Undergraduate Student Researcher Mentoring Program

Spring 2021 Call for Applicants (updated)

UPDATED 1/24/2021: New projects starting with #28; some projects marked as "filled" or "postponed"

We believe that conducting research is an important part of your training as an economist. Learning how to define a question, locate and review related literature, identify, download and clean data, and conduct empirical analysis develops a skill set highly valued by graduate programs and future employers alike.  The Economics Department has two programs: [1] the general undergraduate student researcher program, and [2] the Lynde grad student mentoring program.  The mentoring program is a subset of the more general program.  You sign up only once. . . Read on.

The undergrad student researcher program is designed for Economics majors at any stage of your education.  If you have not yet taken econometrics -- which Prof. Olney says you should take as soon as you can! -- we still encourage you to apply.  Some graduate students or faculty need RAs who can do coding in Stata or R or Python, but others are looking for RAs to do literature searches or other tasks that do not require econometrics or CS/DS toolsets.

The grad student mentoring program adds in several components that ensure the undergraduate student researcher experience provides you not only with an experience to list on your resume, but also with a graduate student mentor who will teach you about research and who is available to discuss courses, work or graduate school plans, the life of an economist, and whatever else may come up.  The mentoring program is funded by a generous donation from Cal alumnus, Dr. Matthew Lynde.

About the Lynde Mentoring Program
The features of the mentoring program are listed below.


  • You work with a graduate student who has expressed interest in and received training in serving as a mentor for undergraduates.  Mentoring means that the graduate student has made a commitment to discussing the research process with the RA, helping the RA see the big picture for the research project and the specific tasks the RA is working on, talking with the RA about future opportunities in economics or in research (including graduate school options), and ensuring that the RA acquires research skills as part of the RA process. If you are considering graduate school in economics, or just want to know more about what it means to be an economist, the mentoring program may be for you.
  • A welcoming Zoom-reception for all RAs hired as part of the Mentoring Program will be held on Monday evening, February 8, 6:30-8:00, on Zoom. Link will be provided by email. The welcoming reception will give you the opportunity to meet all the other undergraduate RAs serving this term, learn about all of this term's projects, and ask questions about research in economics.
  • A pair of zoom-workshops conducted by Economics graduate student will offer you tips & training in the use of R and LaTeX. The workshops will be scheduled for the weeks of February 8. More information will be on the RSVP form for the welcoming reception.
  • An end-of-term Zoom-poster reception scheduled for Wednesday evening April 28, 6:30 - 8:00 pm, on Zoom, at which you and the grad student you're working with will display a poster that describes the project and the work you've contributed to the project. When we get back to in-person life, posters will be on display in the 6th floor of Evans Hall for at least a semester.
  • A small financial incentive ($50) will be paid in May to undergrad RAs who participate in the mentoring program by working with a grad student mentor, attending the welcoming reception on February 8, and attending the poster session on April 28.

There are about 40 graduate students who have completed the training to serve as mentors.  Their projects cover a wide range of fields and the research tasks they are looking for help with also cover a wide range. The second column of the table below indicates whether or not the grad student is part of the mentoring program. If you are interested in participating in the mentoring program, be sure to check the appropriate box at the bottom of the application for serving as an undergrad RA.

There are also Economics, ARE, and BPP (part of Haas's PhD program) grad students who are not part of the mentoring program, postdocs, and ARE & Economics faculty who will look at the applications in order to find RAs.  So you can be an RA without being in the mentoring program.

About the Application
The application form for undergraduate RA positions is available at  https://www.econ.berkeley.edu/undergrad/economics-majors-interested-ra-positions.  The Economics faculty and graduate students seeking RA assistance will reach out to those students they are interested in interviewing.  Watch your email!

On the application form, you can signal up to four (4) projects that particularly interest you.  Use the project number in the left most column when completing the "signalling" part of the application. The second column tells you whether or not the person in charge of the project is a faculty member or a graduate student who is part of the Mentoring Program. 

About Earning Econ 199 Credits
Two important points about compensation: [1] You must be an enrolled student.  Due to labor laws, we cannot allow people who have already graduated to serve as an unpaid RA. [2] Being an RA for a graduate student or faculty member is considered an educational or academic endeavor. In most cases, these are unpaid positions, much like an academic internship. If you are not being paid, you must receive 1-3 Econ 199 units for being an RA. These will be P/NP units that count toward graduation but not as an upper-division elective. Because the deadline to sign up for Econ 199 is Friday of the 3rd week of classes, all unpaid positions must be filled by then.

