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Public Affairs and Policy Lab

Engaging undergraduate students with faculty research.

Apply to Get Paid to Conduct Research With Faculty

Applications for undergraduate students are open. Undergraduate students interested in applying should review the faculty projects below before applying. Apply here.


The new Public Affairs and Policy Lab is a program for undergraduate students, particularly first-year students, who are seeking advanced research experiences in collaboration with an SPA professor.

Every Fall semester SPA faculty will be invited to provide a 300-word description of a research project they are working on and a 200-word description of what an undergraduate research assistant could do to advance the project.

In December and January, first-year SPA students will be invited to review the proposed faculty projects. Students are encouraged to meet with the faculty whose projects they are interested in and submit an application together with a reference from the faculty member directing the research project.  

The Dean’s Office will review the applications including the faculty project descriptions, the student applications and the letters of reference. The Dean’s Office will award ten faculty student teams. Each team would get $1,000 for the faculty member and $3,000 for the student.

The student will conduct research for the faculty member over the summer up to 20 hours a week. Students will write a research brief of their work, due at the end of September. Student awardees will be encouraged to engage in an independent study research project with their paired faculty member that might result in a published research project for which the student would get formal recognition in the publication. Students would write another research brief of their work.

If a student does an independent research project and is then admitted to the SPA Honors program for their third year they will be allowed to count their project toward an SPA Honors Colloquium.

Faculty Projects

Student Application

Applications for undergraduate students are open. Undergraduate students interested in applying should review the faculty projects before applying.

Apply

Korneliya Bachiyska, SPA Government

Description
This project explores how conflicts escalate into civil wars. Specifically, this research will examine why efforts to prevent civil wars in Yemen and Syria failed. This project builds on my previous work that identifies the specific tools that third-party actors used to successfully prevent civil wars in three contexts: Cambodia–FUNCINPEC (1997), Georgia-South Ossetia (1992-2008), and Comoros–MPA/Government of Anjouan (1997-1998). These three successful cases of civil war prevention demonstrate the effective role that third-party actors can play in either managing/de-escalating violence or successfully resolving conflict altogether. These success stories demonstrate that regional organizations are the most effective actors, while direct talks between the parties and “good offices” (the provision of a neutral space for the conflicting parties to negotiate) are likely to have a positive impact on the de-escalation of violent conflict. However, much remains unknown about the role third-party actors play in conflicts that escalate into civil war.

An in-depth examination of the failure to prevent the civil wars in Yemen (2014-present) and Syria (2011-present) will further illuminate the role of third-party actors in conflict-prevention. Both conflicts feature multiple third-party actors and numerous attempts at conflict resolution. Comparing the cases of Yemen and Syria with the previously identified successful prevention efforts will explore what accounts for these failures. Particular attention will be paid to the different types of external actors and the mechanisms which they employ in an attempt to deescalate or resolve conflict.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The research assistant will be tasked with compiling and coding information on third-party involvement in the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. The research assistant will collect English-language news sources from local and international media covering the conflicts with a specific focus on third-party involvement. S/he will be gathering information on which external actors have been involved in the conflict, differentiating between international and regional organizations, independent states, P5 (permanent members of the UN Security Council) states, and neighboring states. S/he will also be using a typology of conflict prevention mechanisms developed in my previous research to classify the tools that third-party actors use in an attempt to de-escalate conflict – i.e. bilateral and direct talks between the conflicting parties, the use of sanctions, permanent observer missions, fact-finding missions, the deployment of peace operations, and the use of arbitration. Ability to use NVivo for collecting and coding this information is preferred but not required.

TaLisa Carter, SPA Government

Description
The United States uses incarceration as its primary form of punishment. Correctional facilities face a variety of challenges including violence, overcrowding, and lack of adequate resources. Although discussed less often, correctional employees also face obstacles including burnout, stress, and poor work/family balance. This project examines how correctional staff training influences their experiences on-the-job using quantitative and qualitative methodology. Original data will be collected on-site at a Mid-Atlantic Department of Correction (MADOC). This project is an extension of an earlier study; it is anticipated that a similar research design will be used. Quantitative data are will be collected from two sources: (1) an electronic database system currently being used by the MADOC and (2) human resources files of employees. Qualitative data will be gathered from two sources: (1) fieldnotes from observations of correctional employee training classes and (2) interviews with MADOC employees. Since the first phase of this study, MADOC has integrated quasi-military factors into training including drill sergeants. By comparing research findings from phase 1 and phase 2, conclusions can be drawn about the impact of such structural changes on training outcomes for staff. Additionally, like many other corrections institutions across the U.S., MADOC is concerned with high levels of turnover among staff, therefore recruitment and retention is a priority. By assessing and evaluating the training of correctional employees, this project aims to produce practical translational implications that can be implemented to improve staff experiences and conditions overall. Finally, the first phase of this research project found racial/ethnic and educational disparities in correctional officer sanctions. That is, correctional staff who are Black and those with a high school/GED education level are punished more severely than their White and more educated counterparts, respectively. Phase 2 of this research will continue to explore these disparities and develop policy implications for organizational change.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
As a result of their work on this project, an undergraduate research assistant will build/strengthen a wide variety of research skills that can be applied within corrections, the criminal justice system and other social science disciplines. Duties of the research assistant may include the following:

