IMF executive talks life choices, global economy

Outgoing Jackson Institute fellow Rakesh Mohan ’71 encouraged students not to worry about their future career prospects in a Friday talk.
Outgoing Jackson Institute fellow Rakesh Mohan ’71 encouraged students not to worry about their future career prospects in a Friday talk. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Speaking before an audience of roughly 10 students last Friday, a renowned urban economist, public servant and outgoing Jackson Institute for Global Affairs fellow discussed the relatively low stakes involved in students’ life choices.

Rakesh Mohan ’71, India’s executive director-designate for the International Monetary Fund, discussed the nonlinear progression of his career. He came to Yale as an undergraduate having already earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Imperial College London. He later went on earn a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton, work for the Indian government and join the IMF. He encouraged audience members to pursue their own interests without worrying about their future career prospects, adding that students should capitalize on the diversity of career paths available after graduation.

“You must do what really interests you,” Mohan said. “It will get you where you want to be eventually. There are far more options now to be involved in different ways from the total private sector to the public sector.”

Mohan said he originally chose to study engineering because of the South Asian cultural bias toward math and science, but he added that he grew dissatisfied with his career path. On a respite from his job on the shop floor of the tank-manufacturing firm the Armstrong Institute, he stumbled across a copy of the Yale Blue Book. He described this event as crucial to his choice to change careers and apply to Yale as an undergraduate, a decision he described as proof that “things may not turn out as you expect.”

Mohan also spoke about the global economy and his views on the modern city. He said the biggest threat to today’s world economy is a potential euro crisis.

“Because of the vastly interconnected nature of the financial system, when there is a crisis, it’s massive,” he said.

Mohan contrasted India’s 1991 IMF rescue package with Greece’s present-day bailout as an example of the increasingly strong ties between international economies: Greece’s $175 billion bailout dwarfed India’s $5 billion one, despite India’s significantly larger population.

Although many question the purpose of cities in the postindustrial world, Mohan said that technological progress will not make a city’s primary strength, which he described as face-to-face human interaction, obsolete.

Mohan said in an interview after his talk that he will miss interacting with students once he leaves Yale to work for the IMF.

“[Being a Jackson Institute fellow] was a great experience both in terms of the work I am doing and the teaching,” Mohan said. “The students have been excellent in the courses I have taught in the last two years.”

Two students interviewed at the event said they enjoyed Mohan’s talk.

Abigail Olvera GRD ’14 said she appreciated Mohan’s frankness and his encouragement that students pursue their passions. Natalie Langburd ’14 said she thought Mohan’s points on the modern city were particularly interesting.

“His point about personal interaction was one of the more fascinating parts,” Langburd said. “As interconnected as we are through social media, at the end of the day, there will always be a need for cities.”

Mohan assumed his position at the IMF on Nov. 1.

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