Pre-doctoral fellowships serve as a one- or two-year bridge program between college and a doctoral program. Recipients gain an in-depth understanding of the entire research process while undergoing intensive career development as part of a close-knit community.
Intended for those with at least a Bachelor’s degree, EPIC’s pre-doctoral fellowships allow awardees to gain hands-on interdisciplinary research training in preparation for a doctoral program in economics or another quantitative social science. Pre-doctoral fellows are paired with an EPIC-affiliated faculty member who serves as a mentor in guiding them through the research process. Responsibilities span all stages of research, from managing projects and collecting and analyzing data to creating presentations and editing manuscripts. In addition to working closely with faculty as research assistants, pre-doctoral fellows often attend classes and seminars at EPIC, the University of Chicago and affiliate institutions.
Along with the day-to-day contact with EPIC faculty supervisors, the fellowship provides two key events for professional training. At the beginning of each year, pre-doctoral fellows participate in a five-day orientation and training workshop. The training sessions cover topics from data management practices to econometric methods and science communication tools. In the winter, EPIC holds a retreat dedicated to career development. Faculty present on issues such as completing applications to graduate school, developing research ideas and projects, applying to grants, and performing cutting-edge statistical methods. They also provide advice on how to avoid common mistakes and succeed in graduate school.
EPIC’s outstanding pre-doctoral fellows have gone on to some of the country’s top PhD programs, securing places in Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; Urban Planning at the University of California at Berkeley; and more. Five pre-doctoral fellows have won prestigious and highly-competitive National Science Foundation grants in the last two years.
“EPIC and Thom have worked hard to create the best learning experience possible. Thom always takes the time to break down convoluted economic concepts into their basic forms, and creates an open environment for intellectual curiosity. EPIC also has an unparalleled support system, dedicating resources to professional and academic development for researchers at every level.”
-Yixin Sun, Class of ‘19
How to Apply
Applications for pre-doctoral fellowships are reviewed in fall and winter cycles. The fall deadline is in mid-November, with final decisions made in mid-December. The winter deadline is the beginning of March, with final decisions made around toward the end of March.
Applicants must have completed a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree by June of the year they are applying, and have strong quantitative and programming skills. Candidates with research experience are strongly preferred, especially those with experience in Stata, R, Python or Matlab. The ideal candidate would begin in June and work for EPIC for one or two years before applying to graduate school in Economics or another quantitative social science. EPIC offers a competitive salary and employee benefits.
“I have grown so much as both a thinker and researcher since I started working for Ryan. I am now more confident than ever that I will be pursuing a PhD in Economics. Ryan has always been approachable and has taken the time to ensure I understand how to perform sound economics research. The community surrounding EPIC is so friendly and supportive that even a young researcher like me feels as if I have a voice and important ideas to contribute to the energy policy world.”
-Nadia Lucas, Class of ’19
Claire Qing Fan
Laura Alcocer is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). She works primarily with the Climate Impact Lab, a multi-organization, multidisciplinary research group co-led by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone that works to calculate the social impacts of climate change. Laura previously worked as a consultant at Energea, a consulting firm that specializes in energy project development in Mexico, assisting in the restructuring of a government agency in charge of regulating industrial safety and environmental protection in the Mexican hydrocarbons sector. She earned her bachelor’s in economics from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and a master’s in economics from The University of Texas at Austin. Laura is broadly interested in environmental and energy policy and industrial organization.
Sushant is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC where he works primarily with Eyal Frank—assistant professor at Harris School of Public Policy—and his collaborators, on research topics such as impacts of weather on agricultural production; influence of conservation laws on real-estate economics; and public health outcomes associated with changes in wildlife population. Sushant holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk Campus and a master’s in environmental science from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where he specialised in urbanisation science and remote sensing. Sushant research interests are in the economics of urbanisation in the developing world and socio-political implications of transboundary natural resource management.
Tom Bearpark is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Climate Impact Lab (CIL), a multidisciplinary team of researchers from EPIC, the University of California, Berkeley, Rutgers University and Rhodium Group. His work primarily focuses on quantifying the effects of climate change on conflict and migration patterns. Before joining EPIC, Tom earned a master’s degree in Economic Research at the University of Cambridge and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics from the London School of Economics. He also spent two years working as an economist in the United Kingdom’s energy regulator, the Office for Gas and Electricity Markets; during that time he also spent three months in Brussels working for the European Union’s energy regulators. Tom’s research interests are in policy analysis and the role of climate change in economic development.