  • Reviewing literature on correctional employee training, including differences in experiences based on race/ethnicity, sex, religion, etc.
  • Training on how to collect, store and analyze quantitative and qualitative data using statistical software programs such as SpSS, STATA, and NVivo according to human-subjects protocols. The assistant will have the opportunity to build/strengthen univariate, bivariate and basic regression statistical techniques. The research assistant may have the opportunity to collect qualitative data alongside the faculty member at the research-site, pending IRB and MADOC approval. This opportunity would give the research assistant hands-on qualitative field experience. The undergraduate assistant will be trained in qualitative coding or examining patterns in text data for themes.
  • Working with the faculty member in preparing reports, manuscripts, and presentations that are appropriate for a range of audiences including MADOC employees and administrators, academics and the general public. Depending on progress, the assistant may have the opportunity for authorship on a peer-reviewed publication.

Suat Cubukcu, SPA Justice, Law & Criminology

Description
Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish government has become more authoritarian and hostile toward political dissident. The hostile and discriminatory political narrative and race to consolidate power has encouraged labeling, stigmatizing, and demonizing in many segments of Turkish society (Von Mittelstaedt & Scheuermann, 2015). The influence of divisive political discourse has gone beyond Turkish borders. European countries hosting large numbers of Turkish-origin citizens—including Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria—blame the Turkish government for targeting political dissident groups and intervening in their domestic politics by mobilizing the Turkish community the government-affiliated organizations, social groups, and the media (Ozeren, 2017).

The relationship between Turkey and the US has deteriorated. Erdogan and many of his cabinet members have accused the US of supporting the coup attempt and Kurdish fighters in Syria for giving weapons to “a terror organization.” The political crisis escalated with the involvement of Erdogan’s security details in a violent attack against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C., in May 2017. The detainment of an American consular staff member and an American pastor in Turkey for being a national security risk led to the mutual freeze of visa services and sanctioning cabinet members. Related to the ongoing political and diplomatic turmoil within these two countries, this study aims to answer the following research questions:

  • To what extent do ongoing political tension affect intragroup and intergroup relations in Turkish diaspora?
  • How do the current tension and incidents influence the integration process of the Turkish diaspora with the US?
  • How do the “home politics” and political narratives feed the polarization within the diaspora?

By using purposive sampling, researchers will reach to about 20 Turkish-Americans, with diverse ideological, sectarian, and demographic backgrounds, and conduct qualitative study with semi-structured interviews.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The research assistant will help in developing literature review on Turkish-American diaspora, bilateral state relations, social integration, polarization, and inter-community relations within the diaspora. S/he will help to develop semi-structured interview questions to measure the themes in the research questions and finding and reaching out individuals to conduct interviews with. S/he will conduct face to face interviews, elaborate on questions, and ask follow-up questions to explore more about the case. S/he record the interviews and transcribe them. The interviews will be transferred to NVivo (a qualitative data-analysis computer software package) to organize and analyze the data. The research assistant will work with the professor to organize and analyze the qualitative data. Afterwards, s/he will work with the professor to disseminate the findings and publish the research in a peer-reviewed journal.

Chris Edelson, SPA Government

Description
I have a working paper on the Trump presidency's authoritarian challenge to constitutional democracy. The paper reviews recent literature on this topic and considers whether Trump's presidency has revealed a kind of system failure for the US Constitution when it comes to responding to authoritarian challenges. The paper also considers possible remedies. I need research help on expanding this section of the paper: the question of remedies/ways to strengthen American constitutional democracy, including perhaps by proposing a new constitution.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
I'd like to identify possible models to follow in terms of creating a process for drafting a new constitution in the United States. It would be useful to know if other scholars have done work in this area, and also to consider alternative ways to strengthen constitutional democracy against authoritarian challenges.

Michelle Engert, SPA Justice, Law & Criminology

Description
I seek to start a research project that looks at competing philosophies behind the implementation of Sixth Amendment right to counsel and how these can trained on and taught in practice and included in the hiring process of public defenders.

