Research Assistant Program
The research assistant (RA) position at the Chicago Fed is fashioned for recent college graduates with a background in economics, math, statistics, or related fields. RAs work with economists on a variety of research projects and provide support for ongoing analysis of the U.S. and global economy and monetary policy, as well as issues related to bank regulation, the payments system and financial markets. The RA position can be viewed as an apprenticeship program that allows research assistants to develop their research skills and affords a unique opportunity to support the monetary policymaking process.
Research assistant have two primary responsibilities:
- Analysis of current events
RAs work with economists on time-critical analysis of current economic data. Such analysis includes estimation of forecasting models, gathering data for reports and presentations and evaluating market developments.
- Assisting with long-term academic research projects
RAs help economists in conducting long-term academic research on a wide range of empirical and theoretical topics. This includes collecting and managing data, developing code for model estimation and writing and preparing presentations.
What do you learn by working as an RA?
- Economics. RAs are exposed to the frontier of economic research on an ongoing basis. This occurs through daily work, both on long-term research projects and policy-related forecasting, through attending seminars, and through taking classes at local universities, such as the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
- Programming. RAs acquire a wide range of specialized and general programming skills in the course of their tenure. While Matlab and Stata are the two most commonly used tools, other languages, such as Python and Julia are also being utilized. RAs also have opportunity to learn parallel computing techniques and gain experience in working with very large data sets.
- Immersion in policymaking process. The key goal of the research department is to provide high-quality timely input for monetary policymaking. The RAs play an important role in attaining this goal. In the process, they learn about the modeling and empirical tools for formulating policy-relevant forecasts.
- Analysis of current economic data. RAs work with high-frequency data in the course of their daily work. This allows them to learn about a variety of data sources, gauge their relative usefulness in answering time-critical questions and design ways to access this information quickly and reliably.
- Writing for diverse audiences. RAs are tasked with working on projects with very different target audiences. Some of the analyses are very technical and specialized in nature and are geared toward academics. Other projects summarize ongoing economic trends and/or research findings and are of interest to the informed general public. And some projects are meant for a very broad audience.
- The lifecycle of academic research. By assisting on long-term research projects, RAs are exposed to multiple stages of academic research from formulation of the initial idea to subsequent implementation and documentation of the analysis, presentation of the results, submission of the paper for peer review, ensuing revisions, etc. Seeing how research is conducted can be a valuable experience in preparing for graduate school.
How can you apply these skills?
- Many RAs pursue graduate degrees in economics upon leaving their RA position. Others choose to do graduate work in statistics or data science or pursue degrees in law, business administration or public policy.
- Former RAs have also accepted challenging positions elsewhere in the Chicago Fed, the Federal Reserve System and in the private sector.
What is the work environment like?
- The economic research department conducts policy-relevant research in macroeconomics, microeconomics, financial studies and regional economic issues.
- The department has a collegial and intellectually stimulating environment. Members of the research department collaborate to serve the public good, challenging and supporting one another on their assumptions, thinking and conclusions.
- RAs represent a diverse group of recent graduates with a common interest in economics and monetary policy.
- RAs commonly share their expertise and actively learn from each other.
Some day-to-day activities include:
- Compiling, reviewing and assessing economic and financial data from journals, market sources and government reports.
- Performing econometric, computational and analytical research and running financial, banking, macroeconomic and forecasting models.
- Programming in statistical packages, such as Matlab, Stata, Python, R or SAS.
- Working with large-scale databases.
- Writing, assisting and/or delivering presentations to the Bank’s president and senior management.
After leaving the Chicago Fed most RAs go on to graduate school. Many pursue a Ph.D. in economics, such as Jon Davis (University of Chicago) and Christine Ostrowski (Princeton). Wenfei Du is a student at Stanford’s graduate program in statistics.
