PDRI-DevLab Predoctoral Research Program

Applications open now!

Find more information about the application here.

PDRI/DevLab@Penn at the University of Pennsylvania invites applications for its predoctoral fellowship program. The program seeks to provide hands-on research experience to early career researchers and expand the representation of researchers from low and lower-middle income countries in international development research.

We encourage applications from recent BA, BS, MA, or MS graduates with a strong desire to attend a top global PhD program in the social sciences; we particularly encourage applications from first generation college students and those who might otherwise find it difficult to make the transition to globally competitive PhD programs. We welcome applicants from a wide variety of research backgrounds and do not require a particular country focus or expertise.

The predoctoral researchers will work on PDRI/DevLab@Penn research projects, receive mentorship from Penn faculty, and take classes. The combination of applied research and traditional coursework qualify fellows for an F-1 student visa. Applicants should send the following materials:

  • C.V.
  • Transcript/s
  • A letter outlining research interests and fit with the goals of the fellowship
  • Two letters of recommendation

Send application materials to Tatiana Melnikova at  by September 15, 2023.

Virtual info session recording: https://upenn.zoom.us/rec/share/mCTvBgAQFXSARg4q1ZrJI5vnYpNWSFD8IjCgQRKB0tB7b3e-J9rKJShT_nNaAmDe.NqpfDEmAy_GZneYu

Passcode: .j1g?3ng

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is there an application fee? No, there is no fee associated with this application.
  • Is this a paid position? If so, what is the salary? Does this cover health insurance? For is come with any other benefits? The position comes with a stipend. The stipend is competitive with other predoctoral fellowships and will be sufficient to cover living expenses in Philadelphia. The position comes with student benefits, including health insurance.
  • Will a person in this position be considered a student, assistant, or an employee? To that end, is this a full-time position? This is a full-time student position. Students will earn credits through some traditional coursework, but many will be earned through applied learning on research projects. As with all applied research on international development, that work will be a combination of applied research and administrative support. The program qualifies matriculants for an F-1 student visa, which Penn will sponsor.
  • Will Penn cover the cost of my flights and embassy visa fee? PDRI-DevLab will cover up to $3,000, which can be applied to the cost of flights and/or embassy visa fees.
  • Will Penn/the lab sponsor visa? If so, what visa will the person be on? Will Penn help with visa transfer in instances when applicants are already in the US on various visas (i.e., J1, F1, OPT, H1-B)? See above.
  • What is the start date? How long is this appointment? We are accepting applications for pre-doctoral research fellowship ready to start in the Spring semester (January 2024). However, we are also open to applicants starting in the Summer (May/June) or Fall semester (September). Of course, some of this will depend on visa processing times. We expect the position to last for 1-2 years.
  • What references are you looking for? Professional or personal? We are looking for professional references that can attest to the candidate’s suitability for doing applied research in a dynamic, demanding environment. Letters of recommendation should focus on the candidate’s skills, including any technical research skills that the candidate possesses.
  • Can recommenders email their recommendations directly to the lab? Yes, recommenders can email their letters directly to tmeln@sas.upenn.edu with the subject line “predoc: [applicant’s last name]”.
  • What should my letter outlining research interests include? The letter outlining research interests should be 1-2 pages and clearly describe your substantive research interests and how they relate to the goals of this fellowship.
  • Is the knowledge of programming languages necessary to be considered? Our work is heavily focused on quantitative and computational social science research, so we’re especially interested in candidates with some background in quantitative methods and/or familiarity with computational tools (R/Python/etc). While an extensive background is not required, successful candidates should show a willingness and ability to develop these skills quickly.
  • Do I need to have a social science background? However, we are a social science lab, so the coursework and applied research will be social scientific. Applicants with backgrounds in medicine, business, etc. are welcome as long as they can display a strong interest in moving into the social sciences.
  • What transcripts should be submitted? Please include any transcripts associated with degrees from an accredited institution of higher education. This will include any college or university transcripts at the BA/BS or MA/MS level.
  • Are there any requirements for professional experience, such as number of years of professional experience, field of that experience, etc). However, professional experience is valued and should be discussed in your letter of application and/or statement of research interest (if the experience is relevant to your research interests).
  • Are candidates who did not get their degrees from universities in English speaking countries required to take TOEFL? No, candidates are not required to take TOEFL. However, candidates will be expected to complete a video call interview in English, and they may be asked to do a language assessment at a later stage of the interview process.
  • Can I have a video call? Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate having individual video calls. However, Erik Wibbels held a virtual information session on September 1st — the recording is available here: https://upenn.zoom.us/rec/share/mCTvBgAQFXSARg4q1ZrJI5vnYpNWSFD8IjCgQRKB0tB7b3e-J9rKJShT_nNaAmDe.NqpfDEmAy_GZneYu

Passcode: .j1g?3ng

For any other questions, please feel free to contact Prof. Erik Wibbels at ewibbels@sas.upenn.edu.

Program Information

Launched in 2022, the PDRI-DevLab predoctoral research program supports outstanding young scholars from low- and middle-income countries with interests in international development and potential for success in an academic career in the social sciences.

The program provides exceptional young scholars with an opportunity to work at Penn as full-time staff. Selected candidates work with leading faculty on a variety of international development research projects, invest in their technical research skills, enroll in classes, and become part of the international development research community at Penn.

While at Penn, predocs receive ongoing mentorship from Penn faculty, including advice and support on PhD applications. We expect individuals to work in this role for 1-2 years, before starting PhD level studies in the social sciences, or moving into applied social science careers.

Current Predoctoral Fellows

Takondwa (TK) Moyo
Takondwa has a Master of Science in Policy Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and a Bachelor of Science from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. TK is primarily supporting research projects on conservation and human trafficking.



Jitender Swami

Before coming to Penn, Jitender Swami worked as an Academic (Research & Teaching) Associate at the Indian Institute of Management Amritsar in the Department of Economics. Previously, he was a Writing Urban India Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, India, and a Research Intern at Hyderabad Urban Lab.

Jitender has a Masters in Development Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad and a Bachelors in Economics from the Central University of Karnataka. His interests lie in engaging with and contributing to academic research, especially the kind that strongly influences development policy and improves individual and collective human experiences.


Rethis Gansey

Before coming to Penn, Rethis worked at the Africa Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences (AIRESS) in Rabat, and previously served at the National Institute of Statistics and Demography (INStaD-Benin). Rethis has a Master’s in Economic Analysis and Public Polocy from Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, a Master’s in Development Economics from the University of Paris, Dauphine, and a Bachelor’s degree in Applied States from the University of Parakou.