Dejan Kovac spoke with us about his experience at Princeton University, running for president, and his research mostly focused on solving important policy questions in Croatia.
While studying at CERGE-EI, you spent time at Princeton University. Can you tell us more about your experience as a PhD student there?
It was a once in a lifetime experience, being able to work with some of the greatest minds in economics of our time. Just being at Princeton inspires you to be better, and collaboration with top-notch economists puts it on a whole new level. My journey to Princeton started during my PhD studies, when I had the honor to work with professors Jitka Maleckova and Alan Krueger on topics related to the economics of terrorism. At that time, CERGE-EI had started a great program funding short term research visits to top universities, so it was a natural choice for me to follow prof. Krueger. Orley Ashenfelter, Henry Farber and Alexandre Mas were also greatly helpful as I pushed my research to a new level.
After graduation you returned to Princeton University as Postdoctoral Research Associate. What research projects you did you work on there?
After almost 2 academic years of working as a Visiting Student Research Collaborator in the Industrial Relations Section of Princeton, I secured a position in the Empirical Studies of Conflicts. I worked with prof. Jacob Shapiro on several topics related to the economics of conflicts and the effects of political networks on long run economic growth. During that period, with a team of researchers from Princeton, Harvard, the London School of Economics and the Stockholm School of Economics, I worked on a research study connecting family networks with college choices. We found a significant and positive effect of individuals following the same college choices as their older siblings across 4 countries: the US, Sweden, Chile and Croatia. Our research was featured in Forbes magazine.
Finally, you decided to return to your home country, and in 2019 you were a presidential candidate in Croatia. What was your motivation to run for public office?
The general situation in Croatia and the lack of proper reforms aimed to increase our living standards. For the last several years I have been highlighting the main structural problems of our economy and our democracy. Nobody listened, so I acted, simple as that. During my campaign I highlighted potential problems we will face if there is a new recession and, unfortunately, we are now experiencing a really bad one. I still see no changes in our society. Our politicians are maintaining the status quo.
Your research is also focused on solving important policy questions in Croatia, e.g. in education and health politics. How is the situation in Croatia – have you been successful in implementing research findings into real policy?
I was successful for several years, especially with my project for using AI in education policies, but my efforts were put on pause for my presidential campaign, and now I am slowly getting back to it. The AI project was conducted with another CERGE-EI student, Marin Drlje, and the purpose was to design AI to help kids make good education choices.
Though you are in Croatia, you still work at Princeton University as a Project Leader. Do you plan to return there? What are your professional plans?
Yes, taking into account the current situation, I am working remotely at ESOC with prof. Shapiro on a few exciting new projects. One is connected to the upcoming recession and ways to mitigate severe effects through optimal policies.
What has influenced you most from your CERGE-EI studies?
The high level of education we receive at CERGE-EI. I was surprised when I came to Princeton and attended several lectures. The level and the curriculum were almost identical. Also, our professors at CERGE who finished at top universities and have experience in top research. Next, the opportunities we get for research visits. All of this makes CERGE-EI a great school. One thing is certain, if it wasn’t for CERGE-EI and its community I would not be at this level, and for that I am eternally grateful.