Job Description - Research Assistant


China Future City Lab (CFC Lab)

Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT


The China Future City Lab (CFC Lab) is seeking a research assistant intereste in innovation and entrepreneurship in digital cities and real estate tech industries, and motivated to work with research team on “Digital Cities Innovation and Entrepreneurship”. See below research brief for details. 


  • frame research hypothesis and brainstorm. 

  • Conduct primary research, fieldwork, interviews with corporations,

  • Creating data descriptive graphs, maps, charts, and tables.

  • Case writing

  • Presenting updates on weekly meetings with the supervisor.


Effort Commitment

  • up to 10 hours per week

  • This position begins immediately and lasts through spring 2020.



  • Hourly-payment: $20 per hour worked. Weekly timesheet reports that will be approved by the supervisor.

  • Potential Travel Grant for master thesis: The above research can potentially be served as a master's degree students thesis theme. If the students want to use this research topic as his/her thesis theme under Prof. Siqi Zheng and Zhengzhen Tan’s supervision, CFC Lab can offer up to $2500 travel grant during the IAP. Besides the grant,  students will have access to executives in the Asian leading real estate firms in Shenzhen/Beijing/Shanghai to conduct field research, which can lead to future career development opportunities.


Applications should provide a CV and cover letter to Zhengzhen Tan: Application open until filled.




Research Brief

Digital Cities Innovation & Entrepreneurship




The transformational change of urban systems is brought by the stream of digital technologies, which include geographic information systems (GIS), information and communication technology (ICT), the internet of things (IoT), data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, mobile, social, Application Programming Interface (API) etc. Digital urban systems bring transformational changes with improved operational efficiency and user experiences. This inspires new value propositions business model, operation model and governance model for public and private sectors to unlock the economic value of place-based resources. In traditional industries, i.e Real Estate industries, infrastructure industries, there is an emerging ecosystem of digital innovation and entrepreneurship. Our previous research in Asian Real Estate industries shows that the ecosystem approach accelerates traditional real estate corporation’s digital transformation based on the assumption that companies can grow faster with a partnership than alone. With active ecosystem engagement, real estate corporations seek to first understand the competitive landscape of business threat and disruption; Secondly, to build its innovation capabilities, cultivate corporation innovation culture and foster innovation.


Successful innovation execution involved more than just new technology. The company needs to simultaneously introduce new organizational configuration of people (roles, accountabilities, structures, skills), processes (workflows, routines, procedures), and technology (infrastructure, applications) to define new value propositions and deliver new digital offerings. Previous studies show that companies chose to customize their ERPs to fit existing processes, rather than re-engineer business process to leverage new technology capabilities, continue to struggle with operational inefficiencies and customer dissatisfaction today. These companies are paying a price for not designing their businesses to execute their strategies or innovations. In the pre-digital age, companies reply on the organizational structure to implement the strategy. Established companies are usually designed for the efficient delivery of their existing products. They are not designed to rapidly build and rapidly innovate their customer offerings. This has been even more challenging for the big established conglomerates in the real estate and infrastructure sectors. Those industries have been traditionally slow in technology innovation, bears weaker information technology infrastructure, and structured for execution efficiency or stability rather than agile innovation. All those put them with the disadvantage of change.


The studies aim to examine both internal transformation execution and external innovation coordination that is rapidly happening in urban system industries from inside out. Fieldwork and in-depth interviews with city leaders, leading Asian real estate conglomerates, infrastructure corporations, smart cities value chain corporations will be conducted.


Key research questions include:

  • Urban Operation and Governance: how to design governance model, institution framework, the legal framework for the digital transformation of urban infrastructure systems? - from city leaders /public policy perspective


  • Innovations Coordination: With close engagement in the innovation ecosystem via multiple mechanisms (i.e. hackathon, accelerator, prize competition, limited partners investment etc.), How does corporations (or other actors)  strategize to be selective, in terms of which innovations to prioritize, which to stop, which to integrate for complementarities, and which to prepare for scaling. How to leverage the engagement with different stages of startups (i.e ideation, POC, strategic Joint Venture, M&A) to build internal innovation capabilities and facilitate learning from across innovation efforts? What is the framework to coordinate interdependencies across innovations and realize synergies from them?


  • How Firms Realize Greater Business Value from their Innovation Portfolio. How do firms coordinate teams empowered to innovate? How do firms help teams get better at identifying experiments, leveraging the successful ones, and stopping the least promising ones (while encouraging teams to pursue risky innovations)?


  • Transformation Execution:  While there are lots of literature and research on digital transformation and how a company can innovate, little has been studied on the more challenging question of how. How to make two seemingly conflicting moves almost simultaneously within a short time frame: radically improve its operational efficiency (to reduce costs) and strengthen its customer experience? What’s the pros and cons of different transformation pathway? How do changemakers execute digital transformation and navigate organizational challenges that came with its transformation journey? How to avoid operational issues that could hinder digital innovation efforts? How to increase the corporation’s ability to test-and-learn?


  • Where are the entrepreneurial opportunities in urban tech sectors? The emerging digital ecosystem enables entrepreneurial entries to the market space that is dominated by incumbents. How does the next generation of digital-native enterprises disrupt the industry landscape? What can one learn from those competitive innovators?


Key research stakeholder: Real Estate Conglomerates, infrastructure corporations, and their value chain corporations, city leaders, entrepreneurs