Michael Cahana is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). He works for Professors Ryan Kellogg and Thomas Covert, researching topics in energy economics focused on the oil and gas industry. Prior to joining EPIC, Michael worked as a research assistant at Northwestern University, where he studied a range of issues including renewable energy policies in California and real-time pricing initiatives in Spain. He earned his bachelor’s in economics from Northwestern, while also studying computer science and environmental policy. Michael is interested in energy & environmental policy, especially as they relate to climate change.
Catherine Che is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, working for EPIC Director Michael Greenstone on a variety of environmental and energy economics projects. Prior to joining EPIC, Catherine spent four years at Goldman Sachs, including a stint in the company’s commodities division valuing oil and gas contracts, and two years at a hedge fund in Connecticut. Catherine has a master’s in social science with a concentration in economics from UChicago and a bachelor’s in economics from Princeton University.
Coming from Singapore, a country that has historically relied on Malaysia for much of its water supply, Trinetta Chong understands the problems that accompany limited natural resources.
“Trying to achieve self-sustainability in our water supply means turning to alternative sources such as desalination and wastewater reclamation,” Trinetta explained. “While these technologies help to supplement our water supply, they consume very high amounts of energy.”
This presents a challenge for Singapore and countries like it around the world that are trying to both meet its water demands and limit energy consumption. The dilemma motivated Trinetta’s interests in environmental policy topics, such as the energy-water nexus, green initiatives and sustainable development.
After studying communications at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and obtaining a Masters of Public Policy from the Goldman School at the University of California Berkeley, Trinetta worked with the International Food Policy Research Institute. There, she examined the impact of weather shocks on nutrition in Bangladesh.
This experience added to Trinetta’s knowledge on climate change and prepared her well for her Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at EPIC, where she is working primarily on the Social Cost of Carbon project with Michael Greenstone.
“My past experience relates well to the Social Cost of Carbon project, which demonstrates the economic and social impacts of weather variation on various sectors, and adds to a growing body of research that highlights the consequences of climate change,” she said.
While at EPIC, Trinetta looks forward to gaining experience with experts and further developing her skills in data manipulation and analysis within the field of energy and environment.
Delgerzaya Delgerjargal is a Pre-doctoral Fellow in the Climate Impact Lab at EPIC. Her research focuses on quantifying the impact of climate change on the global agricultural sector. She earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and economics from University of Washington in 2019. As an undergraduate student, Delgerzaya studied nesting behaviors of the Mongolian ground jay—an endangered bird species in Mongolia, and for her senior capstone project, she worked with NOAA’s dynamic ensemble model to protect blue whales from ship strikes by predicting whale distributions 30 days in advance. She hopes to give better protection to the environment using economic tools, so that healthy environment and human society can coexist for many more generations.
Simon Greenhill is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, where he is a member of the Climate Impact Lab (CIL), a multi-institution collaboration seeking to measure the social cost of carbon. At CIL, Simon primarily studies how climate change will affect human migration. He earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and Arabic from the University of California, Berkeley. While at Berkeley, Simon contributed to research on the labor market effects of the Syrian refugee crisis in neighboring countries and spent a semester studying in Amman, Jordan. He is broadly interested in economic questions at the intersection of energy, climate change and development.
Iván Higuera is a pre-doctoral fellow at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). He works under the supervision of Steve Cicala, assistant professor at the UChicago Harris School of Public Policy, exploring the behavior of energy markets and the impacts of energy regulation on population welfare and health. Before joining EPIC, Iván was a research fellow at the Center for Data Science and Public Policy (DSaPP) at the Department of Computer Science at UChicago, where he contributed to the deployment of machine learning models applied to health and criminal justice. Iván was also an economist at the Central Bank of Colombia’s Research Unit, where he researched deforestation and protected areas policy. He holds a bachelor’s in economics and political science from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.
