Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Aluminary: Sebastian Sotelo

Sebastian Sotelo worked at CGD between November 2004 and July 2006. Before joining CGD, he spent a few months at the IADB, working as a research assistant for Liliana Rojas-Suarez, who was there at the time. When she moved to CGD in 2006, she proposed that Sebastian join as well. CGD was relatively young at the time, so he didn’t know much about it, but he says that it fortunately turned out to be a great decision.

Most of the time at CGD, Sebastian was an RA for Liliana, with whom he worked on all kinds of projects and activities: from helping with the organization of CLAAF meetings, to providing support for the task force that wrote Growing Pains in Latin America, to helping Liliana on research related to financial regulation in developing countries. He also worked a bit with Kim Elliott while she was preparing her book Delivering on Doha: Farm Trade and the Poor. Sebastian didn’t know it at the time, but years later he would write his PhD thesis about the domestic costs of agriculture and their productivity and welfare implications in Peru.

Sebastian says that his experience at CGD has helped him in a number of ways. One concrete example is that it helped him develop the tools for careful empirical analysis, which he now uses in his own research. He says that the care that the senior and research fellows used in dealing with data stuck with him. He also got to spend time with super smart RAs and learned from them. More generally, it was great to be around a lot of smart people, hearing what they thought about development issues.  

Since leaving CGD in 2006, he spent two years at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, from 2006 to 2008, working on a Master’s degree in economics. After that, he came back to the United States and got a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago (2008–2014). Now he lives in Ann Arbor, where he works as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics, University of Michigan. Sebastian says it’s been great so far, and he looks forward to doing more research. Here is a link to Sebastian’s webpage, where you can read his research: This includes the current version of his job market paper on agriculture and domestic trade barriers, as well as other papers on international trade.

Sebastian tells us he is quite happy about where he has ended up professionally, and credits his success in part to his 20-some months at CGD. It was a good work environment for him, and he established some friendships that have survived the past few years. He always tries to catch up with Liliana when he is in DC, and he keeps in touch with other former RAs, like Rachel Block who was his cubemate at CGD.

When asked what he would do if he were in Nancy Birdsall’s shoes as CGD president for a day, Sebastian says that he would continue to make CGD a welcoming environment for young people interested in research and policy. He tells us that the RAs in his cohort brought in a lot of enthusiasm (and technical skills!) that he thinks helped CGD attain its current presence in the research and policy community. Given his own experience, he would also add: keep up the effort to bring young researchers from outside the US to be a part of CGD. Sebastian is grateful to have had the opportunity to spend some time at CGD, learning about research, the policy community and enjoying DC. And he hopes that he contributed to CGD as well!