Below please find project descriptions for 2015.  Please note that projects are subject to change as part of the normal course of research. In addition to reviewing the project descriptions below, we suggest that you take a look at the faculty sponsor's research agenda by visiting his/her webpage. 

We will be continuing to add projects to this site as we approach the PRIMO deadline, so check back often. 

Activist Investing

Suraj Srinivasan

Hedge fund driven shareholder activism is presently one of the most important and controversial developments in the US business world. In the last few years hedge fund managers like Bill Ackman (Pershing Square), Carl Icahn (Icahn Enterprises), Daniel Loeb (Third Point) among others have become a powerful force in US corporate governance. I have been studying activist investing and its role in corporate governance in my research and case writing. The student will help me in one or more of several ongoing projects. These include:

  • Writing cases on interesting activist events. Student will be involved in collecting information of the activists’ engagement with the company and writing a draft of a case study. This will allow the student to gain an in depth understanding of the process of hedge fund activism. Part of the role will be to be involved in the design of a new course on activist investing.
  • Collecting and analyzing large sample empirical data on activism, its causes and consequences. This will allow the student to gain an understanding of the range of activist approaches and how to design a research study around the phenomenon.
  • Help design and conduct a survey of corporate directors on challenges posed to companies from activist investors.

This project would be of interest to a student interested in business strategy, corporate governance, or finance. It will help the student get exposed to what is currently a leading edge investment and business phenomenon both from a practice and research point of view.

Agency, Serendipity and community on the way to the top: Socioeconomic status and women's careers

Kathleen McGinn and Judith Clair (Boston College)

When striving to reach top positions in organizations, how do women who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds differ from those coming from more privileged backgrounds?  Are the paths open to “elites” open to others, or do women without the benefit of family ties and money work their way to the top along fundamentally different paths? I am looking for a PRIMO fellow to work with my coauthor and me on a qualitative study of high status women, and how they got to the top.

Interviews and career histories from 50 female executives and entrepreneurs offer a unique window into the ways in which socioeconomic status in early life affects women’s career paths and transitions. Using narrative analyses, we are linking women’s early lives with the opportunities they pursue across their careers, the steps they take to be successful when pursuing those opportunities, and the ways in which each step reflects what has come before while creating possibilities for the next step up.

Excellent writing skills. Experience with qualitative and/or narrative analyses or anthropological methods. Interest in gender and class inequality.

Boards, reimagined

Guhan Subramanian and Leo Strine (Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice)

This project has been proposed to the Harvard Business Review, as a follow-on article to Subramanian, Corporate Governance 2.0 (HBR March 2015). If it is accepted, the student participant will help conduct interviews with senior managers and directors, and help facilitate actual corporate board meetings with leading companies (e.g., Conoco, Time Warner on the HBS campus this summer. A more detailed proposal, as submitted to HBR, is available upon request. The first installment in the two-part project is attached here, by way of background.

The PRIMO fellow may also be involved in a second project, Commentaries and Cases on the Law of Business Organization, with Professor Subramanian, Professor Reinier Kraakman (HLS), and Professor Bill Allen (BYU). This project will involve updating and substantially revising the corporate law casebook Commentaries and Cases on the Law of Business Organization (Aspen 4th ed. 2012). This casebook is the leading casebook in the field, used by thousands of law students each year including at top law schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. The student participant will conduct legal research and write small case studies that will be incorporated into the casebook.

Bridging the Middle Skills Gap

Joseph Fuller

The United States has suffered from a chronic shortage of skilled workers, especially among the ranks of the middle skills. Middle skills positions are defined as those requiring more than a high school education, but less than a four-year college degree. Our research into this phenomenon suggests that the market for middle skills workers functions extremely inefficiently. Bridging this gap is important to American competitiveness. Aspiring workers who invest time and money in obtaining credentials that do not lead to employment severely undermine their long-term earnings prospects. Employers who cannot find labor readily turn to other solutions, such as offshoring, job simplification and investment in technology to replace labor.