Dylan Hogan is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), where he works primarily with the Climate Impact Lab, a multi-organization, multidisciplinary research group co-led by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone that works to calculate the social impacts of climate change. Prior to joining EPIC, Dylan worked for several years as an economic consultant at NERA Economic Consulting, advising clients in the energy sector on environmental and economic issues. As an undergraduate research assistant at Brown University, he contributed to research in education and development economics. His current research interests lie broadly in environmental policy and international development. Dylan has a bachelor’s in applied mathematics and economics from Brown.
Chinmay Lohani is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), where he works with Fiona Burlig, assistant professor at Harris Public Policy, on research topics at the intersection of energy and development. His research interests are in industrial organization, economic theory and econometrics. Chinmay has a master’s in economics and mathematical economics from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s in mathematics from the Indian Institute of Science.
Vishan Nigam is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow on EPIC Director Michael Greenstone’s research team, assisting with topics ranging from market failures in Indian electricity provision to farmer crop choice in the United States. Vishan became interested in sustainable development after a summer spent studying decentralized water provision in New Delhi. Aside from energy and the environment, he has related interests in the economics of immigration, conflict and racial discrimination. Vishan graduated from Princeton University, where he majored in Economics with minors in Spanish and in statistics and machine learning.
Maya Norman is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow working with the Climate Impact Lab, a multi-organization, multidisciplinary research group co-led by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone that works to calculate the social impacts of climate change, where she primarily works on calculating the impact of energy consumption on climate change. Before joining EPIC, Maya was a research intern with Earth Economics, where she assisted with the benefit-cost analysis of navigation expansion project on the Upper Mississippi River. As an undergraduate Maya studied how to optimize trash production levels and the role of aquaculture in alleviating policy tensions surrounding Maine fisheries. She is broadly interested in the intersection between natural systems and human infrastructure as well as how policy can better optimize resource use. Maya has a bachelor’s in economics from Bowdoin College.
Ian Pitman is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, working for Director Michael Greenstone on projects that aim to combat air pollution and overfishing, among other environmental concerns. He earned a bachelor’s in economics and mathematics from the University of Chicago in 2019. In his fourth year at the university, he wrote an honors thesis in which he proposed a data-adaptive method of choosing optimal bandwidths for matching estimators. Ian’s interests include the use of machine learning in econometrics, especially as it relates to environmental and energy policy.
Qing (Claire) Fan is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), where she works for Director Michael Greenstone on a variety of energy and environmental economics projects. She earned her bachelor’s in mathematics with a minor in economics in 2018 from Pomona College in California. While at Pomona, Claire conducted a field study on attitudes toward sustainable agriculture in farming communities in Punjab, India, and worked on research in applied mathematics and on the economics of social enterprise. Claire is interested in the intersection of environmental and development economics, including the social impacts of climate change, and food and agriculture.
Alice Schmitz is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and works for Director Michael Greenstone on a variety of energy and environmental economics projects. She graduated from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor with a major in Economics and a minor in Double Bass Performance. While at Michigan, Alice worked on research teams studying public education; race, gender and technology; and juvenile sentencing. In addition to climate change issues, her research interests include the economics of mass incarceration and immigration.
Despite being from Houston, Texas, the so-called ‘energy capital of America,’ Andrew Smith hadn’t been all that interested in energy—or economics, for that matter. Smith, who works for Harris Public Policy Assistant Professor Koichiro Ito, chose economics for a major “on a whim” before enrolling at Texas A&M University.
“Eventually, I realized that whim turned into something great,” Smith said, as he realized that economics is his true calling. He plans to pursue a PhD in economics and would like to become a professor.
“There’s a social [policy] aspect to it that you can answer in a pretty mathematical way,” Smith said. “There are ways to actually measure how people react to certain policies – to actually sniff that out and figure out why things happen in the framework that is economics is pretty cool.”
Before deciding he wanted to go all-in on economics, Smith had to be cajoled by a friend into taking an internship at the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), a research body within the Executive Office of the President that reports directly to the president. He said that after a couple of interviews he realized the opportunity in front of him, and took the spring semester of his junior year off from school to conduct research at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the West Wing.
Within economics, Smith’s primary areas of interest are in labor and education, which he focused on at CEA. Upon returning to Texas A&M for his senior year, he decided to pursue research assistant opportunities, and his economics professors steered him toward EPIC.
