Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The Sociology Department offers a number of undergraduate research opportunities, funded through a VPUE grant, that aims to help students acquire key research skills under the advising and mentoring of faculty. Participating faculty and students have a chance to present their work through Sociology’s Summer Research College.


Faculty presentations were incredibly intriguing and interesting. Each presentation had a lot of things to learn about and really expanded my view of research areas.

2022-23 Ongoing Research Projects for Undergraduate Participation

Precarious Citizenship: Judicial Decisions in U.S. Denaturalization Cases (Faculty Leader: Asad L. Asad)

About: This project examines federal judges’ written decisions pertaining to denaturalization, or the process of removing an immigrant’s acquired citizenship. It will consider legal and policy efforts at denaturalization, as well as analyze patterns of denaturalization as they relate to an immigrant’s age, sex, and national origin.

ResponsibilitiesThe student RA will 1) conduct targeted literature and news media reviews 2) create a database using judges’ written decisions 3) examine in greater depth the content of judges’ written decisions through close reading and coding of the written decisions. Creation of the database may require manual coding of these relevant characteristics, but students with experience using automated methods of text collection and analysis are highly encouraged to apply. 

How Immigrant Advocates Understand Changing the U.S. Immigration System (Faculty Leader: Asad L. Asad)

About: This project examines how immigration advocates—whether nonprofit leaders or volunteers, or independent activists—understand their work to change the U.S. immigration system, given the numerous structural impediments to changing it.

Responsibilities: The student RA will 1) code and analyze transcribed interview data; 2) help generate reports summarizing key findings for both academic and public consumption.

Immigration Law and Health (Faculty Leader: Asad L. Asad and Tomás Jiménez)

About: What is the relationship, if any, between immigration law and health? This project considers this question in a series of studies examining this relationship in the United States at the national, state, and local level.

ResponsibilitiesStudent RA will conduct targeted literature and news media reviews that the co-PIs assign. Students interested in the overlap of law, policy, and medicine are encouraged to apply.

Becoming Lawyers in an Age of Crisis (Faculty leader: Matthew Clair)

About: American society is experiencing myriad crises--in democracy, policing and incarceration, sexual assault and gender-based violence, and environmental degradation. Legal change could either alleviate or worsen these problems. What motivates people to go to law school today? How does law school influence their ideas about law, social order, and social change? How might law school students influence law school curricula? This project is following a diverse sample of people in the Bay Area several years as they apply to law school, attend law school, and decide what to do with their law degree.

Responsibilities: A full-time summer quarter RA will work with Professor Clair and two graduate student researchers to conduct and transcribe interviews from the second wave of the project (i.e., students who have just completed their 1L year) and conduct literature reviews.

Gender and Co-ed sports (Faculty Leader: Jeremy Freese)

About: This project seeks to examine processes of gender production by examining rule differences between co-ed, men’s, and women’s organized sports. Co-ed sport rules often deal explicitly with gendered notions of fairness in order to construct an equal playing field – but does that field diminish or highlight cultural ideas of gender difference?

Responsibilities: Finding and systematically collecting officially-recognized or recommended rules from national US sport organization websites (e.g. USA Soccer, US Quidditch, and USA Softball’s Amateur Softball Association), and then reading and analyzing them across key dimensions of interest.

Gentrification and Residential Instability in the Bay Area (Faculty Leader: Jackelyn Hwang)

About: This project will examine how gentrification and declining housing affordability affect residential instability in the Bay Area. One component of the project will involve collecting and analyzing survey and interview data on residential instability in the City of Oakland, and another component will involve analyzing existing data on patterns of residential displacement, financial stability, and housing conditions in relation to neighborhood changes and housing and development policies.

Responsibilities: The research assistant will assist with the following activities: (1) analyzing interviews with Oakland residents; (2) assist with cleaning, collecting, and analyzing survey, demographic, and local housing data; (3) assist in developing policy reports and academic publications; and (4) gather background information on specific policies, developments, and cities. Strong communication skills required; Spanish, Mandarin, or Cantonese proficiency desired. Experience with qualitative coding and/or R are a plus.

