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.

2021-22 Ongoing Research Projects for Undergraduate Participation

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 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 interviews from the second wave of the project (1L law school students), and conduct literature reviews.

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.

Deportable: Latin American Families Navigating Law and Life in Punishing Times (Faculty Leader: Asad L. Asad)

About: How do Latin American immigrants and their U.S.-citizen families navigate daily life under the threat of deportation? This book project draws on five years of in-depth interviews with Latin American families and multiple years of population-representative survey data to examine families’ diverse risk perceptions and responses to deportation.

ResponsibilitiesThe student will 1) conduct targeted literature and news media reviews 2) examine interview data 3) analyze secondary survey data. Experience in survey analysis is a plus.

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 describe 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. Ideally, RAs will be proficient in data visualization and programming. RAs will work closely with Michelle Jackson in identifying sources of data, conducting basic analyses, and producing visualizations of results.

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. 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.

ResponsibilitiesStudents will assist primarily by reading and coding passages of interest in statistical textbooks, looking for the types of examples used to illustrate particular statistical techniques and for changes over time and differences across texts. There may be some literature review and annotating of papers by quantitative sociologists and/or eugenicists, as well as providing progress reports in regular project meetings. Familiarity with basic social science statistics (as covered in SOC 180B or similar courses) is preferred.

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.

Responsibilitiies: The research assistant will assist with the following activities: (1) conducting and 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.

Immigration in History Textbooks (Faculty Leader: Tomás Jiménez)

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

ResponsibilitiesAn 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.

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

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 1) conduct targeted literature and news media reviews 2) code and analyze in-depth interview data with Latin American families for health-related themes, and 3) coding and analyzing large-scale survey data. Students experienced in qualitative coding and/or statistical analysis are highly encouraged to apply.

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.

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

About: 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 .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.

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. 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. 

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. 

Racial Transformations in 20th Century Foster Care (Faculty Leader: Michaela Simmons)

About: Today the foster care system disproportionately affects families of color, but prior to WWII foster care was predominately White. Why did the demographics of the system transform in the post-war years? This project will use case files from an integrated NYC foster care agency between the 1920s-1950s to understand the changing racial dynamics of substitute care. 

ResponsibilitiesThe research assistant will assist with the following: (1) with assistance from PI, will read and code case files for a number of factors, including causes for care, family history, and gender and racial dynamics (2) create a dataset capturing the reasons for foster care entrance and exit over time by race and family history (3) gather background information on specific policies and developments in child welfare literature and legislation. 

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

About: This project will examine how people meet romantic partners, how they use online dating and phone apps, and how they find partners who are looking for the same commitment level as they are, and how relationships and dating have been affected by COVID and COVID social distancing.

Responsibilities: The undergraduate RA will interview subjects, always together with Professor Rosenfeld and a PhD student, on Zoom or (if appropriate) in person. The undergraduate RA will be responsible for transcribing the interviews, and the undergraduate RA, together with professor Rosenfeld, will work on interpreting the interviews. There will also be tasks of survey design, open-coding of survey answers, and analysis of data from a nationally representative longitudinal study of American adults.

Stanford Japan Pulse (Faculty Leader: Kiyoteru Tsutsui)

About: Stanford Japan Pulse 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. 

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.

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.

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. Over 4 million pregnancies are in progress in the US. Between 1-3 million pregnancies will be initiated over the next six months. The pandemic is likely to have serious implications for birth outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birth weight. These birth outcomes shape individual trajectories, affecting health, cognitive and socio- emotional development, education, earnings, and even lifespan. As a result, pandemic effects on infant health could have implications that last decades.

This project studies the effect of COVID-19 exposure on birth outcomes at the population level, over time, and across groups defined by diverse sources of vulnerability. 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.