DRW fellows have the opportunity to carry out individual research projects while also working alongside faculty to develop their research skills. These fellowships are available to accepted University of Chicago graduate students.
EPIC launched the DRW Graduate Fellowship in Economics & Policy in 2017 to support students focused on contributing to energy, environment or climate research while pursuing advanced degrees at the University of Chicago. In addition to rigorous academic training, DRW fellows have opportunities to work closely with EPIC affiliated faculty on a variety of research initiatives.
“In addition to the coursework, I am looking forward to learning new ways that econometric and computational methods can be used to inform policy. Receiving this fellowship allows me to do so while continuing to contribute to impactful hands-on data analysis and research.”
– Parth Khare, 2018 DRW Fellow
As an example of the types of experiences DRW fellows gain, one of the first DRW fellows, Harshil Sahai, spent a summer working with EPIC-India to explore a range of possible research topics. In one project, he is looking at the long-run effects of extreme temperatures on educational outcomes to better understand how climate change might affect a country’s economic growth. In another project, he is exploring why fewer people use pollution masks in some cities, such as Delhi, compared to others, such as Beijing. He will be delving further into these research projects over the course of his studies.
Will Seonmin Heo
Jenna Allard, a doctoral candidate in Public Policy at the Harris School, explored electrification policy and environmental regulation in developing countries. Previously, she worked on energy and environment issues in the private, non-profit, and policy sectors for nearly a decade. Allard spent three years working as a research manager at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which conducts evaluations to test and improve the effectiveness of policies and builds partnerships with policymakers to ensure those policies are driven by evidence and able to be scaled up. At J-PAL, Allard managed energy and environment projects across seven states in India and supervised field activities that included surveys of 30,000 households and 9,000 businesses. Her projects ranged from industrial air and water pollution regulation, to electricity allocation and tariff revision, to solar micro-grid development and fuel efficiency.
Jennifer Boughton is earning her master’s in environmental science and policy at Harris after spending the past several years working abroad. Boughton, who earned a bachelor’s in political science and Spanish from The Ohio State University, worked with Harris Assistant Professor Eyal Frank on a variety of projects at the intersection of ecology and economics. Projects included calculating the impacts of animal waste from factory farms on nearby residents, examining the shortcomings of the Sustainable Fishers Act of 1996, exploring the effects of the Endangered Species Act on property values and evaluating the effect of using high levels of pesticide in a region in Vietnam. Prior to enrolling at Harris, Boughton was a government relations assistant for W2Worth Innovations in Manila, Philippines, during summer 2017. Before that, she taught English in Bogota, Columbia, as a Teaching Fellow for the IIE Fulbright Association. She is fluent in Spanish, having lived in Venezuela for seven years as a child.
David Foote, a MSCAPP student, assisted Harris assistant professor Eyal Frank by performing geospatial analysis on potential economic impacts of a set of particular conservation efforts throughout the country. Foote also searched for data sets from governmental and private organizations, inspected the data for usefulness, and verified the data.
Michael Galperin’s interests in environmental and energy topics developed during his undergraduate study at the University of Chicago. His senior year, he enrolled in a course taught by Anjali Adukia on Education Policy in Development Contexts. Though he was already studying economics, the class showed him how economic analysis and tools can be used to improve the living condition of the world’s poor. “The combination of these interests brought me to apply to work at EPIC, which engages in a broad variety of energy and development projects,” he said.
Now Michael is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, working on a variety of research projects with Michael Greenstone. Currently, he is working on a project that examines whether changes made in administrative structure within a state electricity company in India could increase rates of payment for electricity.
“Development projects aimed at increasing energy access often invest heavily in physical infrastructure such as generation and transmission lines. However, this alone may not be enough to increase access if the institutions responsible for energy distribution are inefficient, corrupt, or unprepared for expansion,” Michael explained. “This strand of research is one of a number of EPIC projects emphasizing the importance of policy and institutional design in increasing energy access.”
Michael’s previous experience involves an internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a research assistantship with UChicago Professor Marianne Bertrand. He is most interested in questions of development and political economy as they relate to energy access.
During his fellowship at EPIC, Michael looks forward to being exposed to a broad variety of research topics that will allow him to explore his academic interests and prepare him for graduate school.
“I hope to refine my academic interests and become exposed to exciting new ideas as I begin my research career,” he explained. “Working with Michael [Greenstone] is great, because he is very invested in the personal development of his RAs. He is always recommending papers for us to read, and encourages us to work fairly independently and take an active role in the development of our projects.”
Will Seonmin Heo, who is pursuing a Master of Public Policy, worked with Harris associate professor Koichiro Ito on attribute-based regulations in the automotive industries by collecting data on the global car market and examining automobile tax structure.
“This fellowship provided me a great opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge on the field of energy economics.”
