Student Stories: Women’s Autonomy & Inheritance Law in India Research Project | Solveig Baylor, 2022 Big East Research Symposium 2nd Place Award Recipient

Posted in Student & Alumni Stories

Solveig Baylor, 2nd Place Award Recipient at the 2022 Big East Research Symposium

Congratulations to our own Solveig Baylor, Georgetown senior in the COL, for her award at the Big East Research Symposium regarding her research on Women’s Autonomy and Inheritance Law in India!

As we are now in the latter half of the spring semester, we know that many of you are probably thinking about summer plans, internships, externships, jobs, the whole nine yards. However, we want to remind you that there are more ways to learn and to gain experience outside of internships, specifically in research opportunities! We’ve asked Solveig to share a couple of highlights and advice regarding her research experience:

Can you provide a brief summary of your research project?

I researched how mandating daughters’ equal intestate inheritance rights affected different types of women’s autonomy in India. The 2005 Hindu Succession Act Amendment (HSAA) mandated nationally that in cases where there is no will present, a fairly common circumstance in under-developed rural areas, daughters must receive an equal inheritance share as sons. I used the India Human Development Survey to create indices for women’s household, personal, and financial autonomy. Greater access to assets would ostensibly increase women’s autonomy, but I also found three channels that complicate this theory: the power dynamics of extended families, cultural differences across regions, and economic incentives of asset transfers for the poor. First, I found that many regions saw increases in household and personal autonomy, but some actually saw decreases in financial autonomy. I also discovered that women with a marital relationship to the male household head (wives and daughters-in-law) saw decreases in personal autonomy while a woman’s natal relationship (daughter) related to her increase in financial autonomy.

What interested you to pursue this research project?

Since my sophomore year, I have been interested in using my double major in economics and philosophy in research. A prior research opportunity with the Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics the summer after my sophomore year helped me learn how inheritance law can be a powerful means of transferring assets for women in the developing world. Economics courses on quantitative methods and philosophy courses on human development enabled me to answer a philosophical question I was interested in with economic methods. Ultimately, I pursued a research grant as opposed to a summer internship, so I could independently design and pursue an important and formative project for me.

How does your research connect to experience & skill building, your values and interests, and your professional goals?

Through this research opportunity, I was able to gain the experience that potential employers in economic policy would be interested in. I was able to pursue a whole project from beginning to end, with all the difficulties involved: 1) wrangling a large dataset, 2) trying different empirical strategies, 3) defending my project design against criticism, and 4) explaining unanticipated results. Additionally, my advisor Dr. Shareen Joshi was instrumental in implementing a nuanced project design and handling difficulties. Being able to pursue an important question of mine with the support of one of Georgetown’s star faculty was a true privilege. Not only did I learn research capabilities, but also how personal qualities of perseverance, creativity, and curiosity can be valued in a career.

Looking back on this experience, is there anything that you would have liked to do differently?

At the conference, I had to present my research to people with a wide range of research experience and field expertise. I wish I had practiced communicating my research to different audiences. This helps you identify for yourself the headline impacts of your research as well as persuade powerful audiences of your recommendations. Creating infographic or blog post versions of my research could have done this sooner. I also should have pursued more opportunities to learn data visualization skills. You can do important and robust research, but it may not go anywhere if the results cannot be powerfully and succinctly communicated to the right audience.

I wish I had started this research journey earlier! I used to be one of those students who thought internships were the best option for resume-building, but that’s not always the case. I encourage anyone to assist a professor’s research once during their time at Georgetown, to gain exposure to it and potentially build a formative relationship with a faculty member. 

An opportunity that I wish I had taken advantage of freshman or sophomore year was the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (GUROP). You get academic credit for assisting a professor’s research during the year. This lets you learn research skills from leaders in your field while forming mentorship bonds with interesting faculty. Even if I had not continued my research journey, it would have been nice to build the mentorship relationships I have now earlier in my Georgetown career.

What is your advice to students that are interested in pursuing research opportunities and not sure where to start?

Quantitative economics research was really daunting for me when I first started. I would strongly recommend the quantitative courses and the research seminars in the economics department. The professors walk you through common quantitative techniques, explain how those are implemented in well-cited papers, and guide you through each step in the research process. These gave me the skills and experience I needed to feel confident pursuing an independent project. 

For any discipline, I would suggest reading articles published in professional and undergraduate journals. This can give you an idea of what questions, methodologies, and conclusions are typical. There are also many resources at Georgetown available for students of any discipline. Lauinger Library also has a ton of resources to help you in any stage of the research process. I particularly recommend the workshops they have on various software: I learned basic Tableau and ArcGIS in a couple hours online. GUROP is a good starting point, but I would also recommend talking with your department head to see if there are any positions unique to your discipline. Once you have some of the pieces together and you’re ready to try research, the Center for Research and Fellowships provides comprehensive support for any discipline through their summer research grants.

Solveig’s research was funded by the Provost’s Distinguished Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the Center for Research and Fellowships. Any students interested in learning more about research subscribe to our listserv by emailing with their subscription request.