Non-Economics Faculty & Graduate Students Seeking RA Assistance
Graduate students or faculty from other departments can also hire our Economics undergraduates! We invite grad students, post-docs, and faculty who are not in the Economics Department to submit a description of their position directly to the undergraduate office (ugrad@econ.berkeley.edu) for inclusion in the weekly bCourses e-blast that goes to all Econ majors. Please include the following information: who you are, contact information, deadline for applying; title & description of the project; expected RA tasks and anticipated RA skill set; whether compensation is $ or units; anticipated # of hours per week. Send your info by email to ugrad@econ.berkeley.edu with an indication that it is for the weekly e-blast to Economics majors.

List of Projects for this Term


Project # In Mentoring Program? Grad Student or Faculty # of RA's needed Project Title Project Abstract RA tasks
1   Econ faculty more than 4 new Positions Filled    
2   Econ grad student 2 new How may I Serve You? : Cohabitant's Effect on Retirement Decisions The project aims to explore how cohabitation of adult children affects their parent's retirement decisions. Literature review and minor data acquisition and construction for instrumental variables of interest.
3   Econ grad student 4 new Television Exposure of Vietnam War Content and its Effect on True Volunteer Enrollment Among Vietnam War Veterans I aim to explore how exposure to Vietnam War related content via television networks, if any, affected the enrollment of true volunteers during the Vietnam War. Digitization of Television Factobooks, Data Cleaning through STATA, Classifying CBS, NBC, and ABC television content to Vietnam War related variables of interest.
4   Econ grad student 1 new A consistent and easy-to-implement measure of economic rationality We propose the “Minimum Mistakes Index (MMI)”, a new measure of consistency between individual consumer choices and economic rationality. It has two main advantages when compared with the already existing measures of consistency with rationality. First, it can be used to clean the data in order to recover the underlying consumer preferences when choices are noisy. Second, it is equivalent to a well-known problem in computer science, hence algorithms to solve it are already available. We take a “machine learning” approach to compare the MMI’s performance with Varian (1990) index in terms of its predictive power. - Research on algorithms to solve the "minimum feedback arc set problem", a well-known problem in computer science
- Implementation of one of such algorithms in a python program to compute the MMI
- Developing a program to test the statistical power of the MMI against Varian's Index
5   Econ faculty 3 new All interviews scheduled    
6 yes Econ grad student 3 new Positions Filled    
7 yes Econ grad student 2 new Positions Filled    
8 yes Econ grad student 1 new Positions Filled    
9 yes Econ grad student 2 new

Monetary Spillovers through Multinational Enterprises

(Filled but Please email jianlinw@berkeley.edu if you are strongly interested in the project)

Do multinational enterprises (MNEs) play a special role in transmitting international monetary shocks? The past decades have witnessed the establishment of vast production networks and deep internal capital markets of MNEs, yet little is known if MNEs have affected the transmission of global shocks and the subsequent financial flows. In this project, I cooperate with a research team in Switzerland to link confidential records with detailed firm-level data to investigate the role of MNEs in transmitting foreign monetary shocks to the domestic economy. In addition, I explore the interaction between MNEs and global banks and ask whether such interaction challenge or enhance the autonomy of central banks. Based on the results of initial findings, counterfactual analysis will be performed on the improvement of policy making and the welfare consequences of potential policy actions on domestic and foreign households. 1) Candidates with a CS background in name matching (natural language processing) are preferred.
2) Candidates with research experience in Stata are preferred.
3) We have different teams focusing on different sub-projects. You can choose to work with one or multiple teams based on your expertise.
4) You will be working on maintaining and organizing large private datasets. Attention to details and efficient data management are crucial for the project’s success.
5) Preferred programs: Stata (for data analysis), Python (for name matching), and Excel. You are also welcomed to use the software of your choice, but the end results should be portable to Stata or Python to share with others.
6) Preferred background: Econometrics, CS, International finance/macro/trade.
10 yes Econ grad student 2 new

Financial Market Implications of Trade War

(Filled but Please email jianlinw@berkeley.edu if you are strongly interested in the project)

Current abstract: The trade war between the United States and China has a significant impact on high-yield spreads, long-term interest rates, and stock prices. However, the 10-year-minus-2-year Treasury yield spread, whose inversion generated significant media chatter about a looming recession, does not seem to be influenced by news about the trade war. These results are consistent with the relatively modest macroeconomic impact of the trade war predicted by previous studies and suggest that the financial-market impact is primarily driven by changes in risk premia.

