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28 Nov

Introducing SPPG’s Clark Fellows

November 28, 2017 | By |

SPPG is proud to announce Aidan Robern and Marvin Ferrer as 2017 Clark Fellows.

Thanks to the ongoing generosity of Professor Ian Clark, SPPG is able to increase the funds available for MPP student research assistant positions, as well as provide up to $750 to subsidize travel either to present the research at a conference or for research-related travel.

MPP students Aidan Robern and Marvin Ferrer will be working with Professors Jonathan Hall and Jamie Radner, respectively. 

Marvin Ferrer

Marvin Ferrer previously completed a master’s and doctoral degree in the cell biology of reproduction and fertility at Queen’s University, where he also helped many Canadians start new families. His policy interests are broad and include fiscal and tax policy, science and research policy, industry-government relations, education policy, and health policy. As a scientist, he would like to advance the application of the scientific method to improve evidence-based decision making.


Aidan Robern

Aidan Robern holds a Bachelor’s Degree (Honours) in Economics and International Relations from the University of Toronto. He worked this past summer at the Ontario Ministry of Finance in the Federal-Provincial Relations unit, where he performed original economic research on a broad array of policy files to support the province in intergovernmental meetings and negotiations. He also has prior experience working in the private sector where he was responsible for driving change through evidence-based opportunities, and as a research analyst for the Munk School of Global Affairs’ G8 Research Group.

We asked the fellows a few questions about their upcoming work.

What research will you be working on?

Ferrer: I am working on the evaluation and scaling of innovations trying to improve children’s outcomes in early childhood in resource-constrained and developing-world contexts.

Robern: I am working on a number of projects under the supervision of SPPG and Department of Economics Professor Jonathan Hall. Our topics fall mainly under the umbrellas of transportation and urban policy, with projects ranging from the effectiveness of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft as options for municipal public transit to the welfare impacts of road tolls.

One interesting project to highlight is called “The Effectiveness of Generic Risk Disclosures.” Using data on the locations of Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) — the signs you see on the highway warning drivers not to speed or drink and drive — and the incidences of traffic fatalities in the state of Texas, we are aiming to estimate the causal effect of these ‘risk disclosures’ on driving behaviour. In Texas, these DMSs run non-stop for some weeks and are turned off for others, thus, it provides us a natural experiment to find interesting causal results.


How does it fit into your research interests and professional ambitions?

Ferrer: My research and professional interests lean heavily towards evidence-based policy-making. I am excited to be helping develop science-driven innovations, particularly for some of the neediest populations in the world. I have been able to apply a lot of the experience I gained from previous scientific training and complement them with new skills and knowledge I have gained at the School of Public Policy and Governance. I am always thrilled when my previous and current training have synergies with each other. 

Robern: I’d call myself a policy wonk with a passion for empirical evidence. I find all areas of public policy fascinating and my background in economics has driven me to look for the most effective ways of delivering a public service given a desired outcome. The opportunity to be a part of developing original statistical research in a policy field I am relatively unfamiliar with—I have not worked in transportation policy before, however, I have worked in the private sector in the transportation industry—fits perfectly in my broad-minded professional ambitions.


How will the travel subsidy help further your research?

Ferrer: I contributed to a peer-reviewed paper which will be presented at the New York Academy of Sciences in December, which I think will be very helpful to my professional career in the future.  Thanks to the travel subsidy, I will be able to attend the meeting in New York City. I am glad the Clark Fellowship has allowed me to be an author on a policy-oriented peer-reviewed publication to complement my previously published work in academic science.

Robern: Professor Hall and I have yet to decide on how we should exercise the travel subsidy. However, we are keeping a keen eye out for conferences and events that can provide exciting and interesting perspectives to our analyses. Stay tuned!


What are you most excited about going forward with this fellowship?

Ferrer: I am very excited to meet with experts and leaders in early childhood development at the New York Academy of Sciences this December.

Robern: As you can maybe guess, I am obviously excited about the opportunity to travel for research purposes, this is something I have never done before.

Overall, I am very grateful to have been selected for the Clark Fellowship this year. My research has been enlightening and I am excited to keep developing my econometric and statistical programming skills while helping the school continue to put forward innovative research in public policy.