Malawian Scholar headed to MIT following pre-doctoral research on voter fraud and misinformation

by Abby Thompson
June 21, 2023

Fanisi Mbozi (Scholar ‘21, Malawi) recently completed her studies in Political Science and a pre-doctoral research fellowship at NYU Abu Dhabi. She will move to the United States this fall to begin a Ph.D. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

When asked about her fondest memories from the Equitech Scholars Program, Fanisi recalled, “Writing Lab and Speaking Lab were my favorite courses because they encouraged us to be creative,” she replied. “I loved writing pieces and responses in the workshops and learning different writing techniques that my peers were using. I used to write a lot in high school, but in university, I leaned more towards the technical and statistical fields. Krittika’s Writing Lab class was a reminder of how much I still loved writing, sharing stories, and also listening to the stories of others. I also loved the exercises in Thomas’ Speaking Lab classes because I was a theater kid in high school.” 

Fanisi also enjoyed the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) courses because she got to learn about specific problems from around the world from her diverse group of peers. She also appreciated the idea of creating a shared document wherein Scholars could record the problems that exist in their part of the world and discuss innovative ways to mitigate these problems. 

Over the past year, Fanisi has been working on a pre-doctoral research fellowship entitled “When do Voters see Fraud? An Analysis of Voter Preferences in Polling Station Supervision.” The research focuses on election fraud and peoples’ perceptions of election fraud. 

Her research is based on the 2019 presidential election in Malawi. At the end of an election day, each polling station produces a summary of votes and signatures of partisan and nonpartisan election monitors; Fanisi wanted to research whether citizens care about the presence or absence of these poll monitors at their stations and compare how each monitor (partisan and nonpartisan) impacted their trust in the election outcome. 

“I did an experiment that asks people, ‘what do you think about this information I’m giving you?’ You could do this for a lot of things to model how people evaluate evidence. Oftentimes, people have a negative view of evidence and how information spreads. For example, during Covid-19, a lot of incorrect information was produced in the United States. I’m interested in asking the question ‘What are the global centers of information, and how does information travel, and how do people evaluate it?’”

In addition to her coursework, Fanisi completed a beginner course in Arabic and served as the co-president of a student organization building a research lab for the development of economics research. Moreover, she worked with students interested in corporate social responsibility and organized a staff appreciation day for the campus workers employed in security, dining, and janitorial services. Fanisi said that workers in those sectors are often overlooked on campus, and it’s important to take time to appreciate them.

When asked about her future career path, she said, “I want a career in research. It would be cool to work with government organizations in Malawi like the Election Commission. There are a lot of accessible sources of data, but collaborating with government organizations to access public and administrative data would enhance my own research. I’d love to create a portal to make more of that data accessible for Malawians. I also want to explore the topic of political misinformation and its impacts.”

Fanisi has this advice for future cohorts of Equitech Scholars: “Try to get to know your cohort members. Social interaction is great, and listening to people talk about what they find interesting has been really informative. It’s helped me think about what I find interesting and consider new ways to think about things. The value of having such a global cohort and meeting people from different places is that we may have similar problems and yet different ways to think about things. You can only do this through really listening to one another.”

Anodya Mishra contributed to this article.

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