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Undergraduate Research Opportunities

2020-21  Research Projects for Undergraduate Participation

(some ongoing projects)


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

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 2020-2021, 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 assist in the recruitment of participants for online social psychology studies, 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. Our lab is typically involved with 10 to 15 projects at any given time, so research assistants are in high demand. All our research is done remotely allowing research assistants to work flexible hours and stay involved regardless of their current location. 

How Property Owners Shape Housing Market Dynamics in San Francisco (Faculty Leader: Jackelyn Hwang)

While gentrification and research on the topic has grown substantially in recent decades, there is limited understanding of the role of property owners, both owner-occupants and investors, in shaping housing market dynamics. This project will focus on creating and analyzing a database of ownership records and owner characteristics in San Francisco.

Responsibilities: The research assistant will assist with the following activities: (1) Create a dataset on property sales and ownership changes over time by merging multiple sources of property ownership records over time; (2) Code information on property owners and property locations for analysis;  (3) Conduct preliminary fieldwork with property owners to inform research design.

Gentrification and Residential Instability (Faculty Leader: Jackelyn Hwang)

This project will examine the consequences of gentrification and declining housing affordability in the Bay Area and other regions in the West (in the U.S.) with a focus on residential instability. The project will involve analyzing patterns of residential displacement, financial stability, and housing conditions in relation to neighborhood changes and housing and development policies, including examining anti-displacement policy efforts.  

Responsibilitiies: The research assistant will assist with the following activities: (1) map and compile results as table and figures; (2) clean and analyze 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. Proficiency in R preferred, and experience with data visualization is a plus.

Relationship Dynamics, Relationship Commitment, and Dating Behavior (Faculty Leader: Michael Rosenfeld)

This project will examine how people meet romantic partners, and how they use online dating and phone apps, and how they find partners who are looking for the same commitment level as they are.

Responsibilities:The undergraduate RA will interview subjects, always together with Professor Rosenfeld. The undergraduate RA will be responsible for transcribing the interviews, and the undergraduate RA, together with professor Rosenfeld, will work on interpreting the interviews.

Urban Violence and Policy Reforms in Cities (Faculty Leader: Susan Olzak)

Recent surges in protest organized by Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, and other local organizations have prompted policymakers and scholars to consider whether police reforms implementation of community policing can effectively reduce levels of violence in American cities. This project analyzes the effect of protest on police department reforms on urban violence at city and state levels from 2017-2020. This project will examine whether protest affects the rate of municipal reforms and if such reforms reduce civilian deaths in violent encounters of all kinds. 

Responsibilities: Students will download and prepare city-level data from the CCC archive. Students will also locate and merge data on 170 population cities, including information on poverty, residential segregation, and violent crime. We will then use data on urban homicides from FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and merge this information with city-level counts of officer-involved deaths, published beginning in 2015, by The Guardian (“The Counted”) and the Washington Post (“Fatal Force”) that each organization has verified.

No Longer Silent: The Gun Control Movement in the U.S. (Faculty Leader: Susan Olzak)

For decades, the movement to restrict the ease with which guns can be obtained in America has been largely ineffective, stymied by 2nd Amendment court rulings, NRA lobbying, and politicians from both sides of the aisle who envision a powerful backlash vote. Since 1999, with the school shooting at Columbine Colorado, a dedicated movement has gained momentum, commemorated by annual March for Our Lives demonstrations in Washington DC. This project analyzes the local and organizational protests and counterprotests organized around gun control and gun rights, from 2000-2020.

Responsibilities:Students will collect event data (using Crowd Counting Consortium and Count Love websites) on both gun control and gun rights protests. Students will learn how to document size, tactics, and organizational involvement in protest. Students will also help analyzing survey poll data available from 2018 and 2019 (Roper Center, iPoll), to explore whether there has been a shift in attitudes among segments of the population.

Immigration in History Textbooks (Faculty Leader: Tomás Jiménez)

This project will examine how US history high school textbooks from 1930 - 2008 have discussed immigration as part of the American national narrative. 

Responsibilities:An RA will locate, scan, and code relevant portions of text from high school US history textbooks and will also be involved in the preliminary analysis of these texts. Jimenez will meet with the RA bi-weekly to discuss progress on the project, and to map out the broad trends in portrayal of immigrants and immigration in the texts.

RV Living (Faculty leader: Tomás Jiménez)

We study the daily strategies and potential institutional support mechanisms that enable individuals and families to sustain living in campers/RVs/vehicles in the Bay Area. 

Responsibilities: RAs will assist in the recruitment of participants for in-person interviews, interview scheduling, conducting interviews, and reviewing and coding data files. RAs may also be asked to assist in conducting literature reviews and collecting additional materials related to the study. 

Who Takes Credit for Teamwork? (Faculty Leader: Shelley Correll)

This project uses an in-person experiment to examine how individuals working in teams give and take credit for collective work.While the presence of teams in the workplace is now routine across industries, there are conflicting findings regarding whether the use of teams helps or hurts women’s outcomes at work. When monetary benefits and leadership opportunities are a result of who gets credit for contributions at work, the question of who is allowed to take credit becomes important. 

