In the MACRM program, Bhattarai plans to research agents that shape financial autonomy for women in developing countries.
Headshot of Grishma Bhattarai
Grishma Bhattarai

From a young age, Grishma Bhattarai has challenged the status quo.  

As a child, Bhattarai was one of few low-income students to attend her prestigious school in the capital of Nepal. “Most students at my school came from high income, elite families, so I always felt a lack of belonging. For the longest time, I questioned my decision to study there,” she said. “I had all these questions about why some people were poor, and why women seemed to lack autonomy in low-income communities. My mother, for example, had earned her master’s degree but had put her career on the back burner to take care of her family. Growing up, I questioned her decision, but later in life, I realized that it was much more complex than simply choosing not to work.”

This realization came about when Bhattarai came to the United States to study at Hollins, a small liberal arts college in Virginia. During her first semester, she took an economics class that, she said, “introduced me to the possibility that I could find answers to all of my questions.” Taking that class, she noticed the societal patterns that had changed her and her mother’s life trajectories and was inspired to double-major in economics and math.

Throughout her time at Hollins, Bhattarai remained committed to teaching, which she had started as a volunteer tutor during a gap year before college, and continued as an economics teaching assistant. She spent one spring break abroad teaching math to middle school and high school students in Jamaica. 

During her sophomore year, she earned funding and conducted a research project where she examined the financial autonomy of women working in brick kilns in Nepal. 

And in her senior year, she wrote her honors thesis, where she studied modalities of gender and caste in determining landowning capacity in India. “Working on these projects sparked my interest in women's financial autonomy, especially for developing communities.”

After graduating in 2020, Bhattarai worked as a database manager at a database management firm in Manhattan, extracting and cleaning international financial data for clients using Python. “I loved working with data, but I felt like I was not creating compelling stories. Harris stood out as a place where I could take the data I was familiar with and put it in a more meaningful format.”

Bhattarai applied to and was accepted into multiple programs. “But at Harris, I was not just an application number. They reached out to me personally, and they told me stories of students already working there, faculty research, and assistantship opportunities. They were so proactive and so willing to talk to me about their programs—it just felt so personal, and I felt like this is where I wanted to head next."

Now an incoming MA in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) student, Bhattarai plans to research agents that shape financial autonomy for women in developing countries. She hopes to eventually pursue her PhD to continue her teaching and research combining international development, economics, and public policy.  

This fall, she looks forward to joining the Harris Student Organization Women in Public Policy, “to work with like-minded women implementing good policies.” She also hopes to take classes with Professor Anjali Adukia and Professor Christopher Blattman, “who are doing amazing research in international development.”

“Most of all, I look forward to meeting people from all over the world. Even online in our Zoom sessions, there’s this energy that's present, where everyone is so willing and ready to get their hands dirty and try to change the world. I’m looking forward to acclimating myself into the Harris and UChicago community.”