“I didn’t really touch energy because I didn’t really know anything about it,” Smith said. “I still have a lot to learn, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for it now that I work here.”
Today, Smith researches how consumers respond to price changes in energy markets for Ito. Smith said the irony of finally beginning to research energy at UChicago after attending the same university that trained the late hydraulic fracturing pioneer George Mitchell is not lost on him.
“The amount of care and rigor associated with this research makes me, one, appreciate what I’m going to eventually become part of,” Smith said. “Two, something I wasn’t originally interested in, energy economics, is definitely now a possibility for me as I go into graduate school.”
Emile is a pre-doctoral fellow with EPIC, working with the Climate Impact Lab on estimating the impact of the future climate, as projected by climate scientists, on the economy. His background training is economics. In the past, Emile worked as an intern at the Energy and Prosperity Chair in Paris on a research project that aimed to empirically evaluate the welfare impacts of rural electrification in Rwanda. He also worked as a research assistant at Sciences-Po Paris on identifying the causal effect of Airbnb on rents in European cities.
Lixi Wang is a Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow at EPIC. A fun fact about him is that Lixi did not know that US is the largest gas and oil production country over the world until his interview. Nevertheless, he found himself a new interest in the fossil fuel production, and currently works with Prof. Ryan Kellogg and Prof. Thomas Covert on topics in energy economics focused on the oil and gas industry. Lixi was born and raised in Beijing, China, and prior to joining EPIC, he conducted researches in math department in Brandeis University and earned his B.A. in Economics and Mathematics. Lixi would like to pursue a PhD in Economics in the future.
Growing up, Greg Dobbels recalls being immersed in the hard sciences. But his academic focus shifted slightly in college. While studying Government, he realized empiricism was important to him.
“I settled on economics as a field and theoretical framework to guide future pursuits,” he said.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, Greg worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project with Michael Greenstone, which aimed to contribute guidance to drive and inform energy and environmental policy. He is interested in answering questions that focus on what a changing climate actually means for the human existence, and specifically its effect on agricultural systems across the world.
“We are reasonably certain how the climate is changing, but are still building our understanding of how these changes will impact our everyday existence. Figuring that out has huge implications for how we try to adapt to a changing climate,” he said.
Over the years, Greg’s interests developed into a focus on the relationship of climate change and agriculture. Because food is a vital component of the human existence, it is important to understand how agriculture will be affected by a changing climate.
Climate and agriculture also has a big impact on developing countries like Uganda, where he has spent some time. After graduating from Cornell University, where he studied Government and Economics, he spent three years working for Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit that evaluates the effectiveness of organizations that aim to provide solutions to global problems. This work brought him to Uganda, where he worked on projects evaluating programs that aimed to improve local governance and increase access to affordable healthcare for the rural poor.
While at EPIC, Greg looked forward to enriching his knowledge of climate change and policy work and aims to contribute to the meaningful research.
“Along the way, I hope to build my own understanding of the economic impacts of climate change, know where the gaps in our knowledge are, and learn the empirical tools needed to fill in those gaps,” he said. “A process I hope to continue to build on in graduate school.”
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.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, Michael worked on a variety of research projects with Michael Greenstone, such as one that examined 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 involved 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 looked 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.”
Before becoming a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, Brian attended Georgetown University for his undergraduate degree. At Georgetown, Brian entered the School of Foreign Service, where he completed his major in International Economics. He has strong interests in transit-oriented development in cities and energy as it relates to transportation.
“While electric cars are one alternative possibility to combustion engines, I believe structural changes in cities, such as relaxing zoning regulations, are just as important. Dense cities are
At EPIC, Brian worked on three main projects. In one, he gathered data for a working paper that uses underground geological characteristics to determine the local economic impacts of fracking. The other two projects focused on energy efficiency programs.
While he’s attracted to “the sheer gravitas of energy problems,” Brian has always had a broad interest in public policy. To him, policy and energy problems intertwine.
“Something that I had not fully appreciated before coming here was that although technological innovation will play an enormous role in climate change mitigation, the right energy policies can have massive cost implications in the meantime.”
