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Get to Know the New Professor: Prof. Sungho David Park

  • Date 2022-08-11 09:45
  • CategoryStory
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KDIS continues to grow its faculty with data driven, solution oriented and dynamic professors, and Professor Sungho Park is a new addition to that cohort. Enjoy learning about his background and experiences!

Welcome to KDIS, please introduce yourself. 

My name is Sungho David Park, and I am the new Assistant Professor in Development Economics. My core areas are microeconomics and econometrics with a key interest in sub–Saharan Africa. 

How did you choose your current area of focus?

It was serendipity. When I was doing my PhD research, I was not even sure yet at the time if I wanted to do macro or microeconomics. I had done a few studies and a summer internship opportunity came, and I had the opportunity to go to Malawi. During my time there, there were no negative experiences that led me to believe that this shouldn’t be path I should choose. Shortly after that, I also went to Liberia and similarly things all came together. It felt like an organic process, how all the networks, infrastructure and research built on each other that allowed me to do the work I do now. During your time as a student, it’s a learning phase and so I tried a few things until I landed where I am. Even now I still consider myself still open to learning! As a result, my research focus flowed naturally from that exposure to what it is now which is around social protection programs, intimate partner violence, gender issues, and reproductive health.

I am also really interested in measurement and methodology and understanding gaps within surveys and data collection to maintain the objectivity, integrity, and evaluation of data, particularly around sensitive issues like intimate partner violence and risky sexual behavior.  

You had a stint at Boston Consulting Group, why did you not pursue it further? 

If you think about it, management consulting and academia are similar in that they are both about research. Their difference is the end user, the demand for that research, the pay and the timelines allotted to projects. In management consulting, there is a customer who is requesting that particular service, but the outcomes are similar. Even though I enjoyed it, I realized the turnover was too quick for my liking and prioritized efficiency and not necessarily how rigorous the product has to be. I had to make a tradeoff between depth versus width, and I basically chose depth. 

In academia you are contributing to the conceptual library of knowledge and while the challenge is that you do not know if it will have a link to policy implementation, there are no constraints in how you approach the work, the time you spend on it, and the deep dive you can take which allows you to explore deeply and intentionally.  The hope is that the research you do will have some direct impact in the future and that the gap we need to address.

A lot of your research focuses on Liberia and Malawi, how come?

It was a natural choice for me as opportunities and projects came from these countries. I worked on a USAID project that looked at the DRC, Liberia and Malawi and it so happened that the two mentioned were the ones I specifically worked with. I am quite open to other developing contexts; however, not everything will apply and countries are very different from each other. You will notice a pattern amongst scholars to pick and stick within a certain range as they have built expertise, a network, and infrastructure around those areas or topics

What led you to KDIS?

As I was choosing to come work in Korea, KDIS was the most natural choice because of my work in development research. I also get to meet students from all over the world and have conversations that intersect with my current research interests. It became apparent to me as I met professors from KDI at other academic spaces and understanding their rigor and work that KDIS would be the best fit. Having interacted with them, the interesting subject areas that are associated with the school and looking at my work with randomized control testing in Africa I knew this is the right place for me. 

What are your impressions so far?

I have a sense of belonging and feel well placed to contribute to the environment here. My limited experience since I’m still new with the research community, staff, faculty and students are an indication that a lot of good work can be done and improving the capacity for students to do more field work is where I would like to build capacity. 

How has the transition been for you?

It has not been easy to move particularly with a young child and introducing her to the childcare system. She misses her home and stabilizing and setting up a home here with my family took time. However, I do feel more settled since I have been here for a few months now. 

What approach would you want students who want to work with you to have?

My training as an economist, particularly applied microeconomics, should be the first indication of the work I do and therefore there should be synergy there. There are also three key questions students need to consider first when looking to do their research. Is the research interesting, unique, and contributing a new perspective, is it original and an area that hasn’t been explored significantly, and lastly is it feasible operationally but also in reference to data availability? It is important to not only answer the trilemma but also make sure you are able to execute the idea you have. Dealing with issues of selection bias and differences with causation and correlation is difficult but important to address to ensure alignment. 

Last question, what would you say you do to relax?

I play tennis. Sejong is great in that since its a newly built city, there are a lot of options regarding places to play. I must admit sometimes the rainy weather gets in the way of playing a game with friends.

Professor Sungho David Park is open to meeting and discussing relevant areas of interest and is accessible via email to anyone who might be interested. You can read more about his work and previous professional experience here.

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