A Senior Research Assistant with J-PAL, MacGregor-Vanegas is interested in using big data to advance research at the intersection of conflict and developmental studies.
Cristina MacGregor-Vanegas, Headshot
Cristina MacGregor-Vanegas

“In high school, I was part of a group that gave literacy lessons to adults in remote areas of Mexico. This is one experience that made me recognize the disparities facing people in my country due to poverty, and later on I decided to focus on its connections to state abuse, drug violence, criminality, and conflict,” says Cristina MacGregor-Vanegas, a 2019 graduate of the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program. “I’ve gone through different fields trying to navigate that problem—human rights, econometrics, and then big data—but my ultimate goal is still to work towards helping the most vulnerable people in Mexico.”

MacGregor-Venegas majored in International Relations at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and researched policy efforts and legal frameworks for forced displacement of people around the world before securing a job with the World Bank. While working with statistical software at the World Bank, she became interested in the use of data to advance research in conflict and development, which led her to pursue the MSCAPP program as a Fulbright scholar.

MacGregor-Venegas says the MSCAPP program helped her to use lateral thinking when problem-solving. “In previous coding assignments, I would have a data frame—and I knew I had to work within that. In the MSCAPP program, there were no data frames—it’s about modelling outside of the tabular framework I had in my mind.”

While at Harris, she secured a research assistantship through UChicago that led to her current position as a Senior Research Associate with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). “I knew about Professor Oeindrila Dube’s research in general before coming to Harris, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with her as a part-time RA during my second year.”

After graduating, MacGregor-Vanegas was hired full-time through J-PAL to continue her work with Professor Dube. “My current role is a direct extension of my work as an RA, but now I can focus full-time and not have to split my time between work and school.”

Macgregor-Vanegas now coordinates a team of three RAs, conducting rigorous evaluation of policies and programs aimed at evaluating and measuring how conflict affects social outcomes for vulnerable populations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. “Many programs designed to help the vulnerable have good intentions, but sometimes have other outcomes. This effort to help people through rigorous, data-centric methods in the social sciences can help to discern what is working from what is not working.”

One trend MacGregor-Vanegas has seen emerge in the research world is the use of big data. “My goal is to find new sources of data that are more reliable than surveys, but still inexpensive and accessible. Technology and big data have primarily been used in the private sector, but now they are revolutionizing the way we do research.”

MacGregor-Vanegas plans to put this knowledge to further use when she returns to Mexico this summer, and is currently exploring possible next steps. “This has been my year of deciding what to do next. I’d like to do a PhD in Public Policy or Political Science, or perhaps an interdisciplinary program that applies technology similar to the MSCAPP. I’ve never worked on environmental issues before, and that’s something I want to incorporate in my study of conflict. I am interested in exploring this intersection further.”