June 25, 2019
Departing Pre-Doctoral Fellows Reflect on Experience Gained
Trinetta Chong, Ananya Kotia, Nadia Lucas, Yixin Sun and Henry Zhang ready to take the next step.
The 2019 class of departing pre-doctoral fellows, from left to right: Trinetta Chong, Nadia Lucas, Ananya Kotia, Henry Zhang and Yixin Sun
As the 2018-19 academic year comes to a close, EPIC is bidding farewell to five pre-doctoral fellows who made major contributions to the institute’s research while honing valuable new skills and advancing a thriving academic and social research community.
“All of our research assistants work incredibly hard and grow so much during their time at EPIC,” says EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School. “Their passion and dedication are critical to the faculty's research. They leave very well prepared for the next phases of their careers but also having had a lot of fun in contributing to the special EPIC community. We will miss them but look forward to staying in touch.”
The highly competitive fellowship provides young researchers who have completed their bachelor’s degrees the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience in a full-time work environment under the guidance of EPIC-affiliated faculty and researchers. This year’s departing class—including Trinetta Chong, Ananya Kotia, Nadia Lucas, Yixin Sun and Henry Zhang—are moving on to the next step in their careers with the backing of a strong support network of professors and postdoctoral scholars who helped advance their research skills, knowledge base and career paths.
Lucas and Sun will remain at the University of Chicago to pursue their PhDs in economics, joining several other recent EPIC alumni. Sun, who will pursue her PhD through the Booth School of Business, spent nearly three years at EPIC and worked primarily with Booth Assistant Professor Thomas Covert on research examining the efficiency of oil and gas leasing in Texas. She credited Covert for his strong mentorship.
“Every project and task I get, he always wants me to understand the economic intuition for what we’re doing and the bigger picture,” Sun said.
The emphasis on understanding all components of research is part of the larger EPIC experience. Sun helped run a student lunch-and-learn series that promotes speakers from interdisciplinary backgrounds. She said that helped her become a better researcher and strengthened her sense of community at the University of Chicago.
“EPIC is a very unique space…where you see people doing truly great interdisciplinary work, and being able to bring that to people at the student level has been a really good part of the EPIC experience,” she said. “I truly believe EPIC is the best RA program possible because of the community that’s been fostered here.”
Lucas will pursue her PhD through UChicago’s renowned economics department. While an RA, she worked on industrial organization, particularly how lease terms affect drilling decision-making, with Ryan Kellogg, professor and deputy dean at the Harris School of Public Policy. In addition to feeling well prepared for her PhD thanks to the hard technical skills and better understanding of academic research gained from her time at EPIC, Lucas credited the institute with guiding her toward doing impactful research in the future.
“What EPIC has taught me is that I want to think really carefully about the policy implications and the impactfulness of any sort of research I go into,” she said. “I don’t want to be doing research in a bubble.”
EPIC pre-doctoral fellows and faculty at the 2019 pre-doctoral retreat in Park City, Utah.
Chong, who started at the same time as Sun in September 2016, worked for the Climate Impact Lab, an interdisciplinary collaboration measuring the costs of climate change to society. Before coming to EPIC, Chong spent more than two years at the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources in her native Singapore.
“I wanted to be closer to data and research, and those goals were definitely fulfilled in my time here,” said Chong, who is pursuing work in machine learning and data visualization. “I picked up new programming skills and got to be a part of a multi-disciplinary research team. I’m incredibly grateful for this experience”
So, after three years, what advice would she give to the next batch of pre-doctoral fellows?
“It’s OK not to know, but it’s not OK to not want to learn,” she said.
Kotia, who hopes to one day return to his native India to teach, worked for Greenstone on a variety of research projects including rural electrification in Bihar, India, and the effectiveness of protected marine fishing areas. He echoed Chong’s sentiment about how much his time at EPIC bolstered his hard technical skills, adding that the experience also provided valuable insight into the details of the full research project.
“Just seeing and hearing discussions that co-authors and senior academics have about high-level messaging that the paper is trying to convey, how to write a paper effectively, how you should be interpreting the results – I think that’s been super useful,” said Kotia, who will pursue his economics PhD at the London School of Economics this fall.
In addition to programs such as the student lunch-and-learn series Sun helped run, EPIC provides pre-doctoral fellows with the opportunity to take graduate-level courses and participate in a variety of seminars with faculty. Zhang, who will begin his PhD in economics this fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that feature dovetailed with his work on a variety of projects for Greenstone.
“Being on a variety of projects gave me a broad perspective on what Michael and other applied micro-economists are currently studying,” he said. “This nicely complemented being 'in the weeds' while doing project work for Michael. I will use both perspectives in graduate school as I begin my own research.
“Also, UChicago provided opportunities for me to listen to talks by accomplished researchers. From attending seminars and being in that environment, I saw how professors engage with each other’s research and how they think.”
Each of the pre-doctoral fellows expressed their appreciation for the strong academic and social community they built through EPIC.
“Being part of the EPIC community was so nice because it’s a community of people that support you in every aspect of your life, not just professionally,” Lucas said.
To learn more or apply for the epic predoctoral fellowship position, please visit https://www.epicpredoctoralfellowship.com/