The solution lies in the emergence of a system in which employers take a leadership role. That will require employers to invest in cultivating sources of talent. Before they make the investment required, they must become more fully aware of the total costs the skills gap inflicts on them, which come in the form of turnover, overtime, lost productivity and sales, reduced morale, etc. In this project, we will study whether and how companies take such costs into account in developing human resources strategies and how the systems cost of America’s inefficient middle skills system manifest themselves for individual employers.

Some experience with Stata and excel.


Victoria Ivashina

The goal of this project is to deepen understanding of the sources of value in private equity. The sources of value creation in private equity are somewhat elusive. My central hypothesis is that debt structuring, debt management (including leveraged recapitalization and restructuring), and even direct investment in debt are integral aspects of the private equity value proposition. The specific project is tentatively titled “Contracting as a Source of Value in Private Equity;” it will examine contractual innovation by private equity firms.

My previous work shows that private equity firms—and specifically the biggest private equity firms—have large bargaining power vis-à-vis their originating lender. This new study will dive into the specifics of loan contracts. For this purpose I acquired substantial loan-contract data from a legal firm that specializes in analyzing debt contracts. We will look at whether private equity firms creatively negotiate financing terms, putting emphasis on ex-post renegotiation flexibility.

The project requires deep interest in (and capacity for) corporate finance and financial intermediation. Working on this project will help you better understand debt markets and the private equity industry, and will expose you to relevant databases. You need to have basic statistical skills and be able to learn quickly.

The Crisis in the Theory of the Firm

Karthik Ramanna

This project will lay out what we see as the limitations of the existing theory of the firm as articulated in contemporary economics. In particular, this economic theory of the firm takes as given the social and political institutions in which firms exist – it treats these institutions as largely outside the influence of firms. Thus, it offers little normative guidance on what constitutes appropriate behavior when firms lobby to structure these institutions. Of course, decades of empirical research have shown that firms do influence the social and political institutions in which they operate. The project hopes to raise the salience of this contradiction in the existing theory of the firm and to propose new theories in its stead.

Suitable for: Candidates with research or professional interests in economics, political economy, or political philosophy.

PRIMO Fellow will be involved in: Assisting in literature reviews to uncover the intellectual history of the existing theory of the firm in economics.

Decision Making and Behavioral Economics

Max Bazerman, Alison Wood Brooks, Ryan W. Buell, Francesca Gino, Leslie K. John, and Michael I. Norton

Our research focuses on judgment and decision making, with applications to organizational and consumer behavior, as well as behavioral economics. The topics we investigate include (but are not limited to): ethical decision-making, team and organizational dynamics and performance, rituals, inequality, when and why people disclose information, health behavior, and how customers and companies interact. We investigate these questions primarily with laboratory and field experiments, and your role would be to assist in the entire process – from idea generation, to experiment design, to data collection and analysis, to writing up results.

We hold a weekly lab meeting with our doctoral students and research assistants in which members present their current research, and we discuss “random ideas” that we try to turn into research projects. Our lab is ideal for undergraduates who are interested in books such as Predictably Irrational, Nudge, and Blink, and who are interested in attending graduate school in psychology, sociology, organizational behavior, or marketing (though interest in graduate school is not a prerequisite).

Designing a Robust Survey on Distributional Preferences

Matthew Weinzierl

What are society’s attitudes toward income inequality and policies related to it? Though a variety of public opinion surveys have been used to answer these questions, recent research has made clear that their results are highly sensitive to particular features of survey design, including the information presented to respondents. This unreliability makes it difficult to use existing survey evidence to elicit society’s preferences, which are key inputs to economic models of optimal policy design and policy evaluation. The goal of this project is to design a survey on these questions that will avoid common pitfalls of survey design which reduce response robustness, including reliance on language whose everyday meaning changes over time. The PRIMO fellow will be responsible for synthesizing existing research on survey design methodology and suggesting how its insights can be applied to this specific task. The fellow will also help to build and launch pilot versions of the survey, evaluating the results and suggesting improvements. This project is well-suited to an individual interested in research in economics, psychology, or political science, as the issues we will be dealing with span all three disciplines.


