The complex equation of doing good
ARTHUR J PAIS
When Mohit Agrawal, who was in Indianapolis for the final Rhodes Scholarship interviews, called his
father Suresh Chand last week in West
Lafayette, Indiana, he was breathless.
“At 5:30 in the evening he called and said,
‘Guess what? I won it’,” recalls his father.
His immediate reaction was: “What?”
Mohit has been winning many scholar-
ships and grants in the past few years,
which have taken him to Singapore and
Ghana. It must have taken his father a few
minutes that he had come from Ireland for
the Rhodes interview.
Mohit, a Princeton graduate with a major
in mathematics and a certificate in com-
puter science (plus courses in politics), is
studying for a year in Ireland on another
prestigious scholarship, the Mitchell, the
Irish version of the Rhodes Scholarship.
What has been the educational experi-
ence in Ireland like?
In Galway, I’m working with Professor
Alan Ahearne to mathematically model the
impact of Ireland’s real estate taxes on its
housing bubble — could tax structure have
prevented the boom, and thus the collapse?
The program in Ireland has really helped
me transition from a very technical back-
ground in mathematics, operations research,
and physics/biology into economics. I can
say I feel like an economist for the first
I straddle the frontier between ‘math’ and ‘non-math’
Professor Joshua Bolten — budget director and chief of staff under for- mer President George W Bush — opened our weekly policy seminar at Princeton by picking up an oversized OMB calculator. “Mohit, you’re
the only math student in here, right?”
My first instinct was to respond with a light joke, but all that came to mind
was, “Yes, sir, I’m prime.” Fearing the reaction of my 15 classmates and friends,
I refrained from employing the corny rejoinder. But the alternative — a
straight answer — was impossible. Professor Bolten’s question presupposed a
binarism between “math” and “non-math” students, but I don’t see it that way.
With disparate interests in politics, policy, mathematics, and economics, I
straddle the frontier between “math” and “non-math.”
I’ve learned more about the complex political realities of Ireland by listen-
ing to and engaging in debates at the college bar than I ever could have by
reading the papers. My biggest takeaways, though, are the daily reminders
that economics cannot be wholly described by impersonal mathematical
equations. Economics has a human impact, as I’ve seen in my own program
as some students struggle to make ends meet. And Michael D Higgins,
Labour’s candidate for president, has struck a chord in Ireland by decrying
“scientific” economics and reminding voters that there are ethical implica-
tions of economic decisions.” (Higgins has since won and been inaugurated).
A doctoral program will allow me the opportunity for deeper study, deeper
research, and deeper reflection in an open academic atmosphere. In search of
doctoral programs, I instinctively looked to the United Kingdom because the
characteristics I sought — fast-paced teaching, practical training, and interdisciplinary coursework — were largely missing from American programs. I
found the ideal program at Oxford, where I would read for a DPhil in
Financial Economics from the Saïd School of Business.
Excerpted from Mohit Agrawal’s Rhodes Scholarship essay
Mohit Agrawal delivers a talk at