Meet 2017 Carnegie Fellow Nathan Kelly

The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program recognizes an exceptional group of both established and emerging scholars, journalists, and authors with the goal of strengthening U.S. democracy, driving technological and cultural creativity, exploring global connections and global ruptures, and improving both natural and human environments. 

Carnegie Fellow Nathan J. Kelly is an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Tennessee. Professor Kelly is also a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation for the 2017 academic year. His research is driven by an interest in social, political, and economic inequality. In particular, he explores how the decisions of political actors and the design and operation of political institutions shape the distribution of economic well-being. His interests also include how political systems respond to changes in various aspects of inequality as well as how historically marginalized groups are incorporated (or not) into political systems and how interactions with the state shape the attitudes and behavior of marginalized groups.


I’ll have time to think more deeply about projects that are already well underway. I’m also hopeful that receiving the fellowship will enhance the visibility and impact of my work and open some doors that will broaden the audience, both within the discipline and beyond, that I can share my work with.”

How will the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program impact your research and overall career?

Kelly: It’s a tremendous honor to be selected as a Carnegie Fellow. The greatest gift of the fellowship is time. I will be able to focus more exclusively on my research program for two full years. That is an incredible luxury, and it will allow me to move up the timeline on several projects that I have in the works. Projects that would have taken much more time to complete will now move forward more quickly. Additionally, I’ll have time to think more deeply about projects that are already well underway. I’m also hopeful that receiving the fellowship will enhance the visibility and impact of my work and open some doors that will broaden the audience, both within the discipline and beyond, that I can share my work with.

What research topics do you primarily focus on? How can people access your work?

Kelly: My research examines the interplay between economic inequality, social and political exclusion, and democratic politics. I’m most interested right now in how rising economic inequality can change the way political institutions function and political actors behave in ways that serve to maintain or even enhance economic, social, and political inequality. Oftentimes, economic inequality is viewed as a rather impersonal force, just one more economic indicator in a laundry list. I’m interested in how economic inequality affects people’s lives and the context in which they live. I want to know how issues related to this theme play out in a variety of contexts, both within the United States and cross-nationally. The best way to follow my work is via my website. and by following me on Twitter @ProfNateKelly. I regularly post working papers and published work on these outlets. Folks can also keep an eye out for ocasional blog posts that summarize my work for a broader audience. The Monkey Cage and the LSE USAPP are the two I tend to write for most often. Finally, as a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, I write two page briefs summarizing my research The SSN website ( is a great source for readable and accessible summaries of research from hundreds of member scholars on dozens of timely topics.

Do you have any advice for students in political science, including tips on how to find funding and support for research projects?

Kelly: This advice is targeted at graduate students. My main advice is to find a research topic that you are interested in and that also connects to important disciplinary questions. In other words, find an interesting, detailed question that has important implications for core substantive and theoretical debates. I don’t think there is a magic recipe for doing this, but doing it successfully provides an important foundation for a successful and sustainable research career. At the same time, I think it’s important not to forget that one of the reasons we do the work we do on the research front is so that the new knowledge created can be passed along to students and, ideally, society more broadly. Keeping in mind what the substantive insights of your research are and working to translate that research for the non-specialist is something that takes time but is very valuable, both for teaching effectiveness and also to broaden the impact of one’s work.

In terms of finding support for research projects, I think you have to rely on a combination of skill, effort, and luck. Obtaining funding is an inherently stochastic process. For every funding award made, I’m confident there are many, many other worthy projects. I suspect there is probably some quality threshold that a project needs to clear before funding is possible, but once that bar is cleared funding decisions are noisy. In a situation like this, it’s essential to apply – a lot. This is where work and luck come in. It takes substantial work to put together proposals and repeatedly tweak them for different awards. But doing the work puts you in a position where the noisy process of funding decisions can start to work to your advantage. As you’re preparing a proposal, get as much feedback from as broad a group of people as possible. This is important because many of the proposals we write are reviewed by people who do not specialize narrowly on the topic of our proposal. This is true of campus awards right on up to major national competitions. So non-specialists need to be convinced the work is important. Finally, pay careful attention to the call for proposals. Be attentive to what the funding source is hoping to achieve and the dimensions on which the proposals will be evaluated. It is amazing how many proposals completely ignore guidelines in the call for proposals or fail to connect the proposed research to the goals of the funder.