Applying lessons from the waiting room: Meet economics MA grad Sina Kavuncu

June 6, 2024 by Kate Baggott - Department of Economics

Sina Kavuncu spent hours of his childhood in the hospital. He wasn’t ill — the little boy was making observations that would eventually lead him to the field of health economics.

“Both of my parents are physicians, so I had to spend a lot of time at hospitals waiting for them,” the master's graduand explained. “I would see all these inefficiencies and all these frustrated people. The more you see them, the more you understand that yes, health is important. It is important to have great professionals who know what they’re doing, but also, it is important to have an efficient system where you don’t have to wait ten hours just to have one of the most basic human needs of life met.”

Deeply affected by what he saw, Kavuncu has already dedicated six years to studies inspired by his childhood experiences. On June 5th, Kavuncu and the rest of his cohort visited Convocation Hall to formally receive their master’s in economics degrees. While the undergraduate programs in economics can feature large classes, with students centred at their colleges for social opportunities, graduate programs focus on the Department of Economics itself.

The master's program brings together a small but diverse group of students who see each other in same classes and in the shared workrooms every day. Each cohort creates a unique team dynamic, and every individual contributes to the social and academic life of their year. Students in the program become close friends.

“Sina is a brilliant, down-to-earth genius who always made me feel at ease, no matter how hectic it was,” said fellow graduand Neha Gupta. “He is also an incredibly gifted musician with a wickedly good sense of humour and candid nature.”

Kavuncu has had time to become comfortable here. After high school, he spent a year in Edinburgh and five years ago returned to Toronto to do his undergraduate degree here. In September, he will return to the department’s Max Gluskin House to start his PhD in economics. The institutional knowledge he has gained here has already been — and will continue to be — of great benefit to the students he meets at a teaching assistant.

“Sina was always there to help us out. He has an uncanny ability to come up with unique examples to clarify tricky economic concepts,” said class colleague Andisheh Danaee. “He is destined to become a great professor one day.”

From Kavuncu’s side, being a good TA is rooted in remembering what his own undergraduate experience is like.

“I have a been tested, like the undergrads are being tested, to see if they are a good fit for academia,” Kavuncu remembered. “I have been a part of those same classrooms they’ve been learning in and, like them, I owe whatever knowledge about economics I’ve gained to what happened there, and during the professors’ and TAs’ office hours. I don’t want to waste students’ time when they come to see me for help. I know what they’re going through, and I help them the way I would have liked to be helped. My experience here helps me to adjust to the undergrad mindset. It’s made me happy to come back. I think it was the right decision.”

Professor Courtney Ward, whom Kavuncu works with as a TA, agrees that he has been making good decisions.

“I am delighted that Sina will join our PhD program this year,” she said. “Not only has he connected with people over his research interests, but he has also shown mentorship capabilities with our undergraduate students, delivering a guest lecture in ECO402 on physician incentives, which then became one of the most popular topics among students in the course. He has a unique way of connecting with students over economics, holding weekly office hours in Econometrics and Health Economics throughout this last year. I look forward to seeing his scholarship develop here with us at U of T.”