Envisioning Corporate Reports for the Modern Researcher

James Zeitler

LaserDisclosure (LaserD) is an obsolete, proprietary, and unsupported technology used to deliver images of corporate financial filings and reports via CD-ROM.  Baker Library’s collection includes more than 5,000 CD-ROMs, each of which contains in the approximately nnn encoded images.  The application to decipher these encoded image files exists on a single PC in the library, running the NT operating system.  It is an orphan proprietary technology that converts the encoded files into TIFF-format images.

The data on these CD-ROMs is corporate financials and company annual reports.  Making these files usable will enable faculty and students to manipulate this data in ways not possible now. With the increasing use of text analysis as part of the research process, there is a continual need for large unique datasets that are easy to manipulate.

Our tasks are (1) to reverse-engineer the encoding scheme so that the image files on the CD-ROMs can be converted to TIFF format, (2) to develop procedures for processing the CD-ROMs in bulk, and (3) to investigate methods of extracting and analyzing text contained within the document images.

Depending on the skill set and vision of the prospective PRIMO fellow, the methods used and output is flexible.   While this project is based in Baker Research Services, every effort will be made for faculty and/or doctoral student involvement with the PRIMO fellow.

How Do We Process Information to Make a Decision?

Uma R. Karmarkar

What do you use to help you choose? Nearly every choice, big or small, involves bringing together all the available information to help us arrive at a final decision. This information arrives in different ways at different times, and is often incomplete. For example, imagine browsing in a store for a laptop – do you think about prices first, do you focus on the way the keyboard feels, or the processing speed? Does thinking about one factor influence how you think about the others? Broadly speaking, my research examines how people integrate the information they do have, estimate value, and even experience the outcomes of their choices.

I draw from disciplines such as psychology, economics, and neuroscience to inform my experimental research. Your role would be to assist in the design, data collection and data analysis for behavioral studies online and in the lab. There may also be the opportunity to learn about or assist with experiments involving decision neuroscience methods such as fMRI and/or eye-tracking.

This research stream would be ideal for those interested in how people make choices, particularly in marketplace contexts. It can also offer some introduction to the emerging field of decision neuroscience and/or neuroeconomics. Some familiarity with SPSS, Stata, or other statistical packages would be helpful. Coursework or experience in neuroscience would be a huge plus, but is not at all expected. This project is a good fit for students who are considering graduate school in psychology, behavioral economics, marketing, and other fields related to judgment and decision-making (though an interest in graduate school is also not a requirement.)

How Star Women Succeed

Boris Groysberg

A major focus of my research and teaching at the business school is talent and career management including how high achieving professionals build and manage their own individual careers. In one of our studies, we found that there were gender differences in star men and women building their careers. Why this difference?

This very important question inspired the How Star Women Succeed (HSWS) project, and we have interviewed over 250 highly successful women across the globe to better understand how successful women build their careers with the intent to advance a greater understanding of how women succeed. In addition to HSWS the larger research effort looks at women from undergraduates to successful corporate directors. For each piece of the study, we have collected both quantitative and qualitative data. I am seeking two PRIMO Fellows to contribute to the work on the study this summer. The Fellows will have the opportunity to contribute in important ways by organizing and working with both quantitative and qualitative study data. Possible projects may include, for example, conducting library research and interviews, reading interview transcripts and coding data.

In general, an interest and enthusiasm for working with different research methods is desired.

Improving the Value of Health Care Delivery

Robert S. Kaplan  

Professor Robert S. (Bob) Kaplan has been collaborating with Professor Michael Porter on action-based research to help health care providers better measure and improve the value of the care they deliver (outcomes relative to costs). A key component of this research is working with clinicians to understand, and then redesign care delivery processes to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Over the summer, a student will likely play a role in one or more projects at Boston area hospitals, such as by spending time with patients and clinicians to help document the care delivery process for a medical condition.  There may also be opportunities to become involved with other types of projects.  In 2014 a PRIMO student worked on projects related to improving the efficiency of care delivery for Interventional Radiology and Joint Replacements, and helped with research for a Harvard Business Review article published in November on “How Not to Cut Health Care Costs”.