The next step: Several highly interesting, yet unexpected results are discovered while working on the project in the past summer. I will perform empirical analysis on these results. Meanwhile, a theoretical model will be developed to guide and discipline the potential explanations.
1) Helps are needed to maintain and organize professional financial databases, some of them are large and high frequency. Candidates with some familiarity with firm balance sheet and income statements are preferred, but these knowledges are not required.
2) CS background in natural language processing and/or name matching is a plus, as some datasets may need to be merged by firm names.
3) Occasional data cleaning in Stata or Excel + preliminary econometric analysis (optional).
4) Preferred programs: Stata and Excel.
5) Preferred background: Financial economics, International macro/trade, CS.
11 yes Econ grad student 2 new

Fiscal Multipliers from the Perspective of Stock Market

(Filled but Please email jianlinw@berkeley.edu if you are strongly interested in the project)

This project aims to use the return of US defense industry to re-evaluate the effect of temporary government spending.

The goals of the project are threefold: 1) To form a new measure of fiscal policy shocks by constructing the return of US defense industry during the Cold War and connecting it with the existing data, 2) to estimate fiscal multipliers using the new measure and compare them with the existing literature, and 3) to test competing model predictions on how government spending will affect consumer welfare.

Current progress of the project reveals an underestimation in the effect of government spending from previous studies due to unaccounted expectation formation processes. This point is important for present policy concern given the increasing obstacles faced by the monetary policy from a prolonged global low interest rate environment and the on-going trade war.
1) Collect and organize data from official sources on consumption, employment, CPI, and wages in the United States during the Cold War and WWII era.
2) Review historical evidences (e.g. government supply contracts, firms’ annual reports, congressional budget records, etc.) on the military vs. civilian sales of major US government contractors during the Cold War, especially during the Korean War.
3) Perform preliminary analysis if necessary (optional).
4) Preferred skill sets: Stata, Excel, basic knowledge in econometrics, and a love for finding data about the Cold War era.
12   Econ faculty 2 new What does the Clean Water Act Regulate? The US Supreme Court and the Obama, Trump, and prospective Biden administrations have disagreed whether the Clean Water Act protects a large share of US rivers, lakes, and other surface waters. This project systematically downloads about 25,000 PDFs describing decentralized implementation of Clean Water Act regulations, then uses python or other code to construct a database from these PDFs. Once this database is created, the project will work with computer science PhDs and faculty to apply computer vision and artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze these data. 1. Develop system (java/python/etc.) to download about 25,000 PDFs containing needed data. 2. Use python or other code to extract data and construct database from these PDFs. Summary statistics on these data and some preliminary data analysis would be useful if time allows and the RA is interested. Additional tasks analyzing Clean Water Act policy may be needed.
13   Econ faculty 1 new Detecting Bid-Rigging in Procurement Auctions For many governments, auctions (tenders) are the primary way to purchase goods and services. Bid-rigging by potential buyers is a major concern. The project seeks to devise ways of detecting collusion from bid data and understand how prevalent it is. Research and document institutional details, learning how to apply econometrics to data and interpreting results.
14 yes Haas grad student 3 new From Rivals to Partners: The Alignment of Capital and State Coercion in the Rise of Modern Economic Growth The conventional wisdom on the source of economic growth emphasizes inclusive institutions: constraints on state elites, which allow open access to political and economic power. Yet, in many contexts where economic growth has emerged, we see the partnership of powerful, coercive (often nondemocratic) states and private enterprise: from Industrial Revolution Britain, to the post-WWII Asian economic tigers, to post-Mao China. Focusing on the emergence of modern growth in Britain, we propose a model of a partnership between coercive states and private actors: merchants lend money to the state, which is used to develop coercive capacity. In our model, good institutions are an outcome, rather than a cause of increased economic activity, and the good outcome is driven by aligned incentives, not political inclusion. To study the openness of the British political elite in the 17th and 18th centuries, we collect data on the social origins of high officials, MP's, and Privy Councilors. We also collect information from the Canterbury Probate Records to examine the composition of the economic elite. Our preliminary results suggest an alignment between traditional political elites and new economic elites, which we hope to examine further using data on financial interests of the political elite, and on the relationship between international trade, wars, and government revenues. Our goal is to match RAs to tasks based on interest and skills. We expect RAs to mainly contribute to the empirical and data-intensive aspects of the project. We use Python, R and Stata. Tasks include, for example:
1) Collecting and digitizing novel archival data
2) Web scraping and Optical Character Recognition of historical records
3) Combining data from multiple sources to construct new data sets
4) Working with “text as data” using machine learning and natural language processing
5) Analyzing the data using econometric methods
6) Visualizing the results in graphs and maps
15 yes Haas grad student 3 new Organized Redistribution: Political Machines as Engines of Social Mobility? Evidence from Tammany Hall Political machines are hierarchical organizations with a dense network of local brokers that mobilize votes for their candidates with promises of patronage, pork, or other rewards and threats. Machines dominate elections in many developing countries and are commonly associated with corruption and bad governance. Existing research emphasizes how brokers often target poorer voters. By targeting patronage and public services at poorer citizens, do machine politicians contribute to more equal outcomes and greater social mobility? Can disenfranchised groups like immigrants improve their situation by rising through the machine hierarchy? I study these questions in the context of the archetypical machine in US history: New York City’s Tammany Hall. I am currently digitizing archival records on the machine’s personnel, yearly registers of city employees, and local public good provision. I plan to link this information to individual-level census data and newly collected data on house prices to document who profits from machine politics. I would then compare the economic outcomes of immigrants living close to local machine operatives vs. those living in the same district but further away from operatives. To overcome potential selection, I plan to estimate a difference-in-difference specification and leverage the variation in the proximity to machine officials induced by unexpected changes in the machine’s personnel. The goal is to match RAs to tasks based on interest and skills. I expect RAs to mainly contribute to the empirical and data-intensive aspects of the project. We use Python, R, Stata, and GIS applications like QGIS or ArcGIS.

