August 26, 2014

Aine Seitz McCarthy

Aine Seitz McCarthy

In 2012, McCarthy – a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Economics – surveyed almost 700 households across 12 villages in the district of Meatu, Tanzania about family planning. She found that only about 12 percent of women reported using contraceptives, but about 80 percent of women wanted to wait two years before their next child or stop having children altogether.

To understand this large gap between contraceptive use and reported desires to slow or stop pregnancies, McCarthy and other researchers launched a family planning program in 2013. They trained local women in sexual reproductive health education, and these women in turn became consultants in their villages, talking to other women and couples about family planning options and methods. The 15-month program wraps up this summer, and McCarthy has returned to Tanzania to measure the effects of the program by surveying the same households again.

For McCarthy, Tanzania has been a fun experience, and being able to speak Swahili is helpful. But doing research in another country comes with a unique set of challenges. "Some technology will break, a person won't show up when we need them to, and we'll get stuck in a river," she says. "The challenges are much more visceral than the challenges of working at the University."

For her efforts, McCarthy has received the 2014 President's Student Leadership & Service Award, which is given to less than one percent of the student body, and the Mary A. McEvoy Award for Public Engagement & Leadership. Engaging with the public is a major part of her international development research, she says.  In Tanzania, she works with the local community, local hospitals and village leaders.

"The awards represent inspiration to continue to make research applicable to the public dialogue," she says.

In addition, McCarthy was awarded the Graduate School's Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship and she recently received a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for the 2014-2015 academic year.

McCarthy, who grew up in Illinois, realized her love of math in high school. She received her bachelor's degree in mathematics at Colby College, a liberal arts college in Maine. After graduating, she worked in Senegal for several months with an education organization. Living with a family and experiencing a developing country firsthand inspired her to study international development. She then worked for a policy think tank in Washington, D.C., which led her to the field of Applied Economics.

"Economic theory is so abstract sometimes, but it's easier to understand theory if it's applied to people and data," she says.

McCarthy was drawn to the University of Minnesota after learning about the international development research of University professors Paul Glewwe and Deborah Levison, who are now her advisers. "Aine is extremely capable," says Levison, a professor in the Humphrey School. "She is running a complex and important research project in Tanzania with great competence." 

McCarthy enjoys collaborating across departments at the U and appreciates how the Minnesota Population Center, where she is a research assistant, facilitates interdisciplinary work. After she receives her Ph.D. in 2016, her ideal career would be working in academia at a liberal arts college.

Read more about Aine’s research on her blog:

-Lyra Fontaine