If I had to sum up my experience at the Brookfield Institute (BII+E) in one sentence, it would be a short rotation of ten weeks giving an immense exposure of different aspects of a think-tank. As it was my first job after graduating from the University of Toronto, I was extremely motivated and aspired for every day to count towards my growth as an Economist. Fortunately, BII+E provided me with all the relevant opportunities.
Although I came to BII+E with a mindset of expanding my data analysis skills, specifically using R, after having my first coffee chat with everyone on the team, I realized there is so much more to gain here. I got a chance to utilize R in a real-world scenario with Viet Vu (Manager of Economic Research), was introduced to project management by Michelle Park (Manager of Strategic Initiatives) and enhanced my communication skills with Nina Rafeek Dow (Comms and Marketing Specialist).
Project management complements economic research perfectly
As a student I was curious to understand how my bag of knowledge in economics and statistical software could be applied to real-world scenarios. I was fortunate to join BII+E at the perfect time, where they were starting a new project comparing tech sector wages in the U.S. and Canada. I had a chance to work with raw data from the American Community Survey and other related datasets to set the groundwork for this project’s success. Something I remember hearing in my first economics class was that we want to make an apples-to-apples comparison for a meaningful analysis. To do this I conducted extensive research on how the U.S. and Canada are different in their ways of defining various demographic variables such as race and what is classified as a visible minority. I also worked on a detailed literature review of data and methodologies that can be utilized in making a fair comparison.
While this project took the bulk of my time, I was also able to further develop my R skills by visualizing “bump charts” using software packages like “ggplot” and “ggbump”. Moreover, I was also able to collaborate with Viet in updating fonts in an existing package using “showtext”. I was also able to gain an understanding from Michelle on how to manage these projects. This entailed learning a new platform Monday.com to create timelines, link project charters, the Research Ethics Board (REB) process applications, and keep communication clear and organized.
It all begins with disciplined reading
During my time at BII+E, there was a lot of emphasis on rebranding the website to help cater to a larger audience. To achieve this, Nina initiated news scans and sent relevant articles every Monday. Reading these articles I was interested in raising awareness about various issues in the economy. To accomplish this, I collaborated with Viet and Nina to work on a blog piece entitled, “Does the cooling tech labour market signal trouble for the Canadian economy?”. This blog reflects BII+E’s take on why hiring freezes and layoffs are taking place in giant companies like Meta, Shopify and Amazon.
Curiosity can make your time even more interesting
During my first team meeting I was given many useful tips, but I believe the one that resonated the most with me was, “to keep my eyes and ears open,” and to be aware of what other people are working on. Keeping this in mind, I always made an effort to satisfy my curiosity by asking Michelle if I can be involved in other aspects of BII+E. This led to a valuable conversation with Mark and Erin about how we acquire funding for BII+E and also shadow consultations with well-known people in the scale-up ecosystem.
The only regret I have about BII+E – that it was too short.
Although my time at BII+E was brief, it was extremely beneficial for me. I engaged with mentors like Michelle and Viet, whose expertise I could utilize in navigating this overwhelming world of work, a peer like Ibrahim (a fellow Research Assistant) who was always ready to offer his support, especially with R, and a work buddy like Azana Hyder (former Business Development Associate) who I could cool down with when something felt overwhelming.
If I have one tip to give to any RAs joining, it’s something Erin Ellis (Manager of Strategic Partnerships) always mentioned, “You don’t know, what you don’t know.” Therefore, we should not hesitate in reaching out to relevant individuals to fill our knowledge gaps. Furthermore, I believe it is vital to make the most out of the initial coffee chats to learn not only about BII+E, but also how every team member contributes to its growth. You never know what field can pique your curiosity and help you grow better personally and professionally.