In Gideon vs. Wainwright the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies in criminal prosecutions by the states where a person faces a potential loss of liberty. While the right to counsel exits, there is fundamental disagreement as to the quality of the counsel with respect to minimum standards of client care. This is due largely to the fact that in many states/ localities, indigent defense systems are broken or strained due to a lack of funding and political will to meaningfully support the mandate of the Sixth Amendment. It is also due to competing philosophies of indigent defense.

The programs which are considered to be the gold standard of state/local public defense include the Bronx Defenders, Public Defender Services in DC and the Legal Aid Society of New York. What I seek to research is what makes these programs “gold standard” in terms of the model of defense. If there is an overarching institutional philosophy of defense in these offices that is trained on and implemented and how this institutional philosophy is considered at the time of hire.

In this work I will draw on my experiences as an assistant federal public defender in New Mexico and Maryland, and my background in national criminal justice policy as a senior counsel in the Office for Access to Justice at the Department Of Justice and as an attorney advisor at Defender Services Office in the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The student will have the opportunity to research the existing shortcomings of the state systems by reading recent literature to get familiar with indigent defense systems before narrowing in on a series of “gold standard” models. The student will assist with interviews to include: appointed and supervisory public defenders, policy makers, and activists in the major organizations working for the reform of indigent defense. The student will learn a plethora of opinions about the realities of indigent defense, the aspirations for what it can be, and what works best to achieve those aspirations.

The student will take an active part in my analysis of the collected information. Being involved in a project that ties together theoretical knowledge and practical skills, the undergraduate research assistant will experience what makes studying in Washington DC so unique: he or she will enjoy the closeness of national policy and advocacy institutions and of unique research resources and will have the opportunity to impact one of the most pressing social and legal problems of our time. In addition, the student will also be exposed to people working in indigent defense practice and policy through my professional and academic contacts throughout the country.

Lallen Johnson, SPA Justice, Law & Criminology

Description
On January 17, 2018, the City of Philadelphia filed a civil suit against 7 pharmaceutical companies, alleging that “the deceptive marketing and sale of prescription opioids for medical use … are responsible for an epidemic of opioid addiction, fatal and non-fatal overdoses and other adverse health effects” (Philadelphia Law Department, 2018, p. 1). According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (2018), over 1,200 fatal overdoses occurred in 2017 alone, marking a 34% increase from the year prior. Moreover, over 80% of the fatal overdoses that occurred in 2017 were linked to opioid use.

Although at the aggregate level the city has experienced a substantial increase in fatal overdoses, preliminary descriptive analyses suggest that these occurrences are not evenly distributed across sections of the city. In other words, some neighborhoods may be more likely to experience this phenomenon than others. Two research questions frame this study. First, it asks: What neighborhood-level social and demographic conditions are statistically associated with fatal drug overdoses? Existing research suggests such neighborhood conditions are important predictors of other critical public health and safety outcomes such as drug distribution and exposure to violence. At this point, however, the theoretical and empirical connection between neighborhood conditions and fatal drug overdoses remains unclear. Second, this study asks: Are neighborhoods with high levels of fatal overdoses located adjacent to similarly situated neighborhoods?

The above questions will be addressed using 10 years of drug overdose count data at the zip code level from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office. Socioeconomic data will be derived from the U.S. Census. A geographic information system will be used to map occurrences of fatal overdoses along with census measures to identify spatial patterns. And, statistical effects of social and economic variables on fatal overdoses will be estimated using count regression models.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The undergraduate research assistant (RA) working on this project will be mentored through five general study task areas. First, they will learn how to navigate the U.S. Census website to download multiple years of demographic data, which is an important skill in quantitative social science research. Second, using that data, they will also help with the creation of key indices associated with the ecology of communities such as structural disadvantage, residential turnover and racial composition. Third, the RA will learn to append multiple sources of data (in this case fatal overdose counts and census data) into one central dataset in order to estimate and interpret models of fatal overdose. Fourth, the project aims expose the RA to geographic information systems (GIS). GIS is used to store, maintain, and analyze spatial data. As such the student will learn to use GIS to create thematic maps showing the distribution of fatal overdose deaths, social structure, and any spatial relationships. Lastly, throughout the project the RA will be required to read key pieces of literature to facilitate their understanding of the methods and concepts relevant to the study.

Jan Leighley, SPA Government

Description
The study of state laws that govern voter registration and election administration in local, state and federal elections are the focus of social scientists, journalists and legislators interested in understanding the impact of such policies on citizens, election administration and democracy. The availability of accurate, relevant and timely data on these laws, however, is limited. The existing data sets available for a limited and varied set of years use inconsistent measures of key election policies, limiting the rigor and generalization of scholarly studies. As a consequence, the public impact of this work is limited.

The goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive data base on state election laws (beginning with 1972) and a process by which the data is routinely updated. I have completed the first stage of data collection on a variety of state election laws; the second stage requires validating the measures with archival records in the states; developing appropriate documentation; comparing the new data with existing data bases; and establishing methods to routinely update the core data base.

