Thomas Helbling | PhD International Economics (2000)

Division Chief, Research Department, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

I have now enjoyed a fulfilling nearly twenty-year stint as an economist at the International Monetary Fund. My decision to study at the Graduate Institute and my years there have profoundly influenced my career but also my life and I continue to have many fond memories of my time in Geneva.

During these tumultuous economic times, I am reminded why I chose this path.

I arrived in Geneva in the fall of 1989, a year and a half after obtaining an undergraduate degree in economics and business at the University of Basel. In the meantime, I had worked for a small consulting company. I was attracted to the Institute by its specialisation in international relations. Coming from a university where undergraduate classes were large, I appreciated the more personal atmosphere in the small classes and seminars. The Institute also offered opportunities. In my second year, I became a research assistant for a research project on competitiveness in banking that was led by Professors Genberg and Swoboda.

"My years at the Graduate Institute have profoundly influenced my career but also my life"

After my second year, I spent my summer as an intern at the International Monetary Fund. Switzerland was not an IMF member then, but the IMF was ready to accept Swiss interns in anticipation that Switzerland would soon become a member.

This experience turned out to be helpful when my time at the Institute came to an end. I was engaged after having met my future wife, Catherine Kuchta, at the Institute where she was a doctorate student in the political science department. She is American, and we were considering living for some time in the United States.

I was accepted into the IMF’s Economist Program and started in the fall of 1994. I have been at the IMF since. The work on a wide variety of global economic policy issues continues to be fascinating, and I enjoy the international work environment with great colleagues. All my assignments have involved some real life experiences with policy issues that we had discussed in the classes and seminars at the Institute.

In my first country desk assignment, for example, the exchange rate regime choice was an important part of the policy discussions with Lebanon. In recent years, I have been in the Research Department. There I led the work on monitoring international commodity market developments, a fascinating experience against the backdrop of the commodity boom of the past decade. Some years ago, I became chief of the World Economic Studies Division, the division that produces the World Economic Outlook. At a time when many economies still face deep macroeconomic problems, this work could not be more interesting.