Semester Undergraduate Program for Economics Research (SUPER)

This fall, Harvard Economics launched the second round of its research assistant (RA) program for Harvard undergraduates, the Semester Undergraduate Program for Economics Research (SUPER). The application and hiring process has now concluded. Please check back here on January 1 for Spring 2022 projects.

Applications require a transcript, résumé, list of relevant qualifications, and a ranking of your preferred project(s). Successful applicants are placed in a semester-long RA position on one of their preferred projects (pay in Fall 2021 is $15 per hour, with an expectation of 100 hours over 14 weeks, i.e. 7-8 hours per week). For Fall 2021 project descriptions, see below

Applications from members of under-represented or disadvantaged groups are especially welcome, but SUPER is very much open to all.

Fall 2021 SUPER projects: 

New and Old Perspectives on Globalization (Pol Antras) - I am seeking assistance on one or two book manuscripts related to International Trade and Globalization. One of them focuses on recent forces that have slowed down and even reduced the level of trade integration across countries. The other book is a more general overview of some key aspects of globalization, but covered via specific examples and research papers. The RA would help me with literature review, and especially, with producing figures and tables for the book(s), which may require some independent research. Skills: Ec 1011ab, Stata

American Communities Computable Newspaper Project (Melissa Dell) - This project uses deep learning methods to extract structured text and images from over 35 million historical (1860-1977) newspaper page scans. These data are now being used in combination with modern NLP methods in retrieval, classification, and multimodal learning to answer a variety of questions about the role of media in American communities across time, and how historical media data can be used to measure changing sentiments about central questions in the public sphere. Skills: R fluency; Python fluency

Economic Growth in East Asia (Melissa Dell) - We are using deep learning-based methods to curate historical Japanese economic and biographical data at scale. The data are being used to understand a variety of fundamental questions about economic growth and development during the 20th century in Japan and beyond. Skills: fluency in Japanese required. Familiarity with a range of kanji characters used in the first half of the twentieth century is helpful, though not required, as are basic programming skills. Knowledge of deep learning/python is not required (though applicants with this background would have a variety of opportunities to further develop their skills)

Waitlists for Housing Assistance (Winnie van Dijk) - Most Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) in the US use waitlists to allocate vouchers and public housing. This project uses linked datasets for several cities to study the consequences of these long wait times for the selection of households into housing assistance. The work will consist of conducting background research and outreach to PHAs to create a detailed description of PHAs' waitlist practices throughout the country. The project is ideal for a student with excellent writing and communication skills, and an interest in housing assistance policy, homelessness, and anti-poverty programs. Skills: excellent writing and communication skills.

Covid-19 Vaccines: The Path from Research, to Publication, to Vaccine (Richard Freeman) - Research project on the extraordinary speed in production of vaccines in the Covid-19 crisis, examining the path from research published in scientific papers to patented vaccines, with attention to whether the research or patent was undertaken by or funded by universities, companies, US government, or in other countries. Contrast with efforts to deal with other diseases to assess reasons for Covid-19 vaccine success. The project will analyze USPTO data on patents on vaccines, the citations in the text of those patents to scientific papers and the citations of those papers to other papers using the Scopus database and data on clinical tests to track the stock of knowledge that went into the vaccines. Analysis will differentiate between mRNA and viral vector vaccines, the part of the immune system which the vaccine impacts, and will examine less successful as well as successful efforts to develop vaccines. The analysis will further examine how scientific research continued post the development of vaccines. Will make use of keywords, abstracts, references to track flow of ideas. Skills: Econometrics, willindness to learn computer programming of big data sets, network graph theory, and natural language processing programs. Interest in scientific ideas and patents; ability to interview scientists at major vaccine producing firms.  Students with their own ideas encouraged to apply.  We can teach how to carry out "technical work" but want someone filled with ideas and questions about how economic factors shape research and the economic payoff from successful scientific outcomes in a crisis. Expect to learn a bit of virology as well.

Evaluating the Long-Run Impact of Universal Pre-School: The Lanham Act and WWII (Claudia Goldin) - The Lanham Act set up thousands of nursery schools for the 3-5 year old children of working women from 1943 to 1946. We have all the places where the schools were set up but need actual addresses. We have already obtained about a half of them from historical newspapers and other documents. We will be using these precise locations to identify the children who were served (there are almost no lists of child names) and we will then follow these individuals into their adult years using the NUMIDENT identifiers and linking across censuses. RA will continue finding the addresses of the nurseries. Team is Claudia Goldin, Joe Ferrie (Northwestern) and Claudia Olivetti (Dartmouth). Skills: Stat 104/Ec 20/Stat 110;Stata fluency; Good common sense and organization are the most important. Programming languages are useful.