The current VREAD data set includes variables on absentee and early voting as voting reforms. New variables that will be collected and document will likely include: Online registration; Provisional ballots; Location of early voting; Special requirements for mail/online/election day registrants and for individuals who move; and felony disenfranchisement.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
Undergraduate research assistants would participate in one or more of the following tasks:

  • Verifying existing data by accessing state election codes Comparing VREAD data/measures with those used in other online sources
  • Collecting other existing data sets on election laws and examining for coding consistency
  • Evaluating new variables by comparing them to older data sets used in published research
  • Creating a system for documenting, organizing and distributing the data
  • Assist in managing the automated updating of the data base
  • Compile relevant bibliographic details for published research and data on election laws and election administration in the U.S.

David Lublin, SPA Government

Description
I have collected data on the Asian American public officials elected from the U.S. House as well state legislatures in states with sizable Asian populations for 2012 and 2014. These (and additional data from 2016 and 2018) data will be used to (1) provide the first real descriptive statistics on Asian Americans elected to legislatures across the nation, and (2) analyze demographic factors that lead to the election of Asian Americans to legislatures.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
I'd like to update to include 2016 and 2018 as well as identify a few missing legislators from previous years. In short, the assistant would need to look at election returns and work to identify the race/ethnicity of legislators using Asian American legislative organization lists and confirm with legislative websites as well as search.

Kenneth Meier, SPA Department of Public Administration and Policy

Description
The National Background Check Program is a federal program to facilitate the design of states’ national background check programs for direct patient access employees. This grant program was developed in response to concerns of patient abuse, neglect and misappropriation of funds of American receiving long-term care services (LTC). The grant is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Our research team is examining the relationship between the implementation of the National Background Check Program and nursing home performance using archival data we have collected and data from CMS’ Nursing Home Compare database, as well as some additional primary data. With this project, we explore topics in public administration such as the mode of regulation, cross-sector differences, and performance management, and combine them with topics of healthcare quality.

To examine this relationship between the program and the regulated entities’ performance, our team will undertake extensive primary data collection. This includes, but is not limited to, legislative scans, surveying health and human service officials, translating information from reports to usable data.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
To help ensure the accuracy of our analysis, the undergraduate assistant will manage two processes. First, the research assistant will conduct a review of Live Scan fingerprinting usage across the US. Through a combination of online searches and other research methods, the RA will identify which states, if any, universally use Live Scan, use Live Scan sporadically throughout, or do not have the capacity. The research assistant will then produce a database to be merged with existing project data.

Second, the research assistant will conduct a systematic review of state background check legislation and regulation, specifically aimed at or applicable to direct care workers in long-term care settings. To complete this task, the research assistant will learn to search legal databases such as Lexis Nexis, help to finalize the project plan and protocol, conduct the search using exclusion criteria, and develop a database that cites and describes the related legislation or regulation.
The student will interact directly with Professor Meier as well as PhD students Fei Wang and Jourdan Davis. The student will be encouraged to continue the research on an original paper that could be used as a writing sample for graduate school or perhaps an honors thesis.

Kenneth Meier, SPA Department of Public Administration & Policy

Description
We are using data from Florida hospitals to study the effects of gender representation on patient outcomes. Hospitals, and healthcare more broadly, comprises one of the largest and most important areas of public funding in the United States. Given the amount of resources invested in this sector, questions of accountability, representation, and effectiveness are very important to the public and political leaders. Since a healthy citizenry contributes to a well-functioning democracy, learning more about how individuals’ interests are represented in the healthcare process carries important implications for how citizens benefit from public services.

The primary link we are interested in exploring is the link between female physicians and female patients. Not unlike other forms of political and bureaucratic representation, women fare better off when treated by a physician who shares their same gender. Female physicians tend to communicate better with female physicians, make them feel more comfortable, and recognize how symptoms manifest differently across men and women. In total, this gender matching leads to better outcomes and equity in healthcare.

While this work nearly exclusively focuses on these questions from the perspective of healthcare, insights from public administration theory may lead us to better understand these questions of representation and their implications for other areas of public life. The first project in this agenda seeks to explore if female physicians perceive female patients differently depending on their type of insurance. Patients which pay with Medicaid have lower reimbursement rates relative to those which use other forms of insurance. In this sense, it may be costly for physicians to treat these patients with the same effort and attentiveness they would with other types of patients. Do female physicians represent the interest of female patients even when it is costly? Or are there costs for representation?