|“As an research assistant in the regional group at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, I was given the opportunity to collaborate directly with economists in formulating theoretical models and to handle empirical work. This included work on several projects on the automotive industry, aimed at determining factors behind supplier location choice and analyzing fuel efficiency improvements over time. Another project looked at city wage growth decomposition with city-time factors. My involvement in the research process on each of these projects has provided me with an excellent foundation for my graduate study in statistics, greatly improving my ability to think critically about problems that arise as well as to communicate ideas. In addition, working with economic data has enhanced my understanding of the applications of statistical methodology, which has impacted my current research agenda in applied econometrics.“|
Christine Ostrowski, Macroeconomics
|“Many students have trouble with the abrupt switch from coursework to independent research that occurs in the third year of graduate school. The Chicago Fed was the perfect place for me to get a head start on this transition. When I first arrived, I helped economists with their own work, asking lots of questions and learning coding skills. I attended seminars several times a week, joined a reading group with other RAs and took classes at University of Chicago (the Fed covered tuition). I then began co-authoring with economists on research and started learning how to direct my own research. I presented co-authored papers at the Fed lunch seminar and at other conferences, including the SED meetings in Seoul, South Korea. I worked closely enough with economists to get multiple letters of recommendation, which allowed me to apply to schools I never otherwise could have considered. Having been undecided on which direction to take in economics when I first came to the Fed, I strongly recommend the RA program for anyone who is interested in economic research but wants to learn more before applying to graduate school.”|
Jon Davis, Microeconomics
|“I was a Research Assistant (RA) in the Chicago Fed’s microeconomic group from June 2009 until I started graduate school at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy in September 2012. The research experience I gained while working at the Fed was an invaluable component of my academic training. As a research assistant, I worked on papers that went on to be published in top economic journals, like the American Economic Review and the Journal of Political Economy. I also co-authored several articles which appeared in peer-reviewed academic and Chicago Fed publications. Beyond just helping me master a variety of statistical tools that are crucial for applied research, the experience of working closely with economists taught me how to think about and organize an academic research project — skills that helped me finish my Ph.D. in four years (the median is 6 years). Perhaps most importantly, working as an RA was a lot of fun and fostered many great relationships. Many of my colleagues and mentors from my time as an RA are now my friends and co-authors. After completing my Ph.D., I became a post-doc in the University of Chicago economics department. I will be on the academic job market in 2017-18.”|
Some RAs become professors in the fields of economics or finance. Andrew Goodman-Bacon is an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt. Sometimes RAs pursue a career within the Federal Reserve System. Scott Brave is a policy economist in the Regional Analysis group at the Chicago Fed’s research department.
Assistant Professor, Economics
|“My time at the Chicago Fed played a crucial role in my preparation for graduate school as well as my research career. I came to the Fed with plenty of ideas, but limited research experience. In my two years as an RA, I gained many practical skills from my senior colleagues and fellow RAs. I pored over Stata code, took (funded) courses in other programming languages, learned about new empirical methods, used unique restricted data and gained valuable experience producing and conveying empirical economic research. The experience greatly strengthened my graduate school application, and I rely on the substantive lessons I learned there almost every day as an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt University. For example, Leslie McGranahan and I wrote a short paper estimating the effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) on expenditures. Almost ten years later, I still referee papers on the EITC, and my understanding of its structure and effects inform my current research on the history of social and health policy in the U.S. I came to the Fed excited about economic research and ready to learn and left with a host of new skills and a strong start to my academic career in economics.|
Policy Economist, Regional Analysis
|“Working as an research assistant at the Chicago Fed was both one of the most exciting and challenging positions of my young career. It is one thing to sit in a classroom for four years learning about economic theories, but a completely different experience to see those theories then debated and put into practice when it comes to setting monetary policy. The skills that I attained, the connections that I made, and the insights that I gained put my career on the path that it remains on to this day. For someone interested in pursuing graduate studies in economics (or statistics and many other related social sciences for that matter), there is no better proving ground before you take that next step.”|
Recent Chicago Fed research publications co-authored by RAs include the following.
Gene Amromin, Benjamin J. Keys and Michael J. Murto*, 2016, "Mortgage Refinancing during the Great Recession: The Role of Credit Scores," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 355.
Anna Neumann*, 2015, "Fostering Payments Innovations," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 332.
Nisreen H. Darwish*, 2014, "Keeping Banking Competitive: Evaluating Proposed Bank Mergers and Acquisitions," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 322, May.
Ben Chabot and Gabe Herman*, 2013, "A History of Large-Scale Asset Purchases before the Federal Reserve," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 37, Fourth Quarter.
Hesna Genay and Mike Mei*, 2013, "The Cyprus Crisis Through the Lens of Bank Investors," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 315, October.
Florentine M. Eloundou Nekoul* and Alejandro H. Drexler, 2016, "Do Insurers in Catastrophe-Prone Regions Buy Enough Reinsurance?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 360.
Kyal Berends* and Thomas King, 2015, "Derivatives and Collateral at U.S. Life Insurers," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 39, First Quarter.