Traffic Equilibrium on a Plate (Gabriel Kreindler) - Megacities of the developing world face pervasive traffic congestion, limiting the potential gains from agglomeration forces. In any given city, the traffic equilibrium is also a fascinating theoretical object, with strong forces pushing commuters to arbitrage away gains from faster routes, yet highly volatile travel times overall. In this project, we explore these patterns using a remarkably detailed dataset from vehicle license plate-reading cameras from a large city in South America. The SUPER project will focus on developing and testing an algorithm to infer vehicle trajectories using this data. Skills: R fluency or Python fluency; Interest in working with big, messy data.

Our Roads (Gabriel Kreindler, with Lindsey Currier and Ed Glaeser) - What is the state of road quality, and how does this vary across communities? How much spending should go to road maintenance? These issues are particularly salient given the ongoing debate around an infrastructure bill. However, we have surprisingly little hard data on road quality, especially at the local level. In this project, we use accelerometer data from Uber drivers to measure road "bumpiness" for all cities in the US. In this SUPER project, you will help process data on road maintenance works from several cities, and help with cleaning and analysis of road roughness data across the US. Skills: R or Stata fluency are required. Stat 104/Ec 20/Stat 110 and Ec 1011ab are desirable but not required

Auto Manufacturing Worldwide Supply Chains (Marc Melitz) - Assist with cleaning/verifying/analyzing our database of automobile manufacturing supply chains.  This includes plant locations for assembly, and engine and transmission production, which will need to be verified against some public records.   This will likely involve some web scraping of online documents.  RA will be working directly with co-author team (myself and two other co-authors).  Skills: R fluency; Python fluency

What Caused the Opioid Overdose Crisis? (Jeff Miron): Since 1999, measured opioid overdose rates have increased dramatically.  The measured cause-of-death (COD) data, however, might be biased by one or more aspects of the COD reporting system.  This project will attempt to understand the details of COD reporting as a first step toward determining whether the crisis might be over- or under-stated by existing data. Skills: none listed

Understanding People’s Beliefs and How They Update Those Beliefs (Matthew Rabin) - This project involves collecting data on what on-line participants believe on substantive topics, and seeing how they update those beliefs when presented with new information. The goal is to jointly identify substantive beliefs of interest to economists while also studying some of the biases in processing information evidenced in psychological research. A current experiment has been looking at people's beliefs about the prevalence of different population characteristics and life events, while primarily looking at people's beliefs about how such characteristics and events might be linked with well-being. How do our participants think gender, marital status, income, criminal record, etc. might predict reported happiness? Do they have accurate beliefs about how depression in an adolescent indicates depression when older? By observing those beliefs as we sequentially give them information, we can learn how confident they are in those predictions, and whether they suffer from well-known psychological biases. We are continuing with this experiment, and planning to use similar techniques to understand beliefs and reasoning on other topics as well. RAs on this project may be asked to assist gathering data from existing research and surveys that we will ask participants about, helping to design and code the experiment we run, and helping to analyze results, and will be working with Professor Rabin and other research assistants. Skills: Ec 1123/26, Ec 1011ab, R fluency, Stata fluency, Python fluency. A strong background in economics, statistics, and programming are necessary for the position, but may not require an exact match with the prerequisites listed. Background in psychology would be helpful as well, but not required.

Analyzing New Models of Psychology and Economic Theory (Matthew Rabin) - This research would be part of a large-scale and ongoing program to work out the implications of some recent formal models attempting to embed more realistic psychology into economic analysis. Such models attempt to capture various improvements to the psychological realism of economics with the same rigor as in modern economic theory. Topics of these models include understanding limits to rationality and finding better ways to capture people’s true preferences and goals (see my 2013 papers in the Journal of Economic Literature and the AER for outlines of long-term agenda motivating this research). RAs would help solve some of these new models across scenarios and write up the solutions under my own guidance and that of other project members, and to help create usable online calculators to allow others to solve the models. A strong background in microeconomic theory, statistics, and math is necessary; background in psychology or behavioral economics would likely also be useful. Skills: Ec 1123/1126, Ec 1011ab. From experience participation is likely to be satisfying only for advanced students with a strong interest and background in economic theory corresponding to intentions to continue to PhD programs in economics.

Describing and Understanding China's Engagement with Africa (David Yang) - Over the last two decades, China has emerged as a major player in trade, foreign direct investment, and aid throughout the African continent. As China rapidly displaces Africa’s traditional partners such as the US and Europe, the Chinese engagement with Africa poses a set of timely and fascinating political economy questions. In this project, we ask: does Chinese involvement in Africa (re)shape locals’ political ideology? Do Chinese projects and China as a role model challenge the perceived conventional wisdom that democracy fosters growth and prosperity? The primary tasks of the RA will involve: (a) collect systematic information on Chinese projects in Africa; (b) use GIS tools to conduct spatial analyses of the projects’ locations; and (c) synthesize surveys and related data on Africans’ political opinions. Skills: Ec 1123/1126; R fluency; Stata fluency; Arc GIS fluency; ability to read Chinese is not required, but would be welcome