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
A research assistant will work with Professor Meier and Austin McCree, a PhD student on this big data project. The assistant can advance this project by taking a major role in data management. A student working on this project will gain experience immediately transferrable to graduate school programs or the job market. The student will learn how to build and manipulate large datasets in areas of salient public policy research. Moreover, he or she will gain experience in rigorous quantitative research methods and coding with statistical software. These skills are particularly valuable for anyone interested in healthcare management and data analysis, more broadly. Besides these skills, there are invaluable opportunities to learn about the academic process by thinking about theoretical questions, writing for an academic audience, and coauthoring conference papers. For those interested in pursuing a PhD, these experiences offer great opportunities to network and also contribute greatly to graduate admissions packages. Additionally, these questions may give the student a head start in thinking about their potential research agenda. The project is ideal for a student with computer and quantitative skills and has the potential of leading into an honors thesis.

Kenneth Meier, SPA Department of Public Administration and Policy

Description
Representative Bureaucracy Theory, first introduced by Kingsley (1944), holds that a bureaucracy should reflect the demographic diversity of the citizenry it serves. There have been multiple empirical studies on how representative bureaucracies are and in what ways this representation has influenced policy outcomes. These studies largely focus on street level bureaucrats and policy areas within the United States and other developed nations. This research project aims to further test the generalizability of the Representative Bureaucracy Theory by applying it to India. 
The research project is two-stage. The aim is to begin by identifying passive representation among school teachers in India: under what conditions does the ratio of female to male teachers mirror the ratio of female to male students in India? Then, the impact of this gender representation will be studied to determine whether passive representation translates into active representation: how do female students benefit from interacting with female teachers? 
To answer these questions the Government of India’s Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) and data from various national student achievement tests will be used. The UDISE database is created from a school level annual questionnaire that collects information on student enrollment, student academic performance, school infrastructure, funding and teacher information among others. It currently provides access to information for nearly 1.5 million schools in India from 2005 to 2016. Additionally, there are various large-scale student achievement tests conducted by both the government and various NGO’s in India. Combining data from these various sources into one dataset will provide an ideal ground to empirically explore the questions in this projects.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The undergraduate research assistant will learn about and contribute to data management, formulating and testing hypothesis, and data documentation. Most of the assistant’s time will be spent in creating a usable panel dataset for schools in India by merging data from UDISE and national achievement tests. Additionally, they will also help create a codebook of the final dataset. Finally, they will assist in the creation and testing of various hypothesis using the dataset, to answer the questions of passive and active representation. The final dataset will also provide opportunities to explore other questions of interest, beyond testing the theory of representative bureaucracy.



Basic knowledge of Statistics and the STATA software will be helpful. At the very least, the person should be excited to learn and willing to get up to speed with methodological concepts and software syntax, to effectively assist with the project. The student will work directly with both Professor Meier and Anita Dhillon, a PhD student.

Kenneth Meier, SPA Department of Public Administration & Policy

Description
This research project examines representative bureaucracy and children’s health outcomes in the U.S. Specifically, it examines the impact of female state legislators and their policy actions on children’s health outcomes, including obesity, overweight, infant birth weight, and food security. The project would expand to county level.

Children’s health outcome: Obesity and being overweight have become a serious problem that threaten the general health of children. About 31.2 percent of U.S. youth ages from 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. At the same time, many low income households need financial assistance to ensure the access of food.

State level impact: All of those programs that mentioned above are at least partially administered by the state level government or partially funded by the state. State legislators influence both legislation and budget allocations, which have substantial influence on the program implementation by influencing eligibility for the program, the funding levels, and implementation processes.

Why female legislators: Currently, about 25 percent of legislators at the state level are female in the U.S. (CAWP). This number has not changed much for the past two decades. Past research showed that female public servants usually have values focus points than male when it comes to the social problems.

The project: The objective is to produce a panel analysis of all U.S. states over time to determine how gender representation influences policy outcomes linked to children.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?:
The undergraduate research assistant would assist with the data collection process and data management. Tasks include but are not limited to:

  • Collecting data on the past state level and county level legislation in the health and nutrition areas;
  • Collecting data on the children’s health outcomes, such as obesity, overweight, and food security, at the state and county level;

  • Collecting data on female state and county legislators;
  • Collecting data on the past budget documents at state level and county level;
  • Data cleaning and data input.
  • The undergraduate research assistant will use excel and the STATA for data input and data cleaning, and use searching engines, such as Google, Lexis/Nexis, and state government websites for the data collection process. The student will also learn how to merge and analyze large data sets. These will be valuable research skills for graduate or law school. The goal is to transition the student to working on an independent research project under faculty direction in future years. The student will work directly with both Professor Meier and Xiaoyang Xu, PhD student.