A student may additionally be able to provide analytic support related to a program to improve the value of care for joint replacements that over thirty hospitals across the world are participating in.

A keen interest in health care delivery, as well as experience and comfort using Excel.

The Intellectual and Political History of Financial Reporting Regulation

Karthik Ramanna

This is a large-scale project organized with the HBS Baker Library to create a comprehensive digital archive of lobbying at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the body responsible for crafting financial-reporting rules in the U.S. The project will make available online an intelligent-search database of the tens of thousands of lobbying letters filed with the FASB on proposed accounting rules over the past forty years. The database will enable in-depth investigations into the intellectual and political histories of key accounting ideas in ways not previously possible.

Suitable for: Candidates with research or professional interests in finance, capital markets, accounting, and auditing; no prior knowledge of accounting is required.

PRIMO Fellow will be involved in: Studying lobbying-related correspondence between various companies and the FASB to help develop better methods of organization for the proposed database. By the end of the summer, fellows can expect to have a better understanding of how financial-reporting regulation works as well as some key substantive elements of accounting.

Meaning, Motivation,and Interaction

Teresa Amabile

My research projects focus on the psychological aspects of work. I run an active research laboratory with several doctoral students interested in the intersection of social psychology and business. Specific topics of interest are: identity, meaning, motivation, and interaction in the workplace. Projects planned for summer 2015 include: 1) Attitudes toward and adjustment to retirement, as a function of the meaning of work for the individual, 2) The antecedents and outcomes of interactions between members of different age groups, 3) Motivation and meaning making in virtual work environments, 4) The impact of mindfulness and emotional regulation on individual and team performance, and 5) the dynamics of empowerment in the workplace. These questions will be explored both qualitatively and quantitatively in a mix of laboratory and field settings.

PRIMO fellows will meet weekly with Teresa and/or her doctoral students, and will actively work on multiple projects.

Research tasks will be highly varied and will encompass the entire research process, including brainstorming ideas, designing studies, running studies, conducting background research, qualitative coding, and data analysis.


Thisresearch is ideal for people who are interested in both psychology and business.  Having coursework or experience in either of these fields is very beneficial. Furthermore, applicants should be very proactive and feel comfortable working both independently and as part of a collaborative team.

Medical Technology: Economics, Innovation Incentives, and Regulation

Ariel Stern

Cutting edge medical technologies such as implantable medical devices and biotech drugs save and improve millions of lives every year. My research focuses on understanding the unique innovation and product development incentives that emerge in these industries as a result of health care payment systems and regulations. The PRIMO Fellow would work with me on a variety of research tasks, such as building novel datasets, writing literature reviews, and conducting quantitative analysis of data related to the development, commercialization, and sales of high-tech medical products. An interest in health economics, regulatory policy, biology, biomedical engineering, medicine, or the management of technology and innovation would be helpful, but is not required. We will work together to identify specific research topics and tasks based on the PRIMO Fellow’s interests and data analysis skills.


Music and Media: Surviving, Transforming and Thriving in the digital age 

Karim Lakhani

The music, entertainment, and news industries have always been at the bleeding edge of the digital transformation and there is now consensus amongst executives and scholars that digital technologies are (positively and negatively) impacting industry much more broadly, whether healthcare, consumer products, energy or transportation. This transformation is not limited to technologies of production or distribution; rather, it is fundamentally challenging economics and strategy, organizational culture and worker capabilities. There are far more questions than answers and practice outpaces research and theory in many settings. We seek to generate better understanding and new knowledge of music and adjacent media domains, and to identify lessons for the other sectors navigating this sea change.