There are two major qualities about EPIC that drew Brian in: a world-class group of researchers on energy and the environment and its uniqueness where researchers strive to write informative papers for policy-makers.
“Although a lot of institutions do this, I believe EPIC is a leader in this pack.”
He hoped to learn a lot about the research process and to explore his own research interests in greater depth. Particularly, he says: “I would like to continue exploring the development of walkable cities and its potential impact on climate change.”
While a Pre-Doctoral fellow at EPIC, Radhika worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project which is aimed at providing a global assessment of climate change impacts.
Prior to joining the University of Chicago, Radhika was a research analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC where she conducted research on fiscal policy, agriculture, and political economy for Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously, she worked for the International Growth Centre (directed by London School of Economics and University of Oxford) in the Rwanda and Oxford offices where her research focused on a range of themes including public finance, education, poverty, urbanization and agriculture. She has also consulted for the World Bank and Oxford Policy Management and engaged in fieldwork across Africa and southeast Asia.
Radhika holds an MSc in Economics for Development and a BA in Economics and Management from the University of Oxford and was a Ministry of Education (Singapore) Agency for Science, Technology and Research scholar.
Faraz was a Pre-Doctoral fellow with EPIC, interested in energy and fossil fuel consumption in developing countries. He worked on several different projects, including one study that focused on the economic impacts of hydraulic fracturing in U.S. counties, and another on China’s Huai River policy.
Before coming to EPIC, Faraz received his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he studied Math and Economics. At the time, his research was focused more on economic theory and development economics, but growing up in Pakistan he was always very well aware of pollution and energy crises. It was his childhood there that later served as a motivation for studying energy topics and finding “a solution to the energy problems of developing countries.”
Given his interest in energy economics, Faraz decided to join EPIC in order to work closely with Michael Greenstone and other researchers with similar interests. While here, he hoped to learn more technical skills, such as writing code for a research project. “Getting firsthand experience on how research is conducted is also a big plus and will help me when I attend graduate school.”
Azhar Hussain’s evolving interest in energy and environmental topics grew as a Research Associate at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a network of affiliated professors from 49 universities whose mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.
At J-PAL, he was exposed to energy access and accounting problems faced in India through his work on the Light Up Bihar study, which focused on improving the revenue parameters and checking commercial losses incurred by the Power Distribution Companies in Bihar. His short-term projects with other prominent development economists including Jean Dreze helped him understand the importance of economics in day-to-day life. In addition, his previous internship with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) enriched his understanding of the environmental impact of over-utilization of natural resources.
“All these rich experiences and my love for economics learning encouraged me to take up a research career, which I hope to nourish with time” he said.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, Azhar worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project with Michael Greenstone. His interest include studying the impact of energy usage on environment. He aims to monetize the environmental impacts on different sectors such as labor, agriculture, etc., and link that to macroeconomic parameters like GDP.
During his time at EPIC, he intended to improve his research capabilities, especially as they relate to energy and environmental economics. He also hoped to take economics courses offered by the University of Chicago.
When Ananya Kotia was 16 and living in Delhi, the Indian economy took off. With it went his interest in economics.
“My impression of the Indian economy at the time was largely shaped by the discourse around development and poverty alleviation” Kotia said. “Suddenly, I discovered macroeconomics and finance.”
That interest has taken Kotia from Cambridge and Oxford universities to the International Monetary Fund, India’s Ministry of Finance, and, now, EPIC. He plans to get a PhD in economics and wants to one day apply his knowledge to economic and development issues in his native India.
Kotia worked for EPIC director Michael Greenstone on a variety of environmental and energy economics projects, such as determining the effectiveness of marine sanctuaries around the world and estimating the demand of grid and solar electricity in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. Greenstone’s focus on India and China on a diverse range of issues caught Kotia’s attention.
“His focus on energy and environment policy in India and China is somewhat unique” Kotia said of Greenstone. “My primary motivation is to use economics to answer interesting questions about India, whether social or political or economic,” he said.
Kotia, who was born in Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, earned his bachelor’s in economics at Delhi and Cambridge universities and an MPhil in economics from Oxford.