The Impact of Urban Change on Well-being (Faculty Leader: Jackelyn Hwang)

About: This project will develop, validate, and test the reliability of automated methods (based on computer vision and deep machine learning) to measure the visible conditions of neighborhoods and changes within them from street-view imagery. We will use these measures to examine the impact of changes in the physical conditions of urban environments on individual and community well-being.This project will develop, validate, and test the reliability of automated methods (based on computer vision and deep machine learning) to measure the visible conditions of neighborhoods and changes within them from street-view imagery. We will use these measures to examine the impact of changes in the physical conditions of urban environments on individual and community well-being.

Responsibilities: Research assistants will engage in the following activities: (1) develop and administer surveys for assessing Google Street View imagery; (2) assemble and clean a longitudinal database of imagery and measures; (3) assist with analyzing results from surveys, machine-learning predictions, and other related data. Experience with and/or willingness to learn javascript, HTML, and R required.

Differentiation, Social Institutions, and Inequality of Opportunity (Faculty Leader: Michelle Jackson)

About: Social functions that were once provided by the family and local community are increasingly provided by specialist social institutions such as schools, the medical system, and the state. This process, known as differentiation, is hard to measure, and we therefore know little about the current extent of differentiation. The project aims to measure trends in differentiation over the past half-century in the United States.

ResponsibilitiesResearch assistants will collect information from government documents, websites, novels, and other written sources to track changes in differentiation over time. 

Community-Sponsored Refugee Resettlement (Faculty Leader: Tomás Jiménez)

About: My research team is investigating new models of refugee resettlement that involve private citizens. Our work aims to understand how these models roll out, how refugee clients and their sponsoring individuals experience the resettlement process, and to identify best practices to inform future policy.

Responsibilities: Research assistants will work with the research team to gather data on the variety of community-sponsored refugee resettlement programs, their requirements, and training modules.

Violent Political Protest in U.S. Cities (Faculty Leader: Susan Olzak)

About: Public protests over abortion, immigration, election laws, and voting outcomes have turned increasingly violent in recent years. If violent protest becomes normative, conflict among competing political groups could escalate. One implication of this argument is that if violence becomes taken-for-granted, it could be used to justify violence against one’s political opponents. This project will explore several other outcomes of this desensitization process: (a) increasing gun violence in schools, concerts, stores, theaters, and other everyday locations, (b) decreased support for gun control policies, and (c) decreased support for politicians who favor gun control.

ResponsibilitiesStudents will be trained to code events of political violence from three sources: (1) The Crowd Counting Consortium, 2017–2022; (2) Armed Conflict and Location Event Dataset (ACLED), and (3) the Extremist Crime Database from the Global Terrorism Database. We will gather information on the date, location, targets, claims, and ideology of all forms of political violence in the U.S., 2000-2022. In addition, we will gather information on extremist groups archived by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Students will be trained to enter data on an excel spreadsheet, upload, and analyze the data using event-history techniques.

Eugenic Legacies and Contemporary Statistical Practice (Faculty leader: Aliya Saperstein)

About: Early 20th century intellectuals such as Francis Galton and Karl Pearson were influential in developing the foundational statistical techniques of correlation and regression. They put these tools to use promoting eugenic arguments about the fitness and normality or the feeble-ness and deviance of human populations. This project examines the extent to which eugenic legacies are explicitly acknowledged in standard statistical training, and explores whether the initial purpose of these techniques unintentionally shapes, or limits, scholarly attention and interpretation in the present.

ResponsibilitiesThe student(s) will assist in reviewing literature, as well as assembling a dataset of contemporary materials, such as statistics textbooks and peer-reviewed articles. Key deliverables will include annotated bibliographies and progress updates during bi-weekly project meetings.

Gender Diversity and Perception of Femininity and Masculinity (Faculty Leader: Aliya Saperstein)

About: This project is part of a larger effort to improve the measurement of sex and gender in survey research. It draws on both closed ended and open-ended survey responses from a sample of Americans to explore how they see themselves in terms of femininity and masculinity, how they think other people see them, and how they interpret these questions.

Responsibilities: The primary task will involve qualitative coding and analysis of open-ended survey responses but could also include basic quantitative analysis and/or some reviewing of the literature, depending on time and student interest.

Inequality in Silicon Valley (Faculty Leader: Forrest Stuart)

About: Over the last two decades, Silicon Valley has witnessed one of the most dramatic growths in inequality found anywhere in the United States. We will produce a fine-grained demographic and spatial analysis, which will allow for an up-close ethnographic examination of the causes, contours, and consequences of “tech-driven inequality.”