Ryan Moore, SPA Government

Description
Political science has seen an explosion in “conjoint experiments” recently (over 1000 articles in the last year, e.g.). These experiments measure the effects of things like candidate attributes (age, gender, experience, etc.) on vote choice or refugee attributes (country of origin, education, etc.) on citizen preferences for asylum. Most conjoint experiments show survey respondents several profiles, but little is known about whether these profiles accurately represent actual candidates or asylum-seekers. This project fills this hole in the literature and makes recommendations for future experimentalists across the social sciences.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?:
The undergraduate research assistant will build on some started work, proceeding in a few phases, depending on RA skills and interest:

  • Reading about conjoint experiments in political science (and other social sciences)
  • Identifying a set of experiments where experimental data and reference population data both exist (e.g., a study of Congressional candidates, and a database of attributes of real candidates);

  • Collecting experimental and reference population data (in addition to what we've already collected)
  • Making these data sets compatible with one another
  • Analyzing data, creating visualizations, etc.
  • Helping craft a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, possibly with co-authorship

For the last 3 of these contributions, experience with or the ability to learn a modern data analysis language is needed.

  • R is most natural
  • Python is a great alternative
  • Stata is OK, with willingness to learn R or Python

Ryan Moore, SPA Government

Description
Campaigns want to test many email messages, but favor those that yield the most donations. Social program administrators want to rigorously test several interventions with clients, but don't want to waste resources when they realize an intervention isn't working. Web portals want to try several versions of an ad-serving algorithm, and to favor the one that gets the most clicks immediately.

The best research design for answering these and similar questions is often a "multi-arm bandit". However, we don't know how best to design these studies when people's responses to emails, interventions, or algorithms change over time. This phenomenon is known as "parameter drift".

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
An undergraduate research assistant will contribute alongside an advanced undergraduate RA, proceeding in a few phases, depending on RA skills and interest:

  • Reading about multiarm bandit experiments in political science (and other fields)
  • Identifying important multiarm bandit experiments where parameter drift is likely to have occurred, but is not accounted for in the analysis or design
  • Collecting data from these experiments
  • Making these data sets compatible with one another
  • Analyzing data, creating visualizations, etc.
  • Helping craft a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, possibly with co-authorship

For this project, experience with or the ability to learn a modern data analysis language is a great advantage.

  • R is most natural
  • Python is a great alternative
  • Stata is OK, with willingness to learn R or Python

Karen O'Connor, SPA Government

Description
This project will examine the role of public interest law firms and lawyers involved in bringing cases to the United States Supreme Court as well as those who participate by filing friend of the court briefs. The project will produce detailed stories concerning precedent setting cases and their lawyers in the context of social movement and women’s leadership theories. Some travel to libraries housing the papers of legal pioneers will be expected.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The research assistant will learn to use LEXIS as a tool for initial identification of cases and lawyers. S/he will participate in the creation of a data set involving cases and participants, learn and analyze how to code and data, participate in interviewing women lawyers and Supreme Court Justices, and assist in the writing of scholarly articles for presentation at political science conventions and publication in scholarly journals. I have published articles with more than 20 students, many of them undergraduates.

Jane Palmer, SPA Justice, Law, & Criminology

Description
Every other year since 2011, Jane Palmer has conducted a large survey with AU students about their experiences with victimization and bystander intervention. The survey is primarily quantitative with some qualitative open-ended questions. It covers a wide range of topics related to stalking, sexual harassment, cyber-harassment, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, bystander intervention and opinions about AU’s prevention and response efforts. Undergraduate students were surveyed in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Graduate students were included in the survey in 2015 and 2017. The spring 2019 survey will include both undergraduate and graduate students.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
An undergraduate research assistant would assist me with data cleaning, creating a code book, running descriptive statistics, and literature reviews. The assistant could possibly help me with more advanced quantitative analyses, depending on the student’s interests. The student would learn how to use Stata or SPSS and possibly NVivo. Other tasks could include creative ways to share the results of the study through infographics or short videos.

Elizabeth Suhay, SPA Government

Description
In an era of high and sustained economic inequality, this book examines Americans' explanations for why that inequality exists—in general, and according to race, ethnicity, and gender—and connects those explanations to their political attitudes. I argue that causal explanations for inequality are closely associated with Americans' political preferences and constitute a core part of their political ideologies. A first goal of this book is to use original survey data to map the contours of these associations. It is well-known that conservatives tend to "blame the person" while liberals “blame society” for inequality, but how consistent are these associations? For example, are conservatives more likely to blame, and liberals to excuse, all people equally, or do conservatives and liberals take into account the social identities of the poor? Further, are conservatives more likely than liberals to “blame” people's inherited traits for inequality, given that such explanations would seem to deny individual agency? A second goal of the book is to draw on experimental data to understand why causal attributions and political attitudes are correlated. Do citizens tend to “think like social scientists,” updating their political preferences when they encounter compelling information about why some people do better than others in life? Or, are citizens simply engaging in motivated reasoning or following the lead of partisan elites? This book will provide the most thorough accounting of the association between people's explanations for economic inequality and their political preferences in recent decades. The book closes with a look at the accuracy of citizens' causal explanations and an assessment of how we might improve public understanding of the social science of inequality.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
I foresee a research assistant completing a number of interesting and rewarding tasks integral to the completion of a quality book manuscript.

