Summer Interns Dig into Data
In a normal summer, Tata-Cornell Institute (TCI) interns travel to rural India to work on research projects in the field. But with COVID-19 putting fieldwork on hold, interns Francesca DiGiorgio and Bhavna Sivasubramanian spent the summer of 2021 in TCI’s office at Cornell University, digging through data related to India’s agricultural markets.
A graduate student working toward a Master of Public Health, DiGiorgio worked with data collected from TCI’s Technical Assistance and Research for Indian Nutrition and Agriculture (TARINA) program to investigate how food prices and food availability at local markets influence women’s diet diversity. Sivasubramanian, who is pursuing a Master of Regional Planning, used data on state-run agricultural markets known as mandis to create maps depicting the density of such markets at the state and district levels, in addition to their proximity to rail stations and other attributes. With market regulation left to the states in India, her maps show the extent of variation across states and districts.
DiGiorgio and Sivasubramanian came into the internship with varying degrees of familiarity with data analysis. DiGiorgio only had classroom experience, so the work presented a challenge. Putting her education to practical use allowed her to build skills that will be important for her future career as a public health practitioner.
“TCI is such an interdisciplinary organization. They leverage the expertise of folks across so many different fields to tackle these wicked problems. That’s the kind of working and learning environment that I want to be a part of.”
Sivasubramanian has a background in economics and quantitative analysis, so working with data was familiar territory. But that didn’t mean her work was without challenges. “At times it felt like investigative detective work, trying to match different sources together so that they fit together on the map,” she said.
Both agreed that working with and learning from TCI’s diverse team of researchers was a high point of the internship experience. “TCI is such an interdisciplinary organization,” DiGiorgio said. “They leverage the expertise of folks across so many different fields to tackle these wicked problems. That’s the kind of working and learning environment that I want to be a part of.”
With their different academic interests and skillsets, DiGiorgio and Sivasubramanian also learned from each other’s work during the summer.
“A picture or a map is worth a thousand words, especially to people who aren’t as familiar with the information,” DiGiorgio said. “So, for me to see the maps that Bhavna was making was very exciting.”