ResponsibilitiesThe student RA will assist with participant recruitment and running in-person experimental sessions. Running the study involves setting up, delivering instructions, de-briefing, and paying participants. Students will be part of a research team that includes graduate students and faculty. 

Men’s experiences with sexual harassment in technology work (Faculty Leader: Shelley Correll)

The #MeToo Movement has brought a great deal of attention to the commonplace nature of sexual harassment experienced by women in the workplace, but men’s experiences are less well-understood. Are there parallels between women’s and men’s experiences of sexual harassment? What other kinds of sexual interactions do men experience in the workplace? This project seeks to explore these questions by interviewing Bay Area men working in tech.

ResponsibilitiesThis project requires a student who can effectively interview men about their experience with sexual interactions in the workplace. The student RA will conduct semi-structured interviews with men using a pre-established interview protocol. The student RA will also assist with transcribing these interviews. Students will be part of a research team that includes graduate students and faculty.

The structure of social institutions and inequality of opportunity (Faculty Leader: Michelle Jackson)

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.

Responsibilities: Research assistants will collect information from government documents, websites, novels, and other written sources to track changes in differentiation over time. RAs will work closely with Michelle Jackson in identifying sources of data and conducting basic analyses.

Elite Mobility in the Chinese Bureaucracy (Faculty leader: Xueguang Zhou)

We will collect data on patterns of cadre mobility in selected Chinese regions and examine, through the flow of personnel, the interconnectedness of bureaucratic offices in the Chinese bureaucracy.

Responsibilities: The RA’s main responsibility is to collect data and conduct data analysis on this project. The student can learn real processes of conducting social science research, from data collection, data cleaning, to data analysis and report writing. I will have weekly meetings with the research team.

Why Islam Is Like Spanish (Faculty Leader: Asad L. Asad

This project collects and analyzes in-depth interviews to examine whether and how immigrants who are Latino or Muslim in the Bay Area manage the threat of federal immigration enforcement in daily life. Federal immigration enforcement refers to the diverse ways national laws criminalize and punish immigrants holding a range of legal statuses.

Responsibilities:The student(s) would be engaged in three primary tasks: 1) conducting and/or transcribing in-depth interviews with Latino or Muslim immigrants in the Bay Area and 2) coding and analyzing transcribed interview data. Students with Arabic and/or Spanish language proficiencies are highly encouraged to apply. 

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

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.

Responsibilities:The student(s) would be engaged in three primary tasks: 1) conducting targeted literature and news media reviews related to denaturalization, 2) creating a database using judges’ written decisions to summarize denaturalization case characteristics, including the age, sex, and national origin of naturalized citizens as well as legally-relevant case characteristics, and 3) examining 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. 

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

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.

Responsibilities:The student(s) would be engaged in three primary tasks: 1) conducting targeted literature and news media reviews related to immigration law and health, 2) coding and analyzing in-depth interview data with Latino families for health-related themes, and 3) coding and analyzing large-scale survey data on immigration law (at the state and national level) and health. Students experienced in qualitative coding and/or statistical analysis are highly encouraged to apply.

Inequality in Silicon Valley (Faculty Leader: Forrest Stuart)

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

ResponsibilitiesTo 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.

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

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 will follow a diverse sample of people in the Bay Area over seven or more years as they apply to law school, attend law school, and decide what to do with their law degree.

Responsibilities: RAs will work with Professor Clair and two graduate student researchers to transcribe the first wave of interviews collected in 2020, prepare to conduct the second wave of interviews, and conduct literature reviews.

A Computational Atlas of Human Misery (Faculty Leader: Jeremy Freese)

The project involves working with large amounts of text data (think: Reddit).  Using natural language processing methods, we are working to identify passages in which individuals narrate personal problems they are having.  Our goal is to map the sorts of problems that co-occur with one another in these data, and the connections among problems that people draw when describing them.

Responsibilities: RA will assist in helping to wrangle the associated data and help create the methods that we use to benchmark the machine language classifiers.  More sophisticated spelunking into natural language processing techniques is also possible if the RA has or seeks to develop this skillset.

Competitive Innovation in Contemporary Sport (Faculty Leader: Jeremy Freese)

The unrelenting zero-sum nature of competitive sport inspires endless efforts at innovation by competitors seeking an edge. This project collects and elaborates examples of innovation in sport, especially how these innovations developed and how opponents responded. By doing so we hope to provide insight into strategy and innovation more generally.

ResponsibilitiesWorking with Professor Freese, the RA will gather information about different innovations, interpret the information that they find, and systematically archive both the primary information and their interpretations of it.

Campus Human Rights Index Project (Faculty Leader: Kiyoteru Tsutsui)

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 Human Rights Index (CHRI), 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 CHRI 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 CHRI 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 and the presence of rights organizations on campus. Coding instruments for each indicator will be provided. Further, as this research progresses, RA/s might be tasked with collecting data on 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.

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

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. Such techniques remain common in contemporary statistical practice, across disciplines, and it is important to reflect on their eugenic underpinnings. 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.

Responsibilities:The student(s) will assist in reviewing literature about the influence of eugenics on the development of statistical techniques, 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. Familiarity with basic social science statistics (as covered in SOC 180B or similar courses) is preferred but not required.