Below please find project descriptions for 2016.  We will continue to post additional projects as we receive them from faculty. 

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. 

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.

Creativity, Careers, Meaningful work, AND retirement

Teresa Amabile

My research focuses 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, creativity, careers, and interaction in the workplace.

This summer will involve extensive work on and data analysis of my massive, multi-year study investigating experiences at work across different career stages, focusing primarily on the transition to retirement. My aim is to uncover new insights about everyday work experiences across generations, as well as attitudes toward and adjustments to retirement. Though primarily a qualitative study, the research uses both qualitative and quantitative methods in analyzing data from the field.

PRIMO fellows will meet weekly or more with my Research Associate for instruction and guidance around the work. In addition to participating in meetings with me and other faculty collaborating on the research, the PRIMO fellow can expect to meet with me individually 3-4 times during the summer to discuss their experience, as well as academic research and careers more generally. The PRIMO fellow will also have an opportunity to meet with current Ph.D. students that I am collaborating with, as they have proven to be excellent mentors in the past. Research tasks will be highly varied and will encompass the entire research process, including brainstorming ideas, reviewing literature, qualitative coding, and data analysis. More specifically, tasks may include: conducting a literature review on retirement research; reviewing interview transcripts and checking for their accuracy; coding interview transcripts using qualitative analysis software; analyzing quantitative survey data; analyzing qualitative data to distill themes; and proposing preliminary theory based on emerging themes from analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.


This research is ideal for people who are interested in both psychology and business. Having coursework or experience in either of these fields is very beneficial, though not required. Furthermore, applicants should be very proactive and feel comfortable working both independently and as part of a collaborative team.

Decision Making and Behavioral Economics

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).

Digital Disruption

Sunil Gupta

Digital technology has changed the way consumers search for information, communicate with each other and buy products. Startups are capitalizing on this change and disrupting incumbents in almost every industry. The purpose of this research is three fold:

  • To examine new entrants in an industry (e.g., financial services, automotive, healthcare etc.) and understand how they are trying to disrupt the industry.
  • To assess incumbents’ response to this disruption (e.g., banks response to fintech companies).
  • To form a perspective on the future of this industry (e.g. what would the retail industry look like in 5-10 years).

Approach: The research will be based primarily on secondary sources and our discussions. Wherever possible, we will supplement it with interviews with industry leaders. I plan to have weekly meetings with students to guide them throughout this process.

Output: A white paper that outlines the three areas mentioned above.

Ideal candidate: Should have deep interest in technology and business; ability to work independently, synthesize various sources of information, and develop meaningful insights; and excellent writing skills. I am looking for a 2-3 students who can work on different industries.

Disclosure Choices on LinkedIn

Ian Gow and Gwen Yu

Information with respect to individual’s profiles in the social networking space has been rapidly increasing. Yet, there has been limited understanding of how individuals present themselves in such unregulated settings. This project will relate to our current work looking at how corporate directors present their profiles. But whereas the current project focuses on disclosures in a regulated setting, the new project would focus on disclosure on LinkedIn, a business oriented social networking service. We will examine various social and economic factors that drive individuals to disclose/hide certain information in their profiles. Also, we will examine various consequences of the disclosure choices.

Research methodologies: This project will focus on empirical analysis of observed disclosure practices. Research task will be varied encompassing the entire research process: from literature review to coding data from LinkedIn webpages and other sources using modern technologies such as Python, Git, and PostgreSQL.

Emerging Markets Giants

Ranjay Gulati

In this research project, we will explore some of the rising competitors in emerging markets that understand how to serve their value conscious customers better than most multinationals. They are masters of managing cost but also delivering value. Examples range from Mediatech in India that provides inexpensive cell phones to Shoemart Corporation in the Philippines that offers everything from real estate to banking to the masses. These firms eschew premium offerings and focus primarily on providing an affordable alternative. For this research project, the student will have to conduct extensive archival research at Baker library to identify some leading examples of such local competitors who are dominating their home markets and even considering overseas expansion. We will then conduct exploratory interviews at those companies to set the stage for more detailed case writing.

Requirements: The project will require archival research skills, good analytics, and a task orientation to get this done.

Hackathons: A Social Movement to Spawn New Organizations

Ethan Bernstein

Why would almost 1,400 top students from leading universities (selected from 4,500 applicants), some after traveling over 24 hours from distant locations in the dead of winter, crowd into lecture halls for 36 hours straight without sleep over Presidents’ Day weekend at the University of Michigan? It wasn’t a protest, a party, or a vigil. Like the other 40,000 students expected to attend the 150 student-organized university hackathons being held last year, they were there at “MHacks” to work in co-located, self-organized small teams to “hack”.