He moved around India with his family a lot growing up because of his father, a career civil servant. Inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kotia then returned home to Delhi (he had spent the most time there, nine years, of any part of India) for a job with the Ministry of Finance. There he worked on fiscal rules for eight months, and then for the chief economic adviser on the annual Economic Survey.
After seeing the execution of economic policy through the government from close quarters, Kotia was ready to return to academia and joined EPIC in September 2017.
“While I had never worked on environmental economics before,” he said, “the approach of using quasi-experimental econometrics to answer policy questions was familiar, and it is exciting to be a part of the process with [Professor Greenstone] of extending this rigorous approach to questions regarding energy and the environment.”
Theo was a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC and primarily worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project. When it comes to his research, Theo’s interested in making the representation of energy systems and energy use in Integrated Assessment Models more realistic and useful.
“These tools are a key component of our ability to think about national and global energy policy issues.”
Before coming to EPIC, Theo completed his Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy (MSESP) degree at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. In addition to pursuing his master’s degree, Theo lived in Cairo, Egypt for three years where he worked as a project manager at an environmental consulting firm.
A conversation Theo had with a high school physics teacher originally spurred his interest in the causes and implications of climate change, and therefore, energy topics. As a result, Theo took undergraduate courses while at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign on many of the technical aspects of energy use and recognized he was interested in questions about the impact of energy use on society.
Having participated in the James Bartlett Fellowship Program, Theo is already familiar with “a lot of the great researchers and exciting research being done” at EPIC. While he’s here, Theo hopes to conduct top-quality, policy-relevant research.
Originally from Bellevue, Washington, Nadia Lucas moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to study computer science at MIT. However, once she took her first economics class, she quickly became enamored with analyzing human behavior from a mathematical perspective. She switched her focus while at MIT and began taking every opportunity she could to be involved in economics research. This led Lucas to a pre-doctoral fellowship at EPIC upon graduation. For the past two years, she’s been exposed to policy-relevant economics research, working for Ryan Kellogg in analyzing the U.S. fracking industry. In beginning her PhD this fall, she remains interested in conducting research in the economics of energy and environmental policy. Specifically, she is interested in looking at energy and environmental policy through the lens of sustainable growth of industries and firms on a microeconomic level. She believes these questions are particularly relevant within the setting of the developing world.
“EPIC is an amazing place because of the range of researchers, both at every level of academia, and focused in almost every subtopic in energy and environmental economics. Being a DRW Fellow, I hope to become a researcher who also contributes important work to this field, and I am confident that I can find the support I need to do so given how many accomplished researchers there already are at EPIC.”
Bridget Pals is a Research Assistant at the Urban Energy & Environment Lab at the University of Chicago. She is passionate about environmental issues and is particularly interested in increasing the sustainability of the urban environment and in alleviating the impacts of climate change. Previously, Bridget worked with a community development bank that strives to provide financial services to unbanked and underbanked individuals on Chicago’s south and west sides. She received her BA from the University of Chicago in Physics and Economics.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, Sébastien worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project with Michael Greenstone. His research explored the impact of global warming on the economy, including labor productivity, mortality rate, and agriculture yields, among other economic factors.
Sébastien received his B.A. in Economics from Ecole Normale Supérieure, in his home country of France, and an M.A. in Energy and Environmental Economics from Université Paris-Dauphine. Prior to joining EPIC, he worked on assessing the impact of intermittent renewable energies on electricity prices as a research assistant at the Chaire European Electricity Markets.
In 2014, he continued his research on electricity prices as a research assistant for Steve Cicala. In between his two academic research experiences, Sébastien worked on several projects related to energy markets regulation at Compass Lexecon, an economic consulting company.
“I am mostly interested in the electricity market because it has been and continues to be subject to a lot of innovations, like renewable energy, electricity storage, smart network and smart meters, and demand side management,” he said.
As an undergraduate, Sébastien had a growing interest for studying energy topics after realizing the energy industry can have the highest negative effects on the environment. His B.A. thesis at the Ecole Normale Superieure focused on the impact of environmental regulations on firm relocation, demonstrating how energy companies cannot easily be relocated in countries with low environmental standards, forcing them instead to adapt and innovate.
With an understanding of the intersection between the environment and energy industries, Sebastian was excited to have joined EPIC.
