Toggle Mobile Menu
Academic Programs
Student News March 14, 2023

Three seniors win 2022 Junior Prizes for strong GPAs, outstanding Junior Independent Work (JIW)

The Economics Department at Princeton is celebrating three students for winning 2022 Junior Prizes. Julio C. (JC) Martinez (1st Place), Asher Joy (2nd Place), and Sophia Zheng (3rd Place) were each recognized at the student liaison committee meeting on Friday, February 3rd.

The prizes, awarded based on students’ GPAs through the end of junior year and an assessment of the student’s Junior Independent Work (JIW), recognize top students moving into their senior year. 

Pictured from left to right: Sophia Zheng, Economics Department Chair Wolfgang Pesendorfer, JC Martinez, and Asher Joy.

From first place winner JC Martinez, a study of corporate influence in the U.S. Congress

The 2022 first place Junior Prize went to JC Martinez, who in addition to earning high marks in advanced courses like ECO 313: Econometric Applications and ECO 491: Cases in Financial Risk Management wrote an outstanding Junior Paper that investigated whether and how effectively big corporations use charitable giving as a tool for political influence. After graduation, Martinez will join the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a Financial Analyst.

To write his paper, Martinez gathered data on connections between nonprofits and members of the U.S. Congress. He then developed a measure for studying how critical “pivotal” lawmakers are to corporate goals and investigated the extent to which a lawmaker’s importance predicts either corporate philanthropic donations or corporate PAC donations.  

“If a board member of a charity is a politician, I found some evidence that corporations are aware,” Martinez said of his results. “But there was much stronger evidence that corporations more effectively peddle influence through direct PAC contributions. Ultimately, using charity to change politicians’ minds didn’t seem as effective as PAC contributions.” 

In addition to standard econometric tools of analysis, Martinez realized that his research would need to rely on data from a textual analysis of Congressional floor speeches from the 106th to the 113th Congresses. With that data, Martinez would be able to investigate the extent to which donations by oil and gas companies–to either PACs or nonprofits affiliated with members of Congress–affected how members voted or talked about climate change during Congressional floor speeches. 

To collect this data, Martinez emailed a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin who had previously conducted the necessary textual analysis.

“He emailed me the data, and from there it was off to the races,” Martinez said. “I think it taught me that it’s good to ask for help from people who know more about a subject than you.”

In addition to his advisor, Assistant Professor of Economics Natalie Cox, Martinez said he was grateful to Professors Mark Watson and Michal Kolesár for discussions that contributed to his thinking on the paper. 

“I bothered them after class and in their office hours a lot,” Martinez said. “They both gave me confidence in my approach of organizing senators by ideology and my decision to include an instrumental variable as I finalized the paper.”

“Lessons learned” for other student researchers

With a successful Junior Paper behind him and a Senior Thesis nearing completion, Martinez said he’s learned several lessons along the way that might be helpful to other students pursuing independent work.

  1. Don’t sacrifice in-depth reading for reading broadly.
    “Reading broadly was helpful,” Martinez said. “But eventually I had to hone in on a few papers that I thought were particularly interesting and spend time reading those in-depth so I could ask myself what kind of contribution was possible.”
  2. Find ways to talk to people who know more than you.
    “At Princeton, there are a whole lot of professors who are experts in the field you’re studying. Make use of that and go visit their office hours, even if they’re not your professors.”
  3. Recognize that you can make a contribution.
    “Research is not an efficient market. There are so many data sets and so many questions to ask that it’s impossible for professional economists to find out everything. Undergraduates can make worthwhile contributions.” 

Celebrating outstanding independent work

In addition to celebrating each student’s academic achievements as measured by their GPAs, the Junior Prizes recognize outstanding Junior Independent Work (JIW) projects.

The second place 2022 Junior Prize went to Asher Joy, whose paper examined how Common Core standards affected math test-score gaps between Black and white students in high- and low-poverty school districts. Third place went to Sophia Zheng, whose paper studied the impact of Venmo and Apple Pay on the market power of Visa.

At the beginning of the JIW process, students attend weekly lectures and workshops designed to introduce them to the principles of economics writing, as well as data collection, management, and econometric analysis. Students are then grouped by research interests into advising groups led by a faculty advisor. Faculty advisors meet with students both individually and in groups throughout the year to discuss research topics and provide students with feedback on the progress of their projects.

“I think the most valuable skill I learned from writing this paper is on being persistent,” Asher Joy said. “I knew that I wanted to explore educational equity, however, publicly available school-level test-data is quite hard to find and it took me a very long time to find the most appropriate dataset to use.”

“Channeling this persistence has helped me with my Senior Thesis as I try to keep finding new ways to understand my data and the results I’m seeing–even if they don’t necessarily make sense!”

Current and prospective students can visit the Economics Department website to learn more about the independent work process, to access tools and resources for independent work offered by the department’s Economics Statistical Services (ESS) team, and to see a list of previous Junior Prize winners

Back to all News & Activities