Responsibilities: To use GIS software and census data to analyze the cities, neighborhoods, and census tracts most affected. The research assistant will also conduct preliminary fieldwork alongside residents and organizations most impacted.

The Unequal Impact of the COVID Pandemic on Infant Health in the US (Faculty Leader: Florencia Torche)

About: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected domains of life in the US. Among the most enduring will be effects on the health and wellbeing of the next generation of Americans. We aim to provide systematic population-level evidence on the changing impact of COVID on birth outcomes to inform policy decisions and targeting of resources and interventions oriented to reduce the pandemic’s impact on early-life inequality in the United States.

ResponsibilitiesResearch tasks will include reviewing relevant literatures, interviewing healthcare providers and pregnant (or formerly pregnant) subjects. For students interested in quantitative data analysis, research tasks could include quantitative analysis, including data cleaning, coding, and basic analysis.

The Social Construction of Cesarean Delivery (Faculty Leader: Florencia Torche)

About: Cesarean deliveries are highly prevalent in the United States, but their prevalence varies dramatically across context, including hospitals, providers, and socioeconomic status of birthing persons in ways that do not depend on medical protocols. This project examines the social pattering of cesarean deliveries and their causes.

Responsibilities: Research tasks will include literature reviews, performing quantitative analysis, including data cleaning, coding, model estimation, and interpretation of results.

Campus Rights and Inclusion Index Project (Faculty Leader: Kiyoteru Tsutsui)

About: In this project, my colleagues and I develop a new measure of campus climate based on universities’ commitment to human rights and social justice. We construct a Campus Rights and Inclusion Index (CRII), a score for each of the 303 universities ranked in the U.S. News and World Report regarding their human rights policies and practices, using novel computational social science tools, such as scraping and analyzing data from university websites, social media, and course catalogues. We then use the CRII to examine if being on a campus with greater commitment to human rights might lead to better student outcomes. We plan to release a ranking of universities based on the CRII to the public in the hopes that it will help students make more informed college choices and prompt university administrators to make greater commitment to human rights, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

ResponsibilitiesUndergraduate RAs will assist with data collection. We have collected a broad range of data on universities commitment to human rights and social justice – educational activities, policy statements, actual practices, and external engagements –, and plan to refine our measures and expand our scope of data collection. Examples of some indicators that we plan to collect in the next phase are universities’ involvement in examining the history of slavery on American campuses, the presence of rights organizations on campus, and the characteristics of the communities wherein the universities that we rank are located. Experience with programming in R or Python would be preferred. Web scraping experience would be a big plus.

Stanford Japan Barometer (Faculty Leader: Kiyoteru Tsutsui)

About: Stanford Japan Barometer consists of two main components – survey experiments and social media analysis – that measure public opinions on important political, economic, and social issues in Japan. Deploying cutting edge technologies in computational social sciences, this project aims to take the pulse of Japan more accurately and timely than existing approaches and produce innovative academic publications as well as impactful media releases.

ResponsibilitiesWe are looking for undergraduate RAs with skills in survey experiments and analysis of social media postings in Facebook and Twitter. Japanese language skills would be a big plus but even without the language comprehension, we would welcome participation by those who are well versed in computational text analysis and programming survey instruments. 

Political Polarization and Social Change (Faculty Leader: Robb Willer)

About: The Polarization and Social Change Lab focuses on developing practical scientific knowledge in three main areas: paths to political consensus, reducing harms of polarization, and effective use of social activism. In 2022-2023, Professor Willer will be conducting a series of experimental studies to better understand where individuals' political attitudes and behaviors come from, and how they can lead to social change. Research will include topics such as polarization, persuasion, political elitism, social activism, and racial resentment. A central idea of these projects is that social and psychological factors powerfully influence political views, and research in this area can help to understand and improve our complex political landscape. Additionally, understanding the causal architecture of political attitudes and behavior is essential for taking effective political action, especially in this time of deep and growing political divides. 

Responsibilities: RAs will recruit study subjects, run experimental sessions, assist with scheduling and study programming, conduct literature reviews, process data, and will be involved in the design of experimental materials and procedures.