  1. I recently conducted a large (N=1,000) nationally represented survey of Americans’ explanations for inequality and their political attitudes. As a part of this survey, I asked a number of open-ended questions in which participants were free to share with me their own thoughts about what factors contribute most to economic inequality across racial and ethnic groups, genders, and the rural/urban divide. I would develop a content coding scheme in consultation with the research assistant, who would then apply that scheme to the qualitative data./li>
  2. An important part of the book manuscript is synthesizing high quality social science research on the underlying causes of economic inequality. I would ask the research assistant to conduct library research on this topic, collecting sources and writing up a lengthy report on how structural inequality, current-day discrimination, legacies of past discrimination (such as the wealth gap), cultural factors, and possibly other factors lead some individuals and groups to enjoy relatively more or less material resources, as well as related phenomena such as good or poor health and low/high incarceration rates.

Nikki Souris, SPA Justice, Law, & Criminology

Description
My research examines the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in light of recent concerns that the Court is inappropriately targeting Africa. During the last decade, political leaders of certain African states have criticized the Court as being biased, and threatened to withdraw from the institution. Specifically, the Court has been accused of being an instrument of neo-colonialism, functioning to impose Western values of liberal legality on African states, and of operating in a racist manner. Such accusations, along with recent withdrawal threats, and efforts of the African Union (AU) to grant immunity to all African Heads of State and senior officials under international law, have left international observers wondering whether the ICC will survive what appears to be a burgeoning crisis of legitimation. I seek to examine the validity of the accusations advanced against the Court in light of relevant facts about the Court’s jurisdiction and operations. In evaluating how these challenges to the ICC impact the institution’s legitimacy, I examine both the Court’s normative legitimacy (in light of the moral and legal norms that animate its jurisdiction and operations) and the Court’s sociological legitimacy (in light of how relevant audiences in Africa perceive the ICC’s legitimacy). Although, as of November 2018, only one African state has withdrawn from the ICC, and others have reversed their decision to do so, the African challenges to the Court have placed the Court in a position where it must take seriously the accusations advanced against it by these leaders, if it is to enhance its legitimacy and develop into a lasting institution that brings global justice in the aftermath of atrocities.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
I am seeking assistance from a student to collect and summarize existing scholarly research on the ICC’s legitimacy, particularly as it relates to the ‘Afrocentrism’ of the Court. Depending on the student’s interests and training, he or she would examine recent literature on the Court’s normative and/or sociological legitimacy. To conduct research on the ICC’s normative legitimacy, the student would begin by looking at scholarly work on the legitimacy of international institutions from general theoretical perspective, and then narrow the focus to the ICC specifically. To conduct research on the Court’s sociological legitimacy, the student would examine scholarly social scientific research on African public opinion on the Court and from sources like Afrobarometer. After identifying relevant research, the student would be expected to review and summarize each of the works in terms of the sources aims, methodology, and findings.

Matthew Wright, SPA Government

Description
Prevailing accounts of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and elsewhere that peoples' root motivation lies in identity with ethnicity and nation, and that the story of contemporary anti-immigrant populism is basically one of cultural threat. Yet recent work in the U.S. context shows that for most Americans, most of the time, political values - belief in the rule of law and function assimilation, as well as humanitarianism and egalitarianism – tend to overpower peoples' identities when the two come into conflict. Given the U.S.' ideologically-rooted political culture, however, this may be an exceptional case. I propose to extend the argument to Western European immigrant-receiving countries to find out.

Here, I explore the values v. identity tradeoff using cross-national survey data in order to draw a preliminary conclusion. It is difficult to find good omnibus surveys that contain both measures of “values” as described above and immigration policy opinions. And, even where they exist, using one to predict the other at the individual level raises standard questions about reciprocal causation and spurious relationships. As a result, I propose to build a multi-country dataset of immigration survey attitudes, merged with aggregated measures of “value context”. These will be constructed from various sources: party position indicators, policy indices, media content-coding, and aggregated survey responses. The point is to generate plausibly exogenous measures of what values regarding immigrants and immigration tend to prevail in peoples’ everyday understandings of the topic. To the extent that opinions about immigration – broadly construed to include not only how many immigrants should be allowed to come, but also who should be allowed to come and on what terms – are well-predicted by values context, this is evidence that people think about the subject in terms of more than their group allegiances.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
I would ask my research student to begin with a broad survey of the anti-immigration attitudes literature over the past several years, emphasizing empirical work on public opinion. The purpose of this would be to get my own knowledge up-to-date, and also to familiarize the student with the basic debates in the field. At that point, we will work together to locate appropriate sources of public opinion data, and we generate sources of values contexts. The level at which the student is able to engage in actual data management and analysis will of course depend to an extent on the abilities they bring in. But at the same time, I anticipate little that is beyond what a smart undergraduate could be reasonably expected to learn on the fly. The benefits to any who do so would be the acquisition of data skills easily transferable to other domains. Ultimately, the student will be made co-author of any publication that results from our joint work, and may be offered the opportunity to present the work in academic settings given the opportunity.