For instance, as music has moved from albums to CDs to downloads to streams, artists and labels both lost traditional market power and gained new capacity. Maybe a Taylor Swift can flex her muscle by removing her catalog from Spotify, but how can emerging artists gain traction and make a living in this environment, where streaming services and YouTube make music available for free? Vastly lower costs for production, new paths for distribution, novel forms of audience engagement from Twitter to Kickstarter, tour revenues, and a new ecosystem of support services are permitting novel monetization approaches for artists.

While much has been made of these opportunities, their benefits seem to vary widely and the appropriateness of the approaches depends on particularities of the genre and the artist, including their personal preferences and abilities. The changes affect every aspect of the business: underlying economics and strategy, organizations, and the surrounding cultural context. To navigate these changes, individuals need new and skills and capabilities. The industry is in turmoil and no one is happy. The question many are asking is, how can we ensure that artists can continue to create music that everyone can enjoy?

We seek your help to assemble a rich online repository of relevant media objects ranging from scholarly to popular works, to map the industry’s players and how the business works, to aggregate and explore other relevant quantitative and qualitative data, and much more. We will draw on this research and analysis to devise new taxonomies, frameworks, and language to help us understand where the business is going, and in turn, to understand how to manage in an era of constant change.

Projects in Investment Management

Adi Sunderam and Luis M. Viciera

Professors Adi Sunderam and Luis M. Viceira are pursuing a series of research projects covering several topics in investment management:

  • A research project aimed at understanding liquidity management by asset managers. How do asset managers manage the risk associated with providing their clients with instant liquidity? How does providing this liquidity impact asset prices? Does it create systemic risk?
  • A research project aimed at understanding the benefits of international portfolio diversification in both equities and bonds for long horizon investors.
  • Research projects in household finance, working with large datasets with information on portfolio holdings and demographics
  • A project to design a dynamic learning exercise on asset manager performance evaluation to be done in our upcoming second-year MBA course in the business of money.
  • Two cases examining issues related to endowment and asset management, one with a large foundation, and another with a large university.

Public Entrepreneurship

Mitchell Weiss

Project description forthcoming.


Rory M. McDonald

Startups and stalwart companies that compete in nascent markets face different challenges from firms in more mature markets. Nascent markets are characterized by undefined structures, unclear products and features, and extreme ambiguity—about profit opportunities, customer demand, and best practices. Managers struggle to formulate a successful strategy and execute on that strategy. Moreover, such contexts have few established rules that govern competition and malleable regulations that specify how managers must operate their businesses.

The aim of this research is to study strategy and innovation in nascent markets. It will focus on identifying, documenting, and describing tools of influence that managers use to shape these rules and regulations in their favor and legitimate their novel products and services to customers. The project will explore a wide range of newly emerging industries that have a strong regulatory component—personal genomics (23andMe), consumer financial services (Wealthfront), and “sharing economies” in transportation (Uber) and accommodations (Airbnb).

This project is well suited to students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, business strategy, and business-government relations. PRIMO students will work closely with me and an HBS doctoral student to gather primary data (interviews) and secondary date (via HBS library resources) to construct case histories of innovative firms and industries. Students should also expect to receive mentorship regarding their academic and professional interests.


Technology Strategy and Innovation in Platform-based Markets


Platform-based markets comprise a large and rapidly growing share of today’s economy. Examples of such markets are as diverse as operating systems (which bring computer users and application developers together), video consoles (game players and game publishers), auction houses (buyers and sellers), sponsored search engines (users and advertisers), and content-sharing networks such as YouTube and Wikipedia (content creators and users).

The success of many platform owners today (e.g., Apple, Google and Facebook) incentivized many traditional companies to move from their product/service-centric models to platform-based business models.  The aim of the project is to understand how companies have succeeded or failed to make the transition and document the best practices.

The PRIMO fellows will work with me and other researchers on gathering primary and secondary data through conducting interviews and reviewing the literature on a set of companies. They will help construct case histories of these companies.  Applicants must have good writing skills. As our list of companies to study consists of a few Chinese firms, ability to read Chinese will be a plus.