“EPIC is a quite new laboratory but is growing very fast and it is full of talented people, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.
Sébastien looked forward to working closely with faculty and staff while exploring research in energy topics.
“People are close to each other and easy to talk to,” he said. “I know that I will learn from their experiences, both in terms of academic skills and on a personal level.”
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 worked 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 realized 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 hoped that her fellowship at EPIC will provide her with a clearer understanding of the skills she will develop in graduate school.
As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, Harshil Sahai assisted 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 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. At EPIC he explored 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 said.
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 looked 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 said. “I see it as a microcosm of a larger movement of thinkers and researchers dedicated to understanding the relationship between humans and the environment.”
Patrick Schwarz looked forward to greater exposure to the world of academic research during his Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at EPIC.
He decided to join the team of researchers at EPIC because of his interest in applied microeconomics, with a specific interest in energy.
“I felt that working in the context of energy and the environment is incredibly rewarding,” he explained. “Much of the research we do here has direct policy implications, and requires a multi-faceted approach to finding the best answer to complex problems.”
He worked with Michael Greenstone on a variety of projects. One involved analyzing the effect of pollution exposure on human capital in China.
Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, Patrick spent a year working in economic consulting. He graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in Math and Economics.
Kevin Schwarzwald has spent the last seven years building his research skills at the University of Chicago.
Schwarzwald, who earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and public policy (with honors) from UChicago in 2015, is working to foster collaboration and dialogue between the climate science and social science/economics fields as an RA for EPIC.
“The main benefit of approaching climate and energy issues using an interdisciplinary lens is the ability to identify where we’re possibly overlooking some really important connections between the frontiers of climate and economic research and to make sure the large bodies of knowledge in both fields are being used efficiently,” he said.
Schwarzwald has been associated with climate and energy policy at UChicago since 2015, when he began working on climate models as a research specialist at the Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP). He continued to contribute to RDCEP through EPIC-affiliated researchers Amir Jina and Liz Moyer, a fitting pairing given that Jina works in public policy and Moyer in the natural sciences.
To broaden his understanding and perspective on climate change, energy and environmental economics, he interrupted his seven-year run at UChicago to earn a master’s in China studies from Peking University’s Yenching Academy in 2017. There he studied the impact of Chinese fiscal and political incentive structures on urban expansion and land conversion practices, a topic deeply connected to the energy and environment through questions of land use and energy efficiency.
An Austrian born in Paris, Schwarzwald moved to Los Angeles at the age of 7. He’s been interested in energy and environment issues for “as far back as [he] can remember,” and attributes some of that interest to seeing firsthand their global impact and relevance through his travels. An undergraduate class on energy systems taught by Moyer solidified his desire to pursue interdisciplinary research on climate.
Schwarzwald conducted research in two primary areas: studying changes in climate variability through climate model evaluation at RDCEP and investigating the impacts of those variability changes on society.
“The most interesting part of my work [is]… trying to figure out how we make sure climate research gets translated into economics research and policy research, and vice versa,” he said.
Toward that end, Schwarzwald created and co-ran with fellow EPIC RA Johanna Rayl a lunch and learn series for young researchers across campus, which took place every Thursday. The series invites students interested in climate and energy issues from to collaborate across disciplines and to present their research or lead discussions in a low-pressure situation.
“EPIC has that kind of environment where that’s able to be done,” Schwarzwald said. “These are the types of research institutes I seek out.”
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 made 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.
As a Senior Pre-Doctoral Fellow with EPIC, Dan was interested in policy issues that combine economics and the natural sciences. He received his undergraduate degree with Honors in Economics from Swarthmore College. Though his undergraduate studies did not specifically focus on environmental/energy economics, he was interested in “high-stakes public policy issues that require multiple disciplines,” such as global warming.
Before coming to Chicago, Dan worked as a research assistant with Michael Greenstone at MIT. He has since worked on a variety of papers and topics concerning environmental and energy economics. In one project, he calculated the gains in life expectancy due to the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. In another project, he estimated the carbon potential of fossil fuel reserves and the associated impact on global temperatures.
“All of this research has huge policy relevance – that’s one of the best parts of working at EPIC,” Dan said.
Dan has also taken graduate courses at UChicago in preparation for his own research career.
