Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Jonathan Jacob

Jonathan Jacob, PhD student

2021-2022 recipient of the The Morris G. and J. Josephine Ward Fellowship

PhD student Jonathan Jacob, BA’16, grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, and as a child lived throughout Asia, including Singapore and China. He moved to the U.S. as a teen and attended high school in California.

He attended Brandeis University as an undergraduate, where he majored in business. Once he started taking electives in anthropology, however, he stumbled upon a passion for social justice issues.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Jacob was working three jobs as a tech blogger, a rideshare driver and a retail sales associate, and he quickly became burned out. He decided to take a gap year abroad, backpacking across Europe and Asia where he observed a wide range of perspectives and ideas. He began thinking more about society and how things could be improved.

“I was involved in student government at Brandeis, and I always had that advocacy side of me,” he says. “My experience post-graduation solidified that interest.”

Jacob then taught briefly at a high school in California, helping students from underrepresented communities prepare for college. He observed how systemic societal problems needed policy solutions and became inspired to go to grad school.

After graduating with a master’s from the University of Chicago, he looked again to Brandeis to continue his academic career. Jacob enrolled in Heller’s PhD in Social Policy program, with a concentration in Economic and Racial Equity.

“I realized from that experience that I wanted to take that work deeper, and that’s why I decided to go to Heller and pursue things at a research level,” he says.

Jacob says a huge part of what brought him to Heller were the professors, who took a strong interest in his research. Currently, he is studying how top-performing college students are seemingly funneled into three industries—tech, finance, and consulting—while other areas such as teaching and nursing are critically underfunded. Jacob says learning about how students ascribe meaning to their work can help create a better understanding of the social and economic value of jobs.

He also is involved in a study on the GI Bill with Maria Madison, the director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, that is examining how the legislation may contribute to racial disparities and prevent Black veterans from obtaining their full benefits. In addition, he is supporting the child savings accounts research team to track the growth of CSA programs across the country. 

“I wanted to apply to a policy school because I think it’s one thing to theorize about issues and deliberate in a so-called academic ivory tower, and it’s another thing to do the work and craft policy,” he says.

After Heller, Jacob aspires to become a professor and continue his teaching and research. He is also interested in working for the public sector, possibly internationally.