The race for productivity has existing organizations, and the individuals within them, increasingly seeking “hacks” to innovate or improve efficiency, and hackathons are serving as a key way to source hacks from the “crowd”—leveraging a global community of so-called “white hat” hackers for the organization’s benefit. In this research, Adam Joseph (a former PRIMO fellow) and I look at the reverse trend: how some communities are self-organizing, using collegiate hackathons, to create new organizations. In the process, we use ethnographic, interview, survey, and online community data in the first academic attempt to rigorously study collegiate hackathons—events intended to develop hacks, produce hackers, and ultimately spawn new organizations. To date, we have observed a number of collegiate hackathons and interviewed dozens of individuals who have formed organizations as a result of their success at collegiate hackathons. This summer, the PRIMO student (who ideally would have an interest in field research) will work closely with Adam and me to code the wealth of data we have collected and potentially conduct additional interviews. Depending on the student’s interests and skills, there will also be opportunities to get deeply involved in other aspects of this research. Previous participation at hackathons is a plus but 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 as well as multi-hospital studies around particular medical areas, such as by spending time with patients and clinicians to help document the care delivery process and doing background research. The last two summers PRIMO students have worked on projects related to joint replacements, pharmacy operations, interventional radiology, and bariatric surgery, as well as helped with research for a Harvard Business Review article 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.

Income Inequality and Government Spending

Matthew Weinzierl

How does the way in which a government spends its tax revenue affect the distribution of income? While the effects of tax and transfer policies on inequality are studied exhaustively, less work has been done to understand how government spending affects the distribution of earnings. For example, if the government spends more on public education or healthcare, does inequality decrease? If the government spends more on research and development, does it increase? If government expenditure as a share of the economy is larger, is poverty less likely? And how does infrastructure spending affect the extremes of the income distribution? The answers to these and many other questions are directly relevant to policymaking, but they are also important ingredients to economic models of optimal policy design. In particular, recent work on optimal tax policy has stressed the endogeneity of the income distribution to a variety of factors, including public goods expenditure, and to calibrate such a model we need evidence. The PRIMO fellow will take on that task, looking both across time and across countries to tease out the relationship between government spending and the shape of the income distribution. This project is well-suited to an individual interested in research in economics or political science.

Managing Patient Experience, Medical Outcomes, and Cost in Health Care Operations

Ananth Raman

This project seeks students interested in healthcare operations and the application of analytical methods in business and economics. I, with my colleague Joel Goh, doctoral students Maria Ibanez and Raha Imanirad, and two major academic medical centers, am exploring the drivers of patient experience, medical outcomes and cost in health care operations. You will join this group, doing things such as providing analytic support, writing up research findings and case studies, and participating in periodic discussions on this topic.

Patient experience is an important aspect of health care. For one, patients deserve to be treated with respect – as Dr. Rene Favaloro said, “The patient is not only a disease, he has a soul.” Any patient, or family member of a patient, knows this: patients care about not only the medical outcome but also how they were treated, whether the communication was meaningful and respectful, and whether the wait time and noise levels in their rooms was managed appropriately. Yet, historically, hospitals – especially leading medical centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic – fail to give patient experience the attention it deserves.

During the last few years, hospitals in the US have started paying more attention to patient experience for a variety of reasons. First, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started tracking and then basing hospital reimbursement partly on a hospital’s patient experience scores. Second, there is growing evidence that a hospital’s reputation for delivering patient experience might drive patient choices and doctors’ referrals. Third, there was evidence that some hospitals had successfully improved their patient experience scores relatively quickly. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, went from the 55th percentile to the 92nd percentile on overall patient experience among all US hospitals in roughly 4 years. Fourth, some argue that better patient experience could drive better clinical outcomes and lower costs. Finally, hospitals have recognized that the factors that led to bad patient experience also probably contributed to bad employee experience. Delivering a good experience, for both patients and employees, became a moral imperative for many hospital CEOs.

I am seeking a PRIMO candidate who is interested in learning and applying analytic methods from statistics, economics, and machine learning to large datasets. Prior knowledge of these methods is not essential but willingness to learn is. The entire group – consisting of doctoral students, faculty, and PRIMO candidate – will meet roughly once every two weeks to discuss progress and issues.