I am especially looking for someone with GIS experience to create new shapefiles of district boundaries for historical Manhattan.

Other tasks include, for example:
1) Collecting and digitizing novel historical data
2) Web scraping and Optical Character Recognition of historical records
3) Working with geo-spatial data and digitized maps
4) Combining data from the census and other sources to construct new data sets
5) Analyzing the data using econometric methods
6) Visualizing the results in graphs and maps
16 yes Econ grad student 1 new Project postponed to a future term    
17   Econ faculty more than 4 new Positions Filled    
18 yes Econ grad student more than 4 new Positions Filled    
19   Econ grad student 2 new Project postponed to a future term    
20   Econ grad student 2 new Project postponed to a future term    
21 yes Econ grad student 3 new Positions Filled    
22 yes Econ grad student 2 new Positions Filled    
23   Econ faculty 1 new Refugee Migration in Jordan The project uses a combination of administrative and cellphone metadata to measure migration dynamics of refugees, the role of networks in finding jobs and housing, and the impact of migration influxes on cities through equilibrium responses of house prices, congestion and sorting of incumbent residents. A covid-19 module will be added to upcoming telephone surveys to be merged onto the cellphone metadata to examine the impact of the lockdown and subsequent adjustment across heterogeneous workers as a side project. Work will be conducted in Stata and Python, arabic speakers strongly encouraged to apply. data cleaning and analysis
24 yes Econ grad student 1 new Exploring the South Korean Miracle: the Vietnam War Shock How did South Korea escape postwar poverty and become one of the world’s most developed countries? We are studying one of the potential drivers of Korean industrialization—a massive increase in US military spending related to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. We want to understand how this spending shock propagated through the Korean economy and shaped the growth of Korea’s famous chaebol conglomerates, most notably Hyundai. At the minimum, RAs will need to be able to read and write Korean -- being currently located in Korea is also a major plus. We are still at the early stages of data collection, and will need research assistance accessing and cleaning historical micro-data. RAs should have experience in at least one major statistical package (Python, Stata, or R).
25 yes Econ grad student 2 new Positions Filled    
26   Econ grad student 2 new Revealed Preference Job Ladders This project (joint with another Econ grad student) uses rich new data from an online job board to examine workers' preferences for work environments. In particular, do workers from different demographic groups (e.g. gender, age) have different preferences for job amenities? Do differences in observable characteristics of workers map on well to differences in preferences? How do firms' offers respond to these preferences, and the extent of competition firms face in hiring? Undergraduate RAs will work with us to construct a database of firm characteristics for the firms that participate in the online job board. This will involve both library and external resources to compile information about benefits, company culture, workplace flexibility, demographics, and other features of firms that workers may value.
27 yes Econ grad student 3 new The Long-Term Effects of Soviet Policies on Modern Ukraine The goal of the project is to understand how the Soviet policies, including those accompanying the Holodomor of 1932-33 that took lives of 3.9 million persons, have affected the economic outcomes in Ukraine post-1991. I will examine the information about districts’ economic development during the Soviet rule based on data from multiple censuses. The work will contribute to the broader literature about the long-term effects of collectivist culture and planned economy. This project is also relevant for understanding the enduring effects of extreme events (e.g., the Great Chinese Famine, genocides). The project requires the ability to process information in Ukrainian, Russian, and/or Polish language.
1. The primary task is to create the dataset of district-level outcomes during the 1920s-1980s by digitizing relevant variables from multiple Soviet censuses and the Polish census of 1931.
2. Once the data are digitized, RAs are welcome to participate in data analysis.
28 yes Econ grad student 1 new Fiscal Stimulus and Real Responses: Evidence from the Brazilian Payroll Tax Cut Payroll tax cut is a common policy tool adopted to overcome economic recessions. Policy makers and the community of scholars have been interested in accessing tax cut real effects on labor markets. There are two interesting implications of such policies: one it can affect wage inequality, and two it can shape firms incentives to labor demand. It has been challenging to identify tax subsidies causal effects because when they are implemented, typically there are other macro shocks operating as lurking variables. Stata and data scrapping
29 yes Econ grad student 2 new Implicit gender biases and higher education decisions Research question: how does exposure to teachers with implicit gender biases affect higher education choices of female high school students in developing countries? What are the mechanisms that mediate these effects?
Context: we have partnered with the Ministry of Education in Peru as part of a large-scale effort to explore how implicit biases in teaching affect higher education decisions of female high school students. We are designing a website embedded in the remote learning platform of the Ministry of Education, that will allow us to massively conduct Implicit Association Tests, standardized tests, and surveys to both students and teachers through a centralized government-run platform.
Methodology: we plan to leverage various sources of quasi-experimental variation in the assignment of teachers to students in high schools in Peru to analyze the effect of exposure to teachers with varying degrees of gender biases (as measured by the IAT). We intend to study the mechanisms that drive the effect: (i) performance in standardized tests (building upon Carlana, 2019), (ii) self-perceptions of abilities, (iii) interest for different careers, (iv) transmission of gender-related values, (v) implicit biases from male classmates.
We need RA's support in an array of activities that can be performed by students with strong skills in programming or who are more comfortable writing, systematizing information, and strengthening their analytical capacities.
- Conducting a brief literature review to complement our existing pool of reviewed papers.
- Assisting in cleaning and getting tidy large administrative datasets from the education sector.
- Assisting with writing policy brief documents to document the advancements of the project.
- Language skills: Spanish would be highly appreciated.
30 yes Econ grad student 2 new Why Recessions Are Not the Same for Everyone? How do economic conditions affect different groups of population? Okun (1973) documented that “minority workers” benefit more from the strong economy. Recent research corroborates the finding that certain groups experience harder consequences of economic downturns; in some cases, the adverse effects are roughly offset during expansions. In this project, I plan to examine possible explanations for cyclical differences in the labor market outcomes in the U.S. setting.
Tentative tasks depending on RA interests:
1. Finding relevant articles, reviewing abstracts, and summarizing the key features.
2. Finding relevant variables in the existing datasets, conducting preliminary data processing, producing summary statistics and visualizations.

