A University of Canterbury (UC) student spent an American summer researching how insurgents in Afghanistan modify their
UC management and economics student Manish Muthukrishnan applied for the four-week Data and Policy Summer Scholar
programme at University of Chicago (UChicago), in the United States, to improve his data analytics skills.
The programme gave Muthukrishnan the chance to work on a research project analysing data about Improvised Explosive
Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. The research lead was Assistant Professor at UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy,
Austin Wright, who gave the scholars access to a constrained data set collected by the US Armed Forces.
“The data was related to IEDs – when they were found, how many were neutralised and how many activated. This data can be
overlaid with other events such as timing of elections to gather meaningful insight about the insurgent’s strategies,”
“We were asked to find trends and insights and create a policy memo at the end of the capstone project that summarised
The students first learnt “R” and quantitative analysis skills. “R” is a powerful statistical environment and
programming language used for data analyses, as well as other tasks. Analysis using these tools revealed some
interesting trends, he says.
“One of the key findings from our analysis was that the insurgents are actively learning and modifying their techniques
in response to the counter-insurgent's neutralisation technologies and strategies. In fact, there is no long-term
improvement in the clearing rate [proportion of IED neutralised to total IED events], even though the counter-insurgents
have spent billions of dollars on IED neutralisation.”
Muthukrishnan was one of 40 students selected globally for the programme and he felt extremely lucky to be part of a
diverse team of scholars.
“All of my peers were passionate and driven people who cared deeply about knowledge and learning. I learnt a lot from
them by engaging in group work and discussions.”
The participants had a choice of three capstone projects: insurgent learning in Afghanistan, hate crime in the United
States and changing nature of refugee camps around the world. Although he worked on the insurgency project,
Muthukrishnan also gained insights into the other projects.
“I was also interested in learning more about hate crime in the USA. I was able to understand some of the risk factors
that increase hate crime in a region. That was quite eye-opening. Apparently, district-wide income inequality is one of
the strongest correlated factors with hate-crime incidence.
“A lot more work can be done to improve collection and reporting of hate-crime data in the US. That would really improve
the efficacy of hate-crime research. ”
While at UC, Muthukrishnan is absorbing as much knowledge as possible.
“I have used my time at university to explore many different experiences and topics. This project was part of that
learning process. I was also keen on attending UChicago because of its reputation in the economics world.
“I was able to visit a room there with Professor Milton Friedman's Nobel Prize and I found that experience to be very
UC Business School supported Muthukrishnan to attend the UChicago summer programme.