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Brian W

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at Harvard University


Economics, Political Economy


Hi! I'm a fifth-year PhD student in the Harvard Economics Department. My fields of specialty that I have spent the most time researching/teaching are Political Economy, Macroeconomics, and Public Economics. As a PhD student, however, I have a fairly broad expertise in most all fields within economics, as we are given generalized economics training in the first two years of the program. Because Political Economy is my primary field, I am also well-versed in political science and have written multiple research papers situated in that literature as well. My research combines quantitative (math and statistical analysis) and qualitative (descriptive and historical) techniques. I'm delighted to provide mentorship on a broad range of topics within economics and political science!

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Why has social trust/social capital been declining for the past 70 years, and what are its consequences?

A phenomenon much-discussed by both economists and political scientists is the fact that social capital has been in decline since the 1950s. Social capital refers to the effective functioning of interpersonal relationships in a society -- the extent to which people interact with their neighbors, participate in social clubs/local governance, and trust one another. Much research has found that social capital contributes positively to a wide variety of outcomes -- such as low crime and ease of obtaining a job. I would help you hypothesize about what you think might be potential causes of this decline, guide you through reading some of the important papers on social capital, show you how to find and work with data on social capital, and show you how to test your hypothesis. Together, we would work toward gaining a better understanding of this important topic in political science and economics.

What are the effects of minimum wage changes on various economic outcomes like wages, unemployment, and prices?

The literature on minimum wages is one of the broadest in economics. Application of different techniques in the research has often led to very different results from paper to paper, and there is no consensus on the correct answers at this point. You can contribute to this literature by working on a project of your own. The project could be mostly model-based (economic theory) or it could be geared toward testing your hypothesis on the data (empirical economics). Think through what effects you expect, and I can help you design an economic model that will support and explain your reasoning. And/or I can guide you through obtaining the relevant data for testing your hypothesis and analyzing that data.

What are the effects of political advertising on voters' views on specific issues?

Many papers have studied the effects of political advertising on voting for the candidate running the advertisement. These papers have typically found an odd and curious effect: none. So, if political advertising has no effect on voting for candidates, why is so much money spent on political advertising? This remains one of the largest puzzles in political science. Could it be that political advertising has other effects not yet explored? If it doesn't change voters' votes/views on candidates, maybe it nonetheless manages to change their views on the broader issues at hand? We'll discuss potential effects that political advertising might have, read some of the important papers on this topic, and I'll guide you through forming a hypothesis and providing evidence in support of your hypothesis.

Coding skills


Teaching experience

As a fifth-year PhD student, I have taught a number of classes on Political Economy, Macroeconomics, and Public Economics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have also been a peer mentor to first-year PhD students for the past four years. Prior to that, as an undergraduate, I worked in my college's tutoring center as a tutor in economics, political science, statistics, and speech.


Work experience

Harvard University (2017 - Current)
Teaching Fellow
Harvard University (2015 - 2017)
Research Assistant
University of California, Berkeley (2012 - 2015)
Research Assistant
College of Marin Tutoring Center (2010 - 2011)


University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley)
BA Bachelor of Arts (2013)
Harvard University
MA Master of Arts (2018)
Harvard University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate


"Brian was very helpful in guiding my research process and helped me to find the resources and skills I needed to complete an advanced project. He allowed me to choose the subject and the nature of the project and had detailed expertise on pretty much every topic we discussed, making it easy for me to determine what projects were interesting and plausible for me to do."

Joe from Milwaukee, WI

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