Associate Professor Neel Rao is the Director of Graduate Studies and the PhD Program for the Department of Economics. He is an applied microeconomist, with research interests in labor economics, health economics, and industrial organization. He received his PhD from Harvard University. You can find him teaching Microeconomic Theory (ECO 405, 505, 406, and 576), Labor Economics (ECO 443, 543, and 743), Education Policy (ECO 199), and Economic History (ECO 201, 403, and 565)!
Why did you choose economics? Why did you choose your subfield?
NR: I decided to major in economics because I was fascinated by how economists use mathematics and statistics to model human behavior. I chose to specialize in labor economics because the field offers an appealing mix of theoretical modelling and empirical analysis.
What research are you working on right now?
NR: Among other things I am doing some research with a colleague who is a game theorist on modelling strategy spaces in continuous time. We develop techniques for specifying and solving a new class of economic models. We consider several applications such as forest management, prisoner exchange, market entry, and technology adoption.
What was your favorite paper to write, and why?
NR: I wrote a paper on vaccination that is pretty relevant these days. The study is motivated by the problem of vaccine hesitancy. It uses data on the social networks of students at Harvard College to study the decision to get a flu shot. It finds that friends play an important role in shaping beliefs about the medical benefits of vaccination.
What is your favorite class to teach, and why?
NR: I enjoyed teaching ECO 201 Economic History. The course covers major developments in history such as the Industrial Revolution, Westward Expansion, and Demographic Transition. Students learn about the historical context behind economic trends and the economic principles behind historical events. Teaching this course helped me gain a broader understanding of real-world economic issues that goes beyond just abstract mathematical and statistical modelling.
What was your favorite class as an undergrad?
NR: I took a math course in functional analysis that was structured around the applications of optimization theory. I enjoyed learning the math because it was linked to interesting problems in economics, physics, and engineering.
What is your top piece of advice for your students?
NR: Try to develop an interest in learning that extends beyond the classroom. It will help you succeed at work and in life.