Dennis Yao

Strategists use mental models to understand their business environment. Such models are simplified representations of the environment used by decision makers to guide their decisions. My coauthor, Anoop Menon (Wharton), and I are engaged in a stream of research exploring the impacts of mental models on strategy. A primary focus of our research is to characterize market outcomes that result when two or more firms compete with strategies based on different mental models. We ask questions including: Do “more accurate” mental models lead to superior market performance? Under what conditions will “inaccurate” mental models persist?

We use computer simulation models to generate numerical examples which are used to assess the performance of different mental models in different competitive environments. The PRIMO fellow would be expected to help develop different simulation models and then analyze the results from the simulation runs. Because the simulation programs are written in Python, a requirement for the fellow would be competence in Python programming. It would also be helpful if the fellow had some training in statistics and microeconomics or psychology, though this is not absolutely required.

Migration, Diasporas, and Business Networks

Meg Rithmire

China’s economic transformation and success over the past few decades would not have been possible without the aid of overseas Chinese business networks. Neither, for that matter, would the growth of India, Mexico, Nigeria, and so forth. My research addresses the organization and experiences of the Chinese diaspora — from Hong Kong to Singapore to Taiwan to the United States to Southeast Asia — and its interactions with groups in Mainland China. The project on the Chinese diaspora engages the “missing leg” of the triad of globalization; we know a great deal about how transnational flows of capital and goods have affected economic growth, but we know less about how emigration and immigration affect sending and receiving countries. This is particularly true in Asia, where data are unreliable and issues of ethnicity and national origin are politically sensitive.

I am seeking at least one and potentially two PRIMO fellows to help with two aspects of this research. First, I hope a PRIMO fellow can assist me in mapping Overseas Chinese business networks. This would entail collecting data on the largest overseas Chinese firms and business groups in a handful of countries (mostly in Asia) and their connections and investments in Mainland China. A second project would involve collecting cross-national data on diasporas, including cabinet-level ministries for diaspora relations and other official outreach efforts. This would involve original data collection was well as use of existing datasets on migration, immigration policy, and remittances.

This research would involve a variety of methodologies and kinds of data, from quantitative datasets to memoirs to oral histories to firm disclosures and business histories. Ideally, a PRIMO fellow would be enthusiastic about some aspect of the project or learning to work with some type of data, and I could tailor an aspect of the research to his or her interests.

This project would be suitable for anyone with an interest in the international flow of people. Some Chinese language skills and/or knowledge of ArcGIS or other geographic data systems would be ideal, but is not necessary.

Multi-sided Platform Strategies

David Yoffie

Firms new and old have discovered the power of platform business models over the past decade. No longer the sole domain of social media, platforms are transforming businesses from hotels to taxis to banking. Moreover, platforms have become global: once largely found in North America, platform businesses can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. As platforms improve the utilization of assets throughout the economy, ranging from houses and cars to workspaces, we have seen emerge the so-called “share economy.” In addition, platforms have been central to innovation. Many of the ‘unicorn’ companies (private companies with a valuation greater than $1 billion) are platform companies.

The purpose of this research project to collect data for statistical analysis and develop a series of short case studies different styles of platforms – which we call transaction platforms, innovation platforms, and hybrid platforms. Using primarily secondary sources, the statistical part of the project will explore what causes a market to tip and stay tipped, versus when markets get disrupted by new entrants. The case studies will explore how the selected firms create and deepen network efforts, reduce the likelihood of ‘multi-homing’ behavior (where consumers use multiple platforms at the same time), and pricing strategies to drive mass adoption. Case studies will also include firms which tried to build platforms and failed, as well as well-established firms that have tried to migrate from product businesses to platform businesses.


Amitabh Chandra and Ariel Stern

Cutting edge medical technologies such as biotech drugs save and improve millions of lives every year, yet they are incredibly costly to bring to market. We are working on a set of projects related to incentives for biopharmaceutical innovation and new drug development and looking for 1-2 students to work with us as PRIMO Fellows. The PRIMO Fellow(s) would participate in a variety of research tasks related to these topics, such as building novel datasets, writing literature reviews, and conducting quantitative analysis of data related to pharmaceutical innovation.

An interest in the economics of health care, medicine, or the management of technology and innovation and some coursework in statistics, econometrics, and/or molecular biology 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.

Public Entrepreneurship

Mitchell Weiss

Public entrepreneurship is an alternative, inventive approach for leading change in public realms. The last few years have seen a wave of new public entrepreneurs start companies that sell to government or directly to citizens and growing interest in these companies by venture funds and other investors. Collaborating with them are Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Data Officers, CIO's, CTO's, Chiefs of Staff, elected officials and other public leaders transforming government. And supporting these public entrepreneurs are the ecosystem partners making impact investments in this space, training technologists to work in it, and providing accelerator and incubator opportunities for startup-efforts. My research focuses on public entrepreneurs across all three of these domain.

