My experiences at the OECD

An interview with Francisca Vargas Lopes
Zorgverlener helpt oudere man met een tablet
Francisca Vargas Lopes in front of flags at the OECD

In 2022, Francisca Vargas Lopes decided that she wanted to do an internship. Following her research interests she joined the OECD where she worked as part of a team working on Mental health and Disability over the past few months. In this interview Francisca shares the insights she has gained during her internship and wants to encourage her fellow PhD students within SCBH to do one as well. 

How long have you been a member of Smarter Choices for Better Health (SCBH) and what is your role in the initiative?

I joined the initiative in September 2018, which coincided with my move to the Netherlands and the start of my PhD at Erasmus MC at the department for Public Health, with joint supervision from the Department of Applied Economics – Health Economics at the Erasmus School of Economics. I am a PhD candidate of SCBH 1.0 and was a member of the action line Health Equity.

What are your research interests and what was /is the focus of your research during your time within SCBH?

With my research I aim to support evidence-based policy-making through a better understanding of how policy can (sometimes unintendedly) contribute to health care and health inequalities. During my PhD I have been applying quasi-experimental methods to evaluate policies with a causal lense, in line with methodologies of impact evaluation. I have used large administrative datasets to identify differential effects of public programs and reforms by socioeconomic status, mostly in the domain of mental health.

Why have you decided to do an internship with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)?

I conduct research with the objective of informing decision-makers on topics impacting population health. Given my focus on producing evidence with societal impact I have a natural interest for institutions like the OECD, which role is to inform, advise, influence and set international standards for policy-making, based on evidence. I was particularly keen to join the OECD because of the focus on high income countries (as my own work) and for its reputation, including the technical quality and independence of the work conducted. One other relevant factor behind my choice was the platform that the OECD has with country governments, through dedicated structures (counselors, ambassadors, and Committees) that allow the policy dialogue at both technical and high political level.

Describe your role and your tasks at the OECD – what did a day look like for you?

I have joined the OECD to work at the Skills and Employability division of the Employment Labour and Social affairs directorate. I was part of a team working on Mental health and Disability, namely on policy that integrates these topics with labour, education, and welfare domains.

During the five months I have spent with this team at the OECD I have been involved in three projects that were very different in nature and type of tasks. Therefore, my days could vary a lot – they could be spent mostly in both internal and external meetings and interactions/interviews with stakeholders, or reading and summarizing evidence, or also scoping and analyzing data. Towards the end of my internship, I have spent considerable time drafting two chapters for an OECD report. When compared to my usual PhD days the major differences related to the amount of interaction with colleagues and stakeholders – much higher at the OECD, and the faster paced environment in the Organization – progress and project decisions would sometimes have to be achieved in a day, or there could be the need to prepare a summary/response in a couple of hours.

To what extent and how were you able to apply your research in your work at the OECD?

I would use my research and the knowledge I gathered during my PhD on a daily basis in several different ways. First, I have often discussed the findings of my projects with colleagues, and presented one of my papers in an OECD seminar. Second, I would apply the content knowledge that I gained when conducting my research daily, mostly on the topic of mental health. Third, I worked on a project that included similar data preparation and analyses to those in my studies. And finally, I have used the knowledge of applied microeconometrics and experience in conducting quasi-experimental work to identify the empirical approach for this same project, which aimed at evaluating a reform for an OECD country.

What was the impact your work left behind at the OECD?

I have actively contributed to ongoing projects, with concrete outputs such as OECD report chapters or the study design for a policy evaluation project. Furthermore, I have also contributed to future work on the topic of mental health, by actively leading a project scoping exercise during my time there.

What impact did your internship at the OECD have on your research and on you as a person?

The time at the OECD impacted my research agenda by broadening my knowledge and experience in mental health policy beyond the field of health care, namely policy on these topics for the domains of labour, education, and welfare. This was also my first experience working on the topic of disability, expanding my research interest towards the intersection between disability and mental health. More broadly as a professional I have learnt a lot during these months. I have gained organizational knowledge about the OECD and a good understanding about multilateralism and the international policy-making arena. I have also gained insight on how to effectively bridge research and policy in achieving societal impact, and reactivated several soft and interpersonal skills that I have been using less during my PhD trajectory. I came back from the internship to my PhD feeling reenergized to continue and with ideas for further research.

What recommendation would you give to other PhD students within Smarter Choices for Better Health when considering doing an internship?

If interested in policy-making I would definitely recommend SCBH PhD students to take advantage of the existing internship programs in international organization such as the OECD, World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank (WB), among others. These programs/vacancies are advertised online, and you can apply in the organizational websites. However, because of the large amount of candidates, I would recommend to first identify people working in these organizations with similar research interests, and connect with them to scope whether they will be having interns. By directly discussing the internship with the hiring manager you will have a better understanding of what the projects and tasks will be, and eventually shape them in an interesting way for you. This was the case of my experience at the OECD, and probably the reason why I have enjoyed it so much!


PhD student
Francisca Vargas Lopes

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes