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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.

2023-24 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.

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.

The Structure of Sad Narratives (Faculty Leader: Jeremy Freese)

About: In this project, a colleague and I are working with short narrative data in which the background for a problem is described--features described as potentially relevant to the problem are listed, with their order and language providing some idea of how the person writing the narrative thinks they are connected. We have been working with three types of narratives: those provided by medical examiners after someone commits suicide; those provided by medical examiners and law enforcement after a homicide; and those provided by people on public online forums describing an episode of depression or the onset of a panic attack. 

Responsibilities: We are developing means of quantitatively coding these narratives. Part of the RA work will involve manually reading and classifying aspects of some narratives. Depending on the RA skill, they can be involved in the work on trying to leverage the manual codes they have done into a method of classification at a larger scale than can be done manually, either by trying to use simple natural language processing techniques or by training and assessing a machine learning classifier. 

Gentrification and Residential Instability in Oakland (Faculty Leader: Jackelyn Hwang)

About: This project will examine how gentrification and declining housing affordability affect residential instability in the city of Oakland, CA. The project is in partnership with the City of Oakland's Department of Housing and Community Development. The project involves analyzing patterns of residential displacement, financial instability, and housing conditions and assessing a homelessness prevention pilot program through large-scale consumer data, program applications, surveys, and interviews.

Responsibilities: The research assistant will engage in the following activities: (1) conducting surveys and interviews with Oakland residents; (2) cleaning and analyzing application, survey, interview, demographic, and local housing data; and (3) assisting in developing policy reports and academic publications. Strong communication skills required; Spanish proficiency desired. Experience with qualitative coding (e.g., NVivo) and/or statistical software (e.g. 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.

Responsibilities: Research assistants will engage in the following activities: (1) develop and test computer vision models; (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; proficiency in python and coursework in computer vision 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 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 analyze various community-sponsored refugee resettlement programs, their requirements, and training modules.

Temporal and Geographical Diffusion of Political Violence in the U.S. (Faculty Leader: Susan Olzak)

About: This project examines factors influencing rates of political violence in U.S. cities from 2020 to the end of 2023. Political violence is the use of violent tactics by a group having political purposes or motivations. Using the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the study will analyze the relationship among political protest, violent incidents, and the use of excessive force by authorities. By employing event-history methods, the research aims to assess the impact of temporal and geographical diffusion of events. 

Responsibilities: Students will augment the ACLED dataset by identifying instigators, targets, and police involvement based on established coding rules. The collected information will be organized in an excel spreadsheet for subsequent analysis alongside characteristics of U.S. cities and states. 

Relationship Dynamics, Relationship Commitment, and Dating Behavior during and after the Pandemic (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, usually by Zoom. The undergraduate RA will be responsible for transcribing the interviews, and the undergraduate RA , together with Professor Rosenfeld, will work on interpreting the interviews. 

Changing Norms and Prevalence of Workplace Sexual Harassment (Faculty Leader: Michael Rosenfeld)

About: Recent data suggests that workplace sexual harassment has declined sharply in the US, but what explains this apparent change? This project will examine available data on workplace sexual harassment in the US and attempt to consolidate different data sources and literatures into a comprehensive picture of change over time. 

Responsibilities: The undergraduate RA will need to have either data analysis skills or else a willingness to read deeply into reports and scholarship about workplace sexual harassment prevalence. The student will work together with Professor Rosenfeld towards a research paper on explanations of the trends in workplace sexual harrasment. 

Perspectives on Pronoun Sharing (Faculty Leader: Aliya Saperstein)

About: Pronoun sharing has become commonplace in many universities and workplaces, but little is known about how sharing unconventional pronouns in these settings affects how people might be seen and treated by others. This project uses survey experiments to see how sharing different pronouns changes evaluations of an otherwise similar student profile. The study also collects qualitative data on people's opinions and impressions. 

Responsibilities: The primary task will involve basic 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. 

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 analyzing contemporary statistical textbooks, using basic qualitative coding techniques, as well as reviewing relevant literature. Key deliverables will include brief analytical memos and/or annotated bibliographies and progress updates during bi-weekly project meetings.

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.

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 2023-2024, 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.