The PRIMO student would collaborate on research and writing for cases on public entrepreneurship. Similar kinds of research in the past have covered topics like smart cities, internet of things, UAV regulation, SaaS for government, etc.

This project may be of particular interest for students interested in public entrepreneurship, "GovTech", "CivicTech", government innovation and related areas.

Reframing Collective Identity in Response to Technological Disruptions: The Resurgence of Indepdent Booksellers, 1995-2014

Ryan Raffaelli

In 1995, there were over 5,500 independent bookstores (“indies”) operating in the United States.However, with the expansion of big box retailers (e.g., Barnes & Nobles, Borders) in the early 2000s, the rise of Amazon in the mid-2000s, and the emergence of e-books in the late 2000s, indies faced several challenges for survival. Many analysts predicted the independent bookstore was soon to be obsolete.

Unexpectedly, from 2009 to 2015 the number of indies increased by 20%. How did this happen? This project seeks to understand: 1) how organizations and industries change their identity in response to technological disruptions, and 2) how community activism and social movements can drive substantive market and social change. I have collected a rich array of primary and secondary data from industry actors, including interviews with booksellers, publishers, focus group interviews, and popular media sources on independent bookstores and the publishing industry.

The PRIMO student will help me in one or more ongoing projects. These include:

  • Literature review to uncover the underlying phenomenon of field preservation, field transformation, collective identity, and social movements.
  • Analysis of the macroeconomics trends in the late 1990s and early 2000s to understand the external environment of bookselling and book publishing
  • Observe consumer and bookseller behavior in bookstores in the Boston area
  • Research other industries that have experienced a similar phenomenon


Excellent writing and analytical skills. Some experience with qualitative and quantitative analysis to understand the macroeconomic factors influencing the industry. The project is a good fit for students who are interested in technological change, organizational turnarounds, creative industries,community development, and/or social movements.


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 project 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—such as personal genomics, fantasy sports, consumer financial services, and “sharing economy” firms in transportation and accommodations.

This project is well suited to students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, business strategy, and business-government relations. PRIMO fellows will work closely with me and an HBS doctoral student on various aspects of the research process. Tasks may include gathering primary data (interviews) and secondary data (via HBS library resources) to construct case histories of innovative firms and industries. Students can also expect to receive mentorship regarding their academic and professional interests.

Technology STartups and Human Capital

Rory M. McDonald

Startups that seek to grow and thrive face a number of challenges compared to mature firms. Newly formed ventures often struggle because they lack a reserve of resources and established routines to draw upon. Consequently, human capital becomes an important ingredient to their success, as the people that join startups can transfer important knowledge, practices, and social connections to the young firm. In particular, prior educational and career experiences of early hires can serve as fonts of network connections and skills that can aid startups as they try to build momentum.

The aim of this research is to study the hiring strategies used by technology and life sciences startups. It will focus on describing, grouping, and linking the educational and career backgrounds of early hires to the attainment of developmental milestones, such as raising venture capital funding or achieving an IPO. While research has begun to explore the backgrounds of firm founders, little is known about the backgrounds of early hires that join startups. This project will bridge that gap using large sample data on people who join startups and the performance outcomes of those startups.

This project is well suited to students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, business strategy, and organizational behavior. PRIMO students will work closely with me and an HBS doctoral student to analyze large sample data. This project is best suited for students who feel comfortable performing quantitative analysis. Over the course of the summer, PRIMO students should expect to learn to use Stata and Excel if they do not know how to do so already. Students should also expect to receive mentorship regarding their academic and professional interests.

Unpacking Great Leadership

Ranjay Gulati

This project has two parts. In the first part of this research project we will explore some of the fundamental theories of leadership and translate them for a younger audience. The goal here is to make the decades worth of research in businesses schools on leadership relevant to high school and college students. We will first conduct a survey of the vast domain of leadership and then look for accessible ways to communicate some of those principles. We will conduct extensive research to find illustrations, stories, and videos that will effectively communicate key principles of leadership to this audience. In the second part of this project we will explore some of the leading psychometric tools available to assess an individuals leadership potential and conduct an assessment of each of them to identify some of the top tools for various facets of leadership.

Requirements: The project will require archival research skills, good analytics, and a task orientation to get this done.

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.