The Challenge of Building Unique Data Sets

Barbara Esty

Faculty are continually challenged to contribute to their field’s theory and literature as well as to make an impact with practitioners. This requires having actionable information available for analysis. Creating datasets that span across time is a continuing challenge. Gathering and updating data that changes over time both in form and medium is time-consuming and very detailed. For example, to create a dataset of the largest corporations in the world since the 1950’s or earlier may involve synthesizing information from print, CD-ROM, and Web-based tools. And at the same time, integrating consistent data from multiple sources is crucial to the integrity of the dataset.

Our project involves updating some existing large datasets based on the Fortune500, as well as creating long-run datasets of large global corporations using the Global500 ranking and other ranked lists such the S&P500. In this this research project, you will work with 9 very seasoned researchers (a mix of Librarians, Statisticians, Economists, and MBAs) who support the 200+ faculty and doctoral students at HBS. This is an excellent opportunity to experience the research process in action; to build and broaden skills in Excel, Bloomberg, assorted databases both financial and other; and to navigate the vast collections at Baker Library and throughout the Harvard Library system.

In general, enthusiasm and adaptability to work with research tools and resources of many types is desired. This project will require attention to detail, basic Excel skills, and lots of patience and curiosity.

The specific project is open to change as large scale faculty research projects occur, reflecting the nature of research at HBS.

Understanding the risks of high-impact entrepreneurship

Pian Shu

We are pursuing a series of research projects studying the risks of high-impact entrepreneurship by examining the evaluation and evolution of early-stage start-up ideas. This research agenda seeks to address the following questions:

1. Can the commercial viability of a start-up idea be evaluated in the very early stage?

2. Are some experts better at evaluating start-up ideas than others? If so, what are the defining characteristics of these experts?

3. What are some common misconceptions that entrepreneurs have when they first start a venture?

The PRIMO students will work closely with my coauthors and me to clean and/or analyze the unique data we've collected on the characteristics and growth of nearly 700 high-impact ventures. Specific project and task assignments will depend on each student’s interests and data skills.

Use of Mobile phones in developing countries

Tarun Khanna

Use of mobile phones has become ubiquitous through the developing world — not only as a tool to close the information gap, but a powerful device to promote economic growth in emerging markets. This project hopes to broaden the understanding of mobile technology and how it can enable economic and social mobility particularly for the low-income population. Our collective efforts can increase knowledge of, and provide better access to services in areas of mobile-healthcare, banking, education, etc. and improve livelihoods. Aside from their societal impact, data generated by these mobile technologies can be harnessed to provide novel insights about human behavior at an unprecedented scale.

PRIMO Fellows will be work with Professor Khanna and the larger team involved in this multi-year project, including HSPH faculty, HBS field study teams, and a team of undergraduates who will be on the ground in India.

Suitable for: Candidates with research or professional interest in public service delivery in emerging markets, technology and the potential of big data, and innovation and entrepreneurship. <

Venture Capital and Private Equity

Paul A. Gompers

This project has two components. The first is ongoing work with Yuhai Xuan and Vladimir Mukharlyamov looking at the importance of social ties in the venture capital and entrepreneurial world. We are hoping to be part of the PRIMO program and bring several undergraduates aboard for this very large project. We are currently working on several related projects included looking at success of new venture capital offices, looking at ethnic ties among venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and looking at the endogeneity of social ties in the venture capital industry.

The second part of the project is an exploration of the private equity industry. I have developed a survey to gain insights on valuation and capital structure issues within the private equity industry. The recent credit crisis has likely affected both valuation approaches and capital structure choices. As such, this survey should provide important insights into theory building around both of theseissues. The project also entails work related to the Private Equity Finance course in the second year of the MBA.

The PRIMO fellow will work on individual research projects and help with case related development for the Private Equity Finance course. I would hope the PRIMO fellow my work on writing a case study as well as pick a paper project of interest to develop.