during my internship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania over the summer. Working as a Marketing and Loan Officer intern at African Microfinance Limited(AML) gave me a whole new perspective on how to approach the literature on microfinance in developing countries. Here is a list of things I learned from my experience.

PSF: Sense of Place in Spain, “El Botxo”*

The riverside neighborhood of Abandoibarra, before and after Bilbao's transformation. Photo credit: Bilbao Ría 2000.

* “El Botxo” is a nickname for Bilbao, or more specifically the river valley that cradles the city. “Tx” makes a ch sound in Euskera (the language of the Basque people), so “Botxo” is pronounced “Bocho.

“The Bilbao you see today has nothing to do with the Bilbao I grew up in,” said the woman. “Nothing to do.”

PSF: Deep Learning in Experimental High Energy Physics, CERN

Taking a break while climbing Salève, to appreciate the great view of Geneva

I am a little over halfway into my stay at CERN (organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire). CERN is the largest particle physics research laboratory in the world and it is spread over two countries - France and Switzerland. There is a main campus that straddles the Franco-Swiss border and there are other facilities above ground, at certain places along the 27 km circumference of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which runs between 75-175 m beneath the French and Swiss countryside. The aerial picture below should give you an idea of the size scale of the LHC. The underground tunnel that houses the LHC is approximately 4 meters wide, accommodating many tens of thousands of pieces of equipment. This includes magnets for focusing and directing the particle beams, and cryogenic systems needed to maintain the temperature at about -456.25 F, which is colder than outer space! CERN is famous for a number of the biggest particle physics discoveries over the past thirty or forty years, at the different experiments that were conducted here, and the creation of the World Wide Web, among other things. In recent times, it has also come into media prominence for the discovery of the Higgs Boson, at the LHC, and misplaced conspiracy theories that generally involve CERN scientists secretly planning to destroy the world.

Aerial outline of the LHC tunnel

Aerial outline of the LHC tunnel

However, CERN is more than just the investments in researching physics phenomena, and constructing, improving and maintaining the particle colliders, accelerators, and other laboratory facilities. The people here are just as fascinating as any of the science that they are working on. In the summer months, a large fraction of the 13,000 or more people – users, students, research fellows, etc., associated with CERN are on site for work at the LHC and other experiments. These are some of the very best physicists, engineers and computer scientists in the world, and some of the smartest, funniest and most unpretentious people I’ve ever met. While it does get a little crowded in the summer months, it is a good time to be at CERN because of the huge influx of people from different countries and cultures, and the diversity that this naturally implies. Just sitting in the main cafeteria and talking to other summer students and researchers (including the occasional Nobel Laureate) is such a privilege because of how much you can learn from each conversation. I had never really appreciated the scale of the human endeavor that CERN is until I got here. During my time here, I have realized that no matter your title or rank, you are simply a cog in the giant machine that is CERN. However, each cog is really important! Irrespective of your age, gender identity, nationality or ethnicity, what you say and do will be taken seriously because if you are granted the privilege of working here, it is usually expected that you are capable enough to make a difference. It has been a humbling experience to work in such an environment.