Video: Goals, challenges, and the pursuit of a dream as a Boston Fed research assistant Video: Goals, challenges, and the pursuit of a dream as a Boston Fed research assistant

One RA shares her experiences and her hopes One RA shares her experiences and her hopes

January 28, 2020

Becoming a research assistant at the Boston Fed can be a major stepping stone for people early in their careers who are considering a future in economics. People like Melissa Gentry.

Melissa is one of 20 research assistants currently at the Bank. Melissa works with economist Jeff Thompson, director of the Bank’s New England Public Policy Center. Melissa started last year, and she was ready for the chance to work one-on-one with an experienced economist like Thompson.

“The main thing that I wanted was to grow in my own research abilities and develop my own intuition surrounding economics,” Melissa said.

The research assistant program is a highly sought-after opportunity, and it’s one to which the Boston Fed aims to draw a diverse pool of candidates. About 150 college graduates from across the nation apply each year, and typically about seven to 12 are hired, depending on the number of vacancies. For them, it’s a chance to get some hands-on experience on what it takes to be an economist and learn skills critical to the work.

The RA program provides an excellent path to graduate study and careers in economics, business, law, finance, and technology, according to Patricia Geagan, a vice president who oversees the RA program. Working side by side with economists on current policy issues and through all stages of the economic research process gives RAs the time and experience to discern their career paths while developing strong quantitative analysis, critical thinking and writing skills— which are essential in in economics, but marketable and useful skills in any field, Patricia said.

She added that the Bank benefits from the energy, fresh insights and approaches RAs bring to the Bank’s work.

“The Boston Fed recruits from over 300 colleges and universities because we’re looking for students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences with a strong intellectual curiosity and passion for learning,” Patricia said. “These attributes bring the diverse perspectives that strengthen our research and analysis and ultimately inform better policy outcomes.”

Melissa said she’s found a strong sense of community in her department. The research assistants are all in similar stages of their lives: college graduates, all interested in exploring career options in economics. And the experienced economists are all ready to help, she said.

“There’s a real sense of mentorship among the research department,” she said. “Not just with (my boss) but with all the economists.”

Melissa believes her two years working with Thompson and developing skills in research and coding will prime her for a future in the field. She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in labor or public economics and hopes to someday work as a university professor, at a government agency, or maybe at one of the other regional Federal Reserve banks.

“I look forward to seeing how I can apply everything that I’ve learned as far as my research abilities, my coding abilities, and the inherent knowledge that I’ve gained from working so closely with my economist,” she said. “The Fed has given me a leg up on being well prepared for the future."


This video and text project was led by Hannah Madore, a former intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.