By Mike Cummings
The Department of Economics and the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale have launched a pre-doctoral research assistant program that will provide college graduates considering scholarly careers the opportunity to work alongside faculty on data-driven, policy-relevant, research projects.
The program is part of the university’s ongoing effort to invest in policy-oriented social science and data-driven research, said Zack Cooper, associate professor of public health and economics.
“We’re focused on developing the next generation of Ph.D. economists,” said Cooper, who is managing the program together with Steven Berry, the inaugural Jeffrey Talpins Faculty Director of the Tobin Center. “The idea is to recruit, train, and develop an amazing group of research assistants, who are between college and graduate school, to support faculty research and prepare the research assistants to pursue their own Ph.D.s.”
Applications for the program are currently open. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree and an interest in economic research is welcome to apply.
The positions will begin next summer and last a year with the possibility of a second-year renewal. Research assistants will be assigned to one of more than a dozen research projects led by faculty members in the Department of Economics and Yale Schools of Public Health, Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Management. The projects cover a broad range of topics, including an analysis of the growth in prescription drug prices in the United States led by Cooper; a study of the effects of eviction on poverty, led by John Eric Humphreys, assistant professor of economics; and a project examining the market for foreclosed houses in Connecticut, led by Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez.
The Tobin Center was established this year to advance rigorous, evidence-based research that informs debate over public policy. Research assistants funded through the center will work on data-driven, domestic, economic policy questions, in line with the center’s mission, said Berry, the David Swensen Professor of Economics.
“We are very excited about the new economics pre-doctoral research assistant program,” said Berry. “The research assistants will receive formal training and professional development opportunities, as well as working closely with individual Yale faculty members.”
The experience opens up opportunities in economics and a range of data-focused professions, Berry noted.
“Many of the research assistants are likely to move on to economics Ph.D. programs,” he said. “Others might want to pursue graduate work in data science, in M.B.A. programs, or in public policy. Natural direct job opportunities would include data-oriented policy organizations and/or possibilities in data journalism.”
Research assistants have become an important resource in performing the nitty-gritty work of managing and analyzing the “terabytes and terabytes of data” involved in economic research, Cooper said.
“Micro-economists are starting to assemble research teams that look a lot like the labs you see in the bench sciences,” he said. “The research assistants will do everything from helping to carry out background research and literature reviews to engaging in the computer programming that is so essential to the work we’re doing.”
The research assistants will work in an open-office setting to offset the sometimes solitary nature of tasks like computer programming, Cooper said.
“We want to create an enjoyable environment with plenty of opportunities for development,” Cooper said. “They’ll be encouraged to take classes, attend research seminars, and participate in Yale’s rich academic community. We’ll give them support in preparing for grad-school entrance exams, and they’ll have the chance to sit down with individual faculty members and get a better sense of what the academic profession is like.”
The program also will promote diversity in the economics field, Cooper noted.
“It can be an on ramp into the profession for folks who have been underrepresented in the economics community,” he said. “This is part of training the next generation of researchers, and hopefully, 10 years out, it will have helped change the complexion of the profession for the better.”