Tobin Project

The Tobin Project is an independent, non-profit research organization motivated by the belief that rigorous scholarship on major, real-world problems can make a profound difference, improving society and strengthening the country. Inspired by Professor James Tobin's belief that scholars have a vital role to play in the public sphere, the Tobin Project aims to mobilize, motivate, and support a community of scholars across the social sciences and allied fields seeking to deepen our understanding of significant challenges facing the nation over the long term, and to engage policymakers at every step in the research process. Founded in 2005, the Tobin Project has built an interdisciplinary network of over 350 leading scholars across 80 universities, from Nobel Laureates to the most promising graduate students, who are together working to generate pioneering research on pressing problems of the 21st century.


Areas of Inquiry

  • Government & Markets: What are the conditions that distinguish success from failure in the governance and regulation of the economy?
  • Institutions of Democracy: What factors and institutions - of government, business, civil society, and beyond - are most central to the functioning of American democracy? 
  • Economic Inequality: What are the consequences of the dramatic and continuing rise of income inequality in the U.S. – for the economy, society, and democracy?
  • National Security:  How can the U.S. sustainably advance its national security interests given fiscal constraints and shifts in the global distribution of power?

The Director's Internship will be especially stimulating and suitable for students considering future careers in academia or in the public policy arena.  While the exact nature of the work can be tailored to the background, skills, and interests of the intern, the internship will likely focus on one to two significant and rigorous academic research projects on topics within the Tobin Project's areas of inquiry.  Ideal candidates will be juniors or seniors with strong writing and research skills and a background in economics, political science, and/or history.  Qualifications include:

  • Superior research and analytical skills;
  • Excellent writing and oral communication skills;
  • Familiarity with ideas and frameworks in the social sciences;
  • The ability to work independently and as a member of a team; and
  • Exceptional attention to detail.

2016 Intern Reflection:

This summer, I am working at the Tobin Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Tobin Project a non-profit, non-partisan research organization designed to motivate and mobilize scholars and policymakers in addressing real-world problems. Tobin motivates scholars through a model of “strategic research questions,” which strive to direct academic discourse in pertinent areas of national security, inequality, and institutions of democracy.
At Tobin, I work on various independent and collaborative projects. As a member of the History of Democracy team, I primarily research the intersection between corporate    law and democratic processes in the 1840s. I write literature reviews and project memos, designed to act as the foundation for an in-depth case study for a future conference on democracy. Additionally, I aide the Inequality team as they prepare for a conference at the end of the summer. For this, I’ve offer copy-edits and suggestions to conference papers written by scholars who will be in attendance. Lastly, I update Tobin’s database of scholars who have worked with Tobin’s Graduate Student Fellowship program. We hope to enlarge Tobin’s scholar network by identifying where these scholars are located, and what positions in academia they currently hold.
While Tobin’s office is small (there are eleven of us) the scholar and policymaker network is large. The office environment is lively and personal. We have frequent check-in meetings, casual (and not so casual!) debates about current issues in politics, as well as weekly lunches in Harvard Square. Sitting behind a computer can get restless, and we frequently engage in morning group stretches and short afternoon walks.  As an intern, Tobin has welcomed me into the office as a full-fledged member of the research team. The assignments that are demanded of me are hardly busy work, and I do believe that I can have an impact on the direction of Tobin’s projects.
As someone interested in entering academia or historical research after college, Tobin has offered me a wide-range of perspectives of the pace, style, and rigor of academia. My projects demand large volumes of reading and writing, as well as constant attention to detail in scholarship and historiography. I have become a more   confident researcher. I’ve also learned about the challenges of academia--that it can often be a slow-moving, often insular “ivory tower.” For this reason, the work Tobin is doing is hugely beneficial for the trajectory of academia, and for the impact it can have how we address world problems.