“It’s been great to combine classes with my research for EPIC. I’ve been totally immersed in cutting-edge research, between the graduate classes, weekly seminars, and projects for EPIC.”
Moving forward, Dan hoped to learn much more about the research process and continue to explore his own research interests.
Yixin Sun graduated with a BA in Economic-Statistics from Columbia University. She then went on to work as a pre-doctoral fellow at EPIC, where she has worked for the last three years. While at EPIC, Yixin primarily worked with Thomas Covert, examining the impacts of investment decisions in the fracking business. She has also worked with Fiona Burlig, analyzing the effects of a large-scale rural electrification project in India. Yixin hopes to pursue research at the intersection of development and environmental economics while a PhD student at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
“EPIC is a unique hub for interdisciplinary researchers with a policy focus. The DRW fellowship provides me with an opportunity to tackle these big policy questions, and I look forward to the mentorship these amazing researchers provide.”
Growing up in Beijing, Jingyuan Wang witnessed firsthand the worsening pollution around her, but assumed it was a normal part of city life.
“At first I supposed that pollution is a stage which all developing cities should experience and there is no solution except time,” she explained. “However, during the Olympic Games in 2008, the sky became surprisingly blue.”
The series of short-term environmental policies implemented around the 2008 Olympic Games thus became a turning point in Jingyuan’s life, influencing her decision to study environmental topics. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Peking University in China, where she majored in Environmental Science and Economics. Once she realized that the increasing pollution in China was related to economic development, she added economics as a second major. Jingyuan also holds a Master’s in Applied Economics from Cornell University. Through her academic experience, she gained a solid knowledge of economic and chemistry theories behind environmental pollution.
Building on this, Jingyuan also did an assistantship at the Cornell Institute for China Economic Research (CICER), where she primarily examined the relationship between industrial activities and air pollution in China. As a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at EPIC, she worked on the Social Cost of Carbon project with Michael Greenstone, and expanded her viewpoint.
“From CICER to EPIC, I have a feeling that I am stepping out of China and building a broader view of the environmental issues,” she said. “Fortunately, my data analysis and econometric skills learned at CICER are helpful for my work here.”
While focused on her home of China for many years, Jingyuan does have a solid background doing research outside of China. In the summer of 2015, Jingyuan worked as a research assistant at the World Wildlife Fund. There, she worked on a team that reported on pollution emitted during food producing processes as well as pollution immigration driven by the global food trade. The internship helped Jingyuan develop a global view of environmental issues.
“I realized that local emission and local environmental issues might not be truly local,” she explained. “This is important for the SCC Project which analyzes country-level climate change impacts as well as global impacts.”
Jingyuan’s specific environmental interests include a study of the impact of air quality degradation on human health. In the future, she hoped to enroll in a doctoral program to further develop this interest. In addition to improving her data analysis skills while at EPIC, Jingyuan looked forward to being exposed to a range of energy environmental topics.
Henry Zhang is an environmentalist at heart, having grown up about an hour north of Denver where there are plenty of opportunities nearby to hike, ski and camp.
“It’s easy to grow up to become an environmentalist if you spend a lot of time in and around Boulder, Colorado,” he said.
As a high schooler, Zhang thought he would become an engineer. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Swarthmore College that he realized economics could be an avenue for studying and finding solutions for environmental issues – leading him to EPIC.
Zhang, who interned at EPIC during summer 2016, worked on a variety of environmental economics and policy projects for EPIC Director Michael Greenstone. He planned to pursue a PhD in economics and become a professor.
“Part of what I found interesting about applied economics was there are so many tools you can use for a wide variety of scenarios in the real world, as long as you have the data and an interesting research idea,” said Zhang, who graduated from Swarthmore with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with highest honors and a second major in economics.
“I, and probably many other people who study environmental economics, began with an intrinsic interest in the environment, balanced out by a concern for human welfare and a curiosity for how well markets function,” he said.
Zhang said he used to think about environmental issues – how a tax on gasoline affects human behavior, for example – but didn’t know how to answer them. His economics studies at Swarthmore and two stints at EPIC have advanced his ability to understand such issues and work towards solutions.
“I realized that economics could give me the tools to answer those sorts of questions,” he said.