Northwestern is a top research university and our undergraduates often play a role as research assistants in advancing the frontiers of knowledge.
Most students who work as research assistants are hired by professors who have had them in class. Successful candidates for research assistant positions have generally taken some level of econometrics, and it is often useful to have some background in coding. However, this is not universal for all projects.
Options for research within the Economics Department:
EconLab is a space for undergraduates to engage in part-time research and work closely with an Economics faculty member. Undergraduate students can participate in EconLab in two ways:
- Become an EconLab research assistant and work for a professor between 10 and 20 hours per week during the quarter.
- Join the general research assistant database to perform tasks in a more sporadic fashion. While this would not allow you to dig as deeply into a project, these opportunities are more flexible.
Insights From Participants
Sara Johns '17
“I worked as a research assistant with Professor Mar Reguant on a project assessing the cost of increased renewable generation on the grid, specifically comparing empirical results to engineering estimates. At the same time, I was also working on my senior honors thesis with Professor Reguant as my advisor. It was incredibly helpful to see first-hand how Professor Reguant approached the research process and to apply those skills to my independent work. The experience also helped me decide to pursue a PhD and research as a career. After graduation, I took a two year research fellowship in economics and this fall I am starting a PhD program at University of California, Berkeley's Agricultural and Resource Economics department to study energy economics.”
Helen Burkhardt '19
"I worked as a Research Assistant through EconLab for Professor Matt Notowidigdo during my Junior year. As a RA, I studied how changes in government employment affected local labor markets. The opportunity exposed me to the research process and gave me a chance to really dig into some data. The technical skills and appreciation for research cultivated during the experience proved very useful when writing my senior thesis and during my work as an RA for the Chicago Fed."
Michael Cahana '18
"I joined the EconLab when I was a junior at Northwestern, working as a research assistant for Prof. Mar Reguant. I worked with Mar on a variety of research topics, ranging from renewable energy policy in California to real-time electricity pricing in Spain. Getting exposure to rigorous economics research in such variety was a fantastic learning experience; I developed skills in coding, data analysis, and research management that I still turn back to after graduation. The research environment really fostered my growth - I had freedom to come up with my own solutions to problems, was encouraged to try things I hadn’t done before, and was given the resources and attention I needed to thrive. Mar was (and remains) a terrific mentor who always made time for me; someone interested in my personal growth as well as my professional development. She ended up serving as the advisor for my senior thesis. Thanks in large part to my experience working with Mar in the EconLab, I ended up joining a research lab focused on energy & environmental policy after graduation."
Matthew Stadnicki '18
"As an EconLab research assistant, I helped Prof. Mar Reguant with a project on the effects of wind volatility on adjustment costs in Spanish electricity markets. This experience was incredibly valuable in developing my skills in Stata, data visualization, and causal inference, and I learned what it takes to conduct rigorous economics research. Whereas my econometrics coursework primarily used very clean data to illustrate concepts in data analysis, real world data can be very messy. By working as a research assistant, I gained experience in applying what I learned in my econometrics classes to messy, real data. My time in the EconLab helped me decide to pursue economics research full time after graduation as a research assistant, and I continue to rely on the skills I gained there on a daily basis. Most importantly, I met some really awesome people at the EconLab. Whether it was getting career advice from Mar as I prepared for graduation, or learning about machine learning clustering methods in our weekly staff meetings, the people I met taught me a lot, prepared me for my first job post graduation, and serve as strong mentors to this day."
Professor Mar Reguant
“It has been very rewarding to share the research process with undergraduates while teaching them tools that complement the classroom materials. Several of my students have gone into a research path, and I like to think that their experience at the EconLab has given them insights on how to navigate the process.
The EconLab has also been very helpful in pushing my research forward.”
Other Research Options at Northwestern
There are several other ways of getting involved with research throughout the University. One is with Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research (IPR), which has opportunities to work on faculty projects during the summer. Some students also find research work with Kellogg faculty. There are funding resources and guidance on conducting research both in the summer and academic year through the Office of Undergraduate Research.