Katie Wu '17

2015 Intern Reflection:

What is perhaps most impressive about the Tobin Project is that it seeks to go beyond where standard think tanks go. Instead of producing niche or trendy academic material, the Tobin Project works to make more durable changes to the fields and debates within the social sciences so as to encourage scholars and policymakers to engage with real-world issues in new or more nuanced ways. That mission carries through in the highly rigorous standard of research that each and every team member abides by as well as in their passion for making concrete contributions to existing political and economic challenges.

As the summer intern, I spent the bulk of my time working on the National Security initiative. I assisted with two major projects: the formulation and preparation of a book promotion strategy for an upcoming volume on designing an economically sustainable U.S. national security strategy as well as the inception of a new research project on U.S. alliance management. I worked closely with the project managers to compose literature reviews, generate information databases, and creatively design research questions and directions. My work was highly varied as I was also able to work on calculating national investment in the social sciences and strategizing greater engagement with policymakers.

The Tobin office is another great highlight of the institution. The directors and staff as a whole are a group of highly active, collaborative, and intelligent people and I was able to gain from highly insightful and oftentimes humorous conversations.

This internship is ideal for people with strengths and interests in the social sciences who take pleasure in both collaborative and self-guided approaches to working. More broadly, Tobin is a great fit for anyone who wants to entrepreneurially direct social sciences in ways that generate tangible and meaningful impact.

Alice Han '16

2013 Director's Intern Reflection:

Unlike think tanks—which tend to channel available research towards solving immediate policy problems—the Tobin Project catalyzes new research to engage, characterize, and, eventually, inform effective solutions to the major long-term challenges facing the United States. As a member of the research team, I spent most of my time working on the Economic Inequality initiative, which is currently seeking to understand the macro-level consequences of rising economic inequality through its impact on individual decision making. As one of just two people working directly on this initiative—the other being the Program Manager—I felt well supported while undertaking substantive and important work. One of my main projects consisted of researching ways to measure types of decision-making in a laboratory setting, evaluating which measures held the most promise, and proposing creative ways to integrate these measures into our experimental design.

The Tobin office is extremely entrepreneurial. I was given ownership of my projects, and therefore spent the majority of my time working independently at my desk and computer. However, the environment is undeniably collaborative as well; asking for help, second opinions, or team brainstorms is always encouraged. Ultimately, this internship is ideally suited for people with interest and experience in one or more of the social sciences, strong writing skills and self-motivation, a willingness to contribute to the office community, and a dedication to “good science.” 

Emily Bigelow ‘14

2012 Director's Intern Reflection:

Professor James Tobin, after whom the Tobin Project is named, once said that “the most important decisions a scholar makes are what problems to work on." This ethos guides the Tobin Project, a unique institution that is located at the intersection of academia and public policy. Within the Tobin Project’s four research areas—government and markets, institutions of democracy, economic inequality, and national security—a network of scholars around the country work to both identify key, unanswered questions with public policy impact. Uniquely, and unlike a ‘think tank,’ the Tobin Project focuses on involving policymakers in grounding research to guide long-term academic research.

The Tobin Project’s works spans a wide variety of domains, and having the opportunity to work closely with small but tight-knit office was incredibly enriching.  Although I was an intern, I was treated as a full member of the research team and worked closely with them. As an almost entrepreneurial organization, the Tobin Project office buzzes with energy, and my work was always substantive, rewarding and interesting. As the office’s only intern, I was thrown into the mix of the organization’s work, and was able to work in multiple areas that interested me, whether it was conducting in-depth research on the effect of Citizens United on campaign finance reform, government privatization initiatives, immigration in the United States, and even work on international relations and national security concerns.

At the end of the summer, I left with a much stronger understanding of how the strengths of academic research, which can sometimes be caricatured as being trapped in an ‘ivory tower,’ can be directed to address real-world issues. I would strongly recommend this internship to any student interested in public policy research, but more importantly, interested in working with an innovative organization which is catalyzing research by the nation’s leading academics to address pressing social and political problems domestically and internationally.

Michael George '14

Boston, MA / Cambridge, MA
Research, Think Tank/Strategy