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A brief biography
2010: 1st Indian woman full professor at Harvard
1st Indian woman full professor at Harvard
Chicago: Gita Gopinath, an Indian-origin associate professor at Harvard University’s Department of Economics, has been appointed a full professor, the first Indian woman in the institution’s history to be given this appointment.
Gopinath’s position as a tenured full professor of Economics at Harvard begins on July 1. University president Drew G Faust confirmed tenure for Gopinath last month, making her only the third woman to be a tenured full professor in the department. “I am delighted at the appointment. This is a great recognition for me,” Gopinath, who has been working in the area of international macroeconomics and finance, said over phone.
The economics department had voted at an executive committee meeting in February to nominate Gopinath, who had been working as an associate professor in the department, for tenure, which is a status indicating that the position is permanent and life-long.
The university’s newspaper Harvard Crimson quoted Chairman of Harvard’s Economics department Professor John Campbell as saying that “Gopinath is really becoming a professional leader in terms of training economists” given her ability to move between theory and data analysis, and her strong skills as a teacher. PTI
2018: Chief Economist of the IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) appointed Delhi School of Economics and Lady Shri Ram College alumna Gita Gopinath as its chief economist, a post once held by former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan.
Gopinath will succeed Maurice Obstfeld as economic counsellor and director of the IMF’s research department. A top-notch economist, she currently serves as the John Zwaanstra professor of international studies and economics at Harvard University.
The 46-year-old India-born economist joins the illustrious list of Rajan and Kaushik Basu who have served as chief economists of the IMF and the World Bank, respectively. Basu also taught at D-School.
Gopinath has also served as a member of the eminent persons’ advisory group on G-20 matters for the finance ministry and was appointed as economic adviser to the Kerala CM in 2016.
Gopinath, a US citizen, got her PhD in economics from Princeton University in 2001.
Gita an outstanding economist, says Lagarde
Gita is one of the world’s outstanding economists, with impeccable academic credentials, a proven track record of intellectual leadership, and extensive international experience, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said while announcing her appointment.
“All this makes her exceptionally well-placed to lead our research department at this important juncture. I am delighted to name such a talented figure as our chief economist.”
She joined the University of Chicago in 2001 as an assistant professor before moving to Harvard in 2005 and became a tenured professor there in 2010. She did her BA (Honours) in economics from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College and then MA from D-School and the University of Washington.
“…it is not only unprecedented in terms of practice but it is also unprecedented in terms of theory. Pretty much every macro-economist colleague of mine that I have spoken to would say that this is something that we do not recommend to any developing country,” Gopinath, who is an advocate of less cash, told a television channel in January last year when asked whether demonetisation was an unprecedented event.
As in 2021 July
Gopinath is on leave from her job at Harvard University as the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics since 2019, having joined the position of chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.
Acknowledged as ‘one of the world’s outstanding economists’, Gopinath’s research has been largely focussed on international finance and macroeconomics and, hence, no surprise that all eyes are on her in the post-pandemic situation of global economic slowdown and distress.
“My daughter is deeply concerned over the situation. She and her team have unveiled a $50billion proposal to eradicate the pandemic by mid-2022. A cost that is not too high in view of the trillions that can be gained,” Gita Gopinath’s father, T V Gopinath, a farmer and entrepreneur in Mysore (Mysuru), told Timesofindia.com.
He had long discussions on such pressing issues with his daughter when she visited her parents two weeks back to spend time with them since they were not able to travel to the US in the wake of travel restrictions. His daughter’s career is studded with several honours and awards, but the octogenarian singled out only one - her being elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest and most prestigious societies in the United States, to talk about with pride.
Gopinath, who considers herself a product of the Indian education system — she completed her schooling in Mysuru. She had her first brush with macro-economic challenges while doing her bachelor’s degree at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, with India experiencing its first major external financing and currency crisis in 1990-91. “This inspired me to pursue graduate work in economics and was the foundation for my interest in international finance,” she told this writer in an interview in 2010. Today she is considered one of the most respected voices in economics.
“Her leadership in giving an economic forecast post-Covid has been invaluable. Her future is bright, and her influence globally is only poised to grow,” says M R Rangaswami, Silicon Valley-based investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He adds that seeing her flourish in such a prestigious and prominent role serves as a huge source of inspiration, especially for other Indian American women. “We are seeing their ranks quickly grow, with more and more Indian American women serving as Fortune 500 CEOs, professors in academia and other roles in economics, finance and business.”
A highlight in her career was when, more than a decade ago, Gopinath, then just 38, was named tenured professor at Harvard University’s high-brow economics department, becoming the fourth woman ever and the first Indian-university educated faculty after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to receive such an outstanding honour. However, Gopinath chose the University of Washington, Seattle, for a PhD and not Harvard because she was offered funding at the former, the latter offering her admission but no financial aid. She finally finished her PhD in economics from Princeton University. Before joining Harvard, she was assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Back in 2010, Gopinath’s ground-breaking research in international macroeconomics and finance – areas that had become significant in light of the global economic crisis of 2008 – had earned her recognition and respect and helped economists get a better understanding of the situation. “She has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of sovereign debt defaults, which is the current leg of the crisis in Europe. Her work also shows, at a very deep level, why many emerging markets tend to experience greater macroeconomic volatility than advanced economies and has significantly advanced understanding of the interaction between prices and interest rates,” Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics and public policy at Harvard and former chief economist at the IMF, had then said about Gopinath.
Today the sense of déjà vu cannot be missed when, as chief economist at the IMF, Gopinath herself is quoted as saying in her profile in Carnegie: “It’s exactly what the world is worried about: recession, jobs, inequality. It’s so clear to people these are important issues. And given my science background, I like that I’m bringing in some mathematical rigour … to understand these issues of the day.”
Inspiring women The fact that there were very few women faculty at the top in American universities has been a cause of concern for Gopinath. She had felt that mentorship from seniors was an important tool in breaking the gender glass ceiling at Ivy League universities in the US. “Junior women could benefit from having senior women as mentors, so when that pool is very small this is just harder to accomplish. In academia, the whole tenure clock makes having a family difficult, so this is a bigger challenge for women.”
The situation has not improved significantly over the years when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling in the academic sphere in America, feels Dr Smita Brunnermeier, executive director of undergraduate studies, department of economics, Princeton University. “It takes many years of undergraduate, graduate, and professional work to achieve such positions in Ivy League universities. I certainly hope Dr Gopinath’s success has inspired many young women to enter our profession’s pipeline and we will see an increase in the number of women taking up roles as leaders in economics and finance in the coming years,” she told TimesofIndia.com.
Dr Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor, University of Missouri, too feels that leaders like Dr Gopinath are creating an impact and inspiring women in academia to pursue their goals and to know that “no matter what our race, colour, creed and gender, we can make a difference”.
Gopinath considers herself very fortunate to have a hugely supportive husband; Iqbal Dhaliwal, her classmate from Delhi School of Economics, a former IAS officer and now global executive director at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where India-born economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee is director. Gopinath and Dhaliwal have a teenage son.
In 2019, Gopinath received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians by the government of India. Between 2016 and 2018 she was economic adviser to the chief minister of Kerala and in 2013-14 she was member of the eminent persons advisory group on G-20 matters for India’s ministry of finance.
“She has achieved extraordinary ascent in the meritocracy-driven professional trajectory, no doubt overcoming many hurdles. The global economy is facing manifold crises stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many member countries of the IMF are in dire straits. As chief economist, Gopinath now has her task cut out for her,” says R Dayakar, a retired Indian diplomat who also headed the NRI/PIO division of the external affairs ministry.