Andy Polacek*, 2015, "How Do Property and Casualty Insurers Manage Risk? The Role of Reinsurance," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 334.
Kyal Berends*, Robert McMenamin, Anna Paulson and Richard J. Rosen, 2014, "Understanding the Relationship Between Life Insurers and the Federal Home Loan Banks," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 318a, January.
Robert McMenamin*, Anna Paulson, Thanases Plestis* and Richard J. Rosen, 2013, "What Do U.S. Life Insurers Invest in?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 309, April.
Kyal Berends*, Robert McMenamin*, Thanases Plestis* and Richard J. Rosen, 2013, "The Sensitivity of Life Insurance Firms to Interest Rate Changes," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 37, Second Quarter.
Financial Markets Group
Zachary Duey* and Robert Steigerwald, 2015, "2015 Conference on Central Counterparty Risk Management: Resolution," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 348.
Rebecca Lewis* and John W. McPartland 2015, "A New Approach to Stock Market Execution," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 343.
Rebecca Friedman* and Mark L. J. Wright, 2016, "How Much Debt Does the U.S. Government Owe?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 353.
Justin Bloesch* and François Gourio, 2015, "The Effect of Winter Weather on U.S. Economic Activity," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 39, First Quarter.
Robert Barsky and Theodore Bogusz*, 2014, "Interest Rates and Asset Prices: A Primer," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 38, Fourth Quarter.
François Gourio, Todd Messer* and Michael Siemer. 2014, "What Is the Economic Impact of the Slowdown in New Business Formation?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 326, September.
Marco Bassetto, Todd Messer and Christine Ostrowski*, 2013, "Forecasting Inflation and the Great Recession," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 37, Third Quarter.
Jake Fabina* and Mark L. J. Wright, 2013, "Where Has All the Productivity Growth Gone?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 306, January.
Daniel Aaronson, Scott A. Brave and Ross Cole*, 2016, "Using Private Sector 'Big Data' as an Economic Indicator: The Case of Construction Spending," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 366.
Daniel Aaronson, Scott A. Brave and David Kelley*, 2016, "Is There Still Slack in the Labor Market?," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 359.
Daniel Aaronson, Luojia Hu, Arian Seifoddini* and Daniel G. Sullivan, 2015, "Changing Labor Force Composition and the Natural Rate of Unemployment," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 338.
Daniel Aaronson, Luojia Hu, Arian Seifoddini* and Daniel G. Sullivan, 2014, "Declining Labor Force Participation and Its Implications for Unemployment and Employment Growth," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 38, Fourth Quarter.
Daniel Aaronson and Andrew Jordan*, 2014, "Understanding the Relationship between Real Wage Growth and Labor Market Conditions," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 327, October.
Eric French, Taylor Kelley* and An Qi*, 2013, "Expected Income Growth and the Great Recession," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 37, First Quarter.
William A. Strauss and Rebecca Friedman*, 2016, "Economy to Keep Rolling Along in 2016 and Accelerate Slightly in 2017," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 364.
William A. Strauss, Rebecca Friedman*, 2016, "Economic Outlook Symposium: Summary of 2015 Results and 2016 Forecasts," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 350.
William A. Strauss and Jacob Berman*, 2015, "Economy to Roll Along at a Solid Pace in 2015 and Accelerate Slightly in 2016," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 340.
William A. Strauss and Jacob Berman*, 2015, "Economic Outlook Symposium: Summary of 2014 Results and 2015 Forecasts," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 333.
Scott A. Brave, Thomas Walstrum and Jacob Berman*, 2015, "The Chicago Fed Survey of Business Conditions: Quantifying the Seventh District’s Beige Book Report," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 39, Third Quarter.
Jacob Berman* and Leslie McGranahan, 2014, "Measuring Fiscal Impetus: The Great Recession in Historical Context," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 38, Third Quarter.
Jacob Berman* and William A. Strauss, 2014, "Economic Outlook Symposium: Summary of 2013 Results and 2014 Forecasts," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 319, February.
Rick Mattoon and Norman Wang*, 2014, "Industry Clusters and Economic Development in the Seventh District’s Largest Cities," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 38, Second Quarter.
Scott A. Brave and Thomas Walstrum*, 2014 "Using the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book to Track Economic Activity," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 328, November.