Prior to joining Harris, Will Seonmin Heo served three years as a military intelligence officer in the Air Force. Afterwards, Heo plans to pursue a PhD to tackle policy challenges through research.
Animesh Jayant is pursuing a master’s in public policy with certificate in research methods (MACRM) degree after working as a senior research associate at the South Asia office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). There he worked closely with Michael Greenstone on projects that aim to design, implement and test reforms for improving collection rates and power supply in the state of Bihar. Prior to joining J-PAL, he worked as a consultant in PwC’s emerging technologies practice. He worked with Harris Public Policy Assistant Professor Fiona Burlig on rural electrification and electricity access projects in India.
Parth Khare will be pursuing a masters in computational analysis and public policy at the Harris School after having worked as a data science consultant for the Chief Economic Adviser of the Indian Ministry of Finance. There, he designed and implemented big data-driven civic tech solutions and extensively analyzed satellite-based (air pollution, climatological, urban footprint and nightlights) data for the last three Indian Economic Surveys. This work included co-authoring a study assessing the long-term impact of climate change on Indian agriculture as part of this year’s survey. He has also worked in data analytics and science positions for several companies in India, including for the New Delhi branch of Nielsen.
Nadia Lucas entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) intending to earn an engineering degree. Late in her undergraduate career, she realized that economics is what she really wanted to do.
A member of the cross-country team and, later, the crew team at MIT, Lucas did a summer research internship at the National Bureau for Economic Research before her senior year. That fall and through the academic year, she worked for a labor economist at MIT, examining poverty rates for seniors and household financial decision-making.
Lucas, who eventually plans to get a PhD in economics, said she was attracted to EPIC because of its research reputation.
“I didn’t necessarily come from an energy background, but EPIC stood out to me as a lab that does a lot of really awesome research,” she said.
After graduating from MIT in spring 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematical economics, Lucas accepted a pre-doctoral fellowship under Ryan Kellogg, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. Lucas is currently examining how land lease contracts affect oil companies’ decision-making on when to drill in shale fields, and thus, how such contracts distort oil markets.
The modeling Lucas did on optimal savings rates for seniors as an undergraduate comes in handy for this analysis. Kellogg had Lucas use a similar approach to determine a firm’s optimal time to drill and build upon that model to capture other aspects of firm decision-making.
“I’ve learned to take a much closer look at the industry,” Lucas said. “There are so many institutional factors you need to take a closer look at when examining the price of oil. This job has really opened my eyes to the need to take a deep dive into any industry you do research in.”
Regardless of what she ends up doing, Lucas said EPIC’s approach to research will serve her well.
“I think being at EPIC has taught me that I don’t have to live in an ivory tower when I do research, and I think I’m definitely going to be trying to do some sort of research that has a broader policy impact in whatever field I end up going into,” Lucas said. “I think EPIC is amazing at exposing you to that side of economics.”
Johanna Rayl’s increasing interest in environmental topics led her to focus her research on climate change.
“I realized early on in college that climate change presents a fascinating, complex, and never-ending challenge that intersects with nearly every other social issue,” she said.
This realization has consistently motivated her academic and research interests. She went on to major in Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in California. She also interned for Resources for the Future (RFF), where she focused on water markets in Chile. There, water is privately owned and freely tradable. Specifically, Johanna examined the prices at which non-consumptive water rights were traded to determine how they affected the rights’ values.
“The process of obtaining, cleaning and analyzing the data for this project was a natural precursor to my work at EPIC,” she said.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, Johanna is working with Michael Greenstone on his E2e Project, a joint collaboration with the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley and the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT that focuses on energy efficiency. Working on the E2e Project, Johanna realizes the importance that empirical findings have on policy that is focused on energy efficiency.
“For the broader field of climate and energy economics,” she added, “E2e projects contribute important findings on what role energy efficiency can and should play in the mitigation of carbon emissions.”
In the future, Johanna plans to continue her research in a PhD program. In the meantime, she hopes that her fellowship at EPIC will provide her with a clearer understanding of the skills she will develop in graduate school.
Pete Rodrigue, an MSCAPP student, spent the summer with Harris assistant professor Eyal Frank. He focused on invasive pests that kill trees and investigated what indirect effect they may have had on air quality. The fellowship helped Rodrigue transition from pure social science research to work at the intersection of social and environmental phenomena.
Harshil Sahai is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, assisting Michael Greenstone with broad environmental and energy research projects. He is interested in Environmental and Energy Economics and its intersections with financial markets, regulation, and firm behavior, having previously been a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission. He earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, in Mathematics and Economics from Swarthmore College.
Coming on board with EPIC has meant a shift in focus for Harshil. His past research and work experience focused mainly on big-data empirical research in the financial markets and policy realm, such as credit default swap indexes, dark pools and structured notes. He is now exploring the crossroads between energy, industrial organization, and applied microeconomics, and is broadly interested in answering questions about how energy, cap-and-trade, and related financial markets can be utilized to abate pollution and carbon emissions.