Familiarity with data manipulations in Stata or Python would be useful for some tasks, but not required for all of them.
31   GSPP & Econ faculty 2 new Collective bargaining, the minimum wage, and the racial earnings gap: Evidence from Brazil This paper studies how a national minimum wage and firm- and sector- specific wage floors affect racial earnings disparities. Our context is the Brazilian economy, characterized by persistently high racial disparities, a tradition of extensive sectoral bargaining, and the availability of detailed labor force surveys and administrative matched employer-employee data with information on race. We first analyze the effect of the large increase in the minimum wage that occurred between 1999 and 2009. The second part of the paper studies the effect of negotiated firm- and sector-specific wage floors
• Help in doing background research (e.g. on how the minimum wage is implemented in Brazil, literature review on existing minimum wage research, background research on structure of collective bargaining agreements in Brazil and how this compares to other countries, etc.)
• Support in the development of presentation materials, and other substantive preparations for seminars / conferences.
• This is a paid position.
32   Econ faculty 1 new Outreach to High School Teachers This position is associated with the AEA Task Force for Outreach to High School and College Students (https://www.aeaweb.org/about-aea/committees/task-force-student-outreach). We need a student admin assistant who will oversee production and distribution of posters to HS economics teachers. The posters are designed. The job will be to reach out to HS teachers of economics (we have a database to start from), offer them the posters, get posters produced and shipped. This is a paid position, 8-10 hours per week. The ideal candidate will be available in summer 2021 as well. We do not yet know if we will have funding for Fall 2021.
Organizational skills a must. Ability to reach out to strangers (email, phone calls), keep track of who has requested what poster, work with printer, ensure shipping completed. Attention to detail important. Demonstrated passion for and commitment to diversifying economics a plus.


Prepared by Martha Olney (olney@berkeley.edu)
Last update 1/24/2021 12:30 pm