Jacob Berman* and William A. Strauss, 2014, "Economy to Move Down the Road at a Solid Pace in 2014 and Accelerate Slightly in 2015," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 324b, July.
Jason Faberman and Taft Foster*, 2013, "Unemployment among Recent Veterans during the Great Recession," Economic Perspectives, Vol. 37, January.
William A. Strauss and Norman Wang*, 2013, "Economy to Cruise at Speed Limit in 2013 and Accelerate Slightly in 2014," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 313a, August.
William A. Strauss and Norman Wang*, 2013, "Economic Outlook Symposium: Summary of 2012 Results and 2013 Forecasts," Chicago Fed Letter, No. 307, February.
Gene Amromin and Caitlin Kearns*, 2014, "Access to Refinancing and Mortgage Interest Rates: HARPing on the Importance of Competition," working paper, No. 2014-25, December.
Stefania D’Amico, Roger Fan* and Yuriy Kitsul, 2013, "The Scarcity Value of Treasury Collateral: Repo Market Effects of Security-Specific Supply and Demand Factors," working paper, No. 2013-22,November.
Robert Barsky and Theodore Bogusz*, 2013, "Bubbles and Leverage: A Simple and Unified Approach," working paper, No. 2013-21, November.
Marco Bassetto and Todd Messer*, 2013, "Fiscal Consequences of Paying Interest on Reserves," working paper, No. 2013-04.
1. What are the ideal qualifications?
- A bachelor's degree or more, with an emphasis on economics, mathematics and statistics.
- Familiarity with programming languages and statistical software packages, such as Matlab, Stata, Python, R, C++, Fortran, SAS, GAUSS and others.
- Prior research or classroom experience analyzing data.
- Ability to communicate clearly and work independently.
2. How is the research department organized?
- The department consists of four teams: finance, macroeconomics, microeconomics and regional analysis. Each of these teams has a distinct focus and a broad research agenda. Economists collaborate widely across teams, both on policy and research. Read more about the economists and their research fields.
- RAs are assigned to a particular team, depending on existing needs and qualifications. An RA typically provides primary research support for one or two economists and is engaged in a number of policy analyses that may include economists from different teams.
3. What are the typical career paths pursued by RAs?
- Many RAs pursue graduate degrees in economics upon leaving their RA position. Others choose to do graduate work in statistics or data science or pursue degrees in law, business administration, or public policy. Recent RAs have attended top-rated graduate programs at universities such as the University of Chicago, Harvard, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan. In recent years, two Chicago Fed RAs have been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.
- Former RAs have also accepted challenging positions elsewhere in the Chicago Fed, the Federal Reserve System, in the private sector and in the U.S. government. You can see some examples in Success Stories.
4. What opportunities are there for continuous learning?
- During their tenure at the Chicago Fed, research assistant have numerous opportunities to take outside courses, attend research seminars and participate in reading groups where they present and discuss research studies and ideas.
- In addition, RAs take part in specialized onsite and offsite courses (recent examples include a Matlab parallel processing course and software carpentry workshops).
5. How flexible are work hours?
- RAs are expected to be present during regular business hours.
- However, regular schedules can be modified to accommodate class attendance.
6. What benefits does the Chicago Fed offer?
- Tuition reimbursement
- Health, dental and vision insurance
- Commuting and health club benefits
- 401(k) savings plan with employer matching
7. I have a master’s degree. Should I apply?
- Absolutely. Having a master’s degree enables incoming RAs to build upon a strong foundation and quickly ramp up their contributions to the research department.
- Candidates with a master’s degree are able to further develop their skills for future doctoral studies or to prepare for a transition to other career tracks.
8. Are there other opportunities for undergraduates?
- The Chicago Fed offers a summer internship program.
- The research department program emphasizes advanced assignments — with opportunities for summer interns to enhance their skills through critical financial analysis, research and writing and formal presentations — making it ideal for students, especially rising seniors, interested in applying for the RA position.
- More information is available at the summer internship page.
9. What are the legal requirements for this position?
Bank policy specifies that candidates must be:
- U.S. citizens
- U.S. nationals or
- U.S. permanent residents who intend to apply for naturalization within six months of being eligible to do so.
10. When and how do I apply?
- Recruitment of research assistant begins in the fall and lasts throughout the winter months. We review applications on a rolling basis and candidates are strongly encouraged to apply early.
- To apply for the position, click on Apply Now to begin your application.