“Naturally, energy and environmental economics is a fantastic avenue to use the tools of applied micro and smart empirical methods to answer difficult, challenging, and relevant policy questions using good data,” he says.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, Harshil observed first-hand the growth of alternative energy and the impact it has had both on a broad and local level.
“My family was one of the first in the block to adopt solar panels when I was very young, and I was immediately interested in how household decisions can impact the environment at large,” he says.
Later travelling to India with family and then to China to study Chinese, Harshil realized immediately the true scope of the problem of air and water pollution outside of the US. His travels in part influenced his interest to study the market dynamics of energy and environment challenges. For Harshil, climate change, air pollution, and energy usage are some of the most imminent issues with billions of life-years at stake. He looks forward to contributing to the growing field of Energy Economics and being part of the EPIC team.
“EPIC’s collaboration with Booth, Harris, and the Department of Economics is a perfect launch pad for trying to pull together experts across disciplines to understand these issues better, and ask the right questions,” he says. “I see it as a microcosm of a larger movement of thinkers and researchers dedicated to understanding the relationship between humans and the environment.”
Sushmita Singha, an MSESP student, spent her summer working on a randomized study on the cooling effect from rooftop painting. Her responsibilities entailed running regression models for impact evaluation, visualizing data, and documenting results for academic publication.
“The Summer Fellowship was an excellent opportunity to work on policy research, using econometric techniques. It not only brought more clarity in my understanding about fixed effect models, but it also helped me further hone my data skills. I have been working on energy, environmental, and urban development policy research for some time now, and I plan to continue working in this field in the foreseeable future. At EPIC, the effort is to fill the gap in evidence needed for effective policy-making in developing countries like India. I hope to continue making meaningful contribution in evidence-building.”
Sushmita joined the Harris School after several years of professional and academic research in India. As a senior research associate at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), she worked on a rural electric power project under the supervision of professors at UC Berkeley, and EPIC-India Executive Director Ken Lee. Before that, Sushmita worked on environment, urban, and economic research and project management at several organizations in New Delhi, including the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). She has a master’s in Economics from TERI School of Advanced Studies.
A native of Guangzhou, China, Yuqi Song has continued to develop her research skills since coming to America in 2010. Along the way, she realized she wants to find policy solutions to major environmental and energy issues through economic research, with particular attention to her native land.
That makes Song’s position as a research assistant for the Climate Impact Lab, a project co-led by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, a natural fit. Greenstone focuses much of his research on environmental and energy challenges in China.
“When I grew up, China was going through this transition where it has to focus on the growth of the economy, with the idea that we were sacrificing environmental benefits, and when we got richer we would always have time and money to go back and [address environmental issues],” Song said. “The more time that goes on, the pollution is getting worse and worse. People are beginning to doubt if we could ever go back to what we had.”
Song first met Greenstone as an undergraduate at MIT, from which she graduated in 2014 with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics. She decided to do a senior thesis on a Chinese license plate program that limits when residents can drive to reduce pollution. Greenstone, who at the time was the 3M Professor of Environmental Economics at MIT, agreed to be Song’s thesis advisor.
Later, unsure of her desire to pursue an economics PhD, Song enrolled in a finance program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which meant she also took additional economics courses. Most of her research at Booth was policy- and China-related.
While finishing her MBA at Booth in early 2017, Song reconnected with Greenstone and took a part-time job at EPIC for several months. In September she came on board as a full-time research assistant. Song plans to get a PhD in economics and hopes to one day tackle global challenges through academic research or an organization such as the International Monetary Fund or World Bank.
Yixin Sun she worked at a startup specializing in credit insurance and for the Global Capital markets Division at Morgan Stanley. But it was during a sustainable development class at Columbia University—where she studied Economic-Statistics—that she developed an interest in energy and the environment.
She went on to intern at the Earth Institute at Columbia and do a research assistantship for Douglas Almond, an associate professor who specializes in Health and Economics. It was Almond, a former research assistant to Michael Greenstone, who recommended that Yixin apply to the EPIC fellowship.
“I definitely didn’t take a linear path to get to EPIC,” explained Yixin, “But I like to think that having a diverse background is uniquely important to the field of economics because it requires you to more holistically take in information.”
Yixin is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC working as a research assistant to Thom Covert. Her project revolves around confidentiality laws and how well data affects the asymmetric information problem in oil and gas drilling and leasing.
Yixin is happy to be a part of the EPIC team because of the diverse set of topics that EPIC affiliates are working on.
“More importantly, I saw that the work produced here had real world policy implications, which is an exciting and meaningful element that definitely isn’t true at every research institution,” she said.