Agrawal seeks to use the skills she hones at Harris to help governments develop and implement policy inspired by data, particularly in the public health sector.
Headshot of Silky Agrawal
Silky Agrawal

“There is so much more the government can do with the data it collects,” Silky Agrawal said, speaking from her consulting experience with a state government in India on researching public health systems in Bihar, India. Agrawal, who was raised in Bihar and has worked extensively in public consulting throughout India, witnessed that developing countries such as India were not always utilizing data to their best advantage. “When I realized a lack of capacity was the main driver for the underutilization of data, I set a goal for myself to help governments develop and implement policy inspired by data—particularly in the public health sector.”

After graduating with a B.A. in economics from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, Agrawal began her career working in financial services but soon realized she wanted something else out of her work. “I wanted to make a difference, so I started working at an NGO as a Teaching Executor.” In that role, Agrawal taught children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds math, science, and English. “It was there that I noticed a disconnect between the conceptualization of policy at the national/state level and the reality of implementation at the organization level. I recognized that sometimes policies set up at the state level don’t work well at the ground level.” This prompted Agrawal to pursue her first master’s degree in Development Management at the London School of Economics (LSE), where she learned about program evaluation.

After graduating from LSE, Agrawal returned to India and launched her career as a researcher and consultant. “The years after completing my master’s degree have been the most formative of my life to date. I feel particularly blessed to have been able to collaborate with actors from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to understand how they formulate approaches to policy.” One of her key takeaways? “Policy is not just about one beneficiary or one particular stakeholder. Collaboration is essential among numerous actors in order to arrive at well-rounded outcomes.”

However, Agrawal said she was not satisfied with evaluating policies after they had already been implemented. “I wanted to use data beyond just seeing if something worked or not but rather use data in a predictive and proactive way, and I needed a different toolkit to do that effectively.”

Agrawal said the Harris Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program stood out because of its emphasis on quantitative methods. “While I was researching schools, Harris was one of the few programs that heavily focused on the intersection of data and policy, which I knew I wanted in a program.” She said she also has appreciated the large statistical toolkit the program emphasizes, as well as the opportunity to take courses across multiple departments.

“Although the MSCAPP curriculum is intense, it is definitely a rewarding experience. When I entered the program, I had very little programming experience, aside from some working knowledge of Stata. However, after just one year, I feel confident coding in R, Python, and Stata to conduct statistical analysis.” Agrawal also cited courses such as McCormick Foundation Professor Bruce Meyer’s Advanced Statistics II and Associate Professor Anne Rogers’ and Professor Lamont Samuel’s foundational courses in computer science as influential in her experience at Harris thus far.

Outside of coursework, Agrawal said she has also really appreciated how responsive offices like the Career Development Office and the Office of International Affairs have been—“especially throughout the last year during the pandemic. I never felt away from my academic advisor with regards to having to meet virtually to discuss future course planning."

Agrawal said she is excited to apply the toolkit she has built in the Core Curriculum to her summer internship with Boston's Citywide Analytics Team. The position is sponsored by Coding It Forward, a nonprofit in Washington DC with the goal of building a talent pipeline into civic tech through internships in data science and technology. Her work will primarily involve building a data quality pipeline to ensure data retrieved and accessed publicly is of good quality, and she also will work on analytics-focused projects.