Sonja Walti, SPA Department of Public Administration & Policy

Description
If democracy is “government of the people, for the people, by the people”, then we should expect elected representatives at all government levels to more or less be a reflection of the society that they seek to represent. We know that this isn’t always the case: in fact, women and minorities are systematically unrepresented among elected representatives at the state and federal levels in the U.S.. For instance, despite recent advances, women comprise only 20% of the representatives in the U.S. Congress, whereas women make up 25 percent of all state legislators nationwide (Rutgers, 2018; NCSL, 2018).

Although federal and state elections garner considerable attention from the media, the vast majority of elected officials in the United States are active at the local government level. In addition to being the level of government closest to the people, local governments also serve as a stepping stone for elected positions at the state and federal level. Unfortunately, very little is known about the composition of elected local representatives by gender and race/ethnicity since the U.S. Census Bureau stopped tracking the composition of elected representation in the U.S. in 1992.

While we might expect local government elected bodies to be more representative than higher governments, an initial review of the gender composition of elected representatives at the county level in Maryland and Virginia suggests that county governments may actually be less representative than the state and federal level: fewer than 18 percent of County Supervisors (or City Council members) in Virginia are women, while fewer than 15 percent of County Commissioners’ positions in Maryland are held by women. This begs the simple question: how representative are county government boards across the United States in terms of their composition when it comes to gender and race or minority status?

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
We aim to answer this question using current data on elected representation for all 3,069 counties in the United States compiled by the National Association of Counties (NaCO). The undergraduate research assistant will work with the SPA faculty researcher and her external research partner to review the list of elected county board members in each state to classify the gender and (if possible) the race or minority status of each county representative. The undergraduate research assistant will conduct online research, contact county officials, as well as contact state-level county associations to determine and validate the composition of elected county officials in each state. The undergraduate research assistant will help to compare the current data to earlier data and will further assist in tabulating the results by state and county, analyzing the collected data, and co-author the resulting report. Professional communication, in writing and by phone, as well as proficiency in the use of Excel are important skills for this project.

Sonja Walti, SPA Department of Public Policy and Administration

Description
During the 1970s, new chemicals – referred to as “fire retardants” – that promised to prevent materials including textiles, matrasses, furniture, electronics, toys, and building materials from catching fire spread quickly among relevant industries. The use of fire retardants saw rapid growth driven by building codes and product standards that increasingly required their application or made their use indispensable to pass mandated flammability tests. From California to Maine, states adopted policies encouraging or mandating the use of flame retardants to benefit potential burn victims and first responders. From the inception of those policies, the widespread use of flame retardant chemicals was contested because of their inability to break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in people and animals. Fire retardant chemicals can leak from products into dust and air; they affect firefighters when combating fires; and they make their way into the air, soil, and waterways during large-scale fires. Starting with California, states began to regulate or ban the use of fire retardants in the early 2000s. Publications, such as the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 six part investigative series Playing with Fire and HBO’s 2013 documentary Toxic Hot Seat, further stoked doubts about the unchecked reliance on flame retardants, accelerating state-level policies against flame retardants. States followed one another’s examples in the use of strategies and policy instruments.

This research aims to map and explain the adoption and diffusion of fire retardation policies at the state level. We hypothesize that the trajectory of state-level fire retardation policies rests on earlier diffusion processes which, in turn, are affected by each state’s unique problem, policy, and political constellations. The federal level likely shapes state-level policies through the presence of a tightly knit epistemic community. The 2013 and 2015 amendments to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) may accelerate convergence of state-level policies.

How could an undergraduate research assistant contribute to this project?
The undergraduate research assistant will assist with the state-level research of fire retardation policies using “process tracing” by examining and detailing the likely causal mechanisms behind a particular state’s recent policies regarding flame retardants. Based on primary research – including public records, news sources, and targeted interviews – the research assistant will help with uncovering and documenting what led to specific policy adoptions in regards to fame retardants in that state. The research assistant will initially focus on one state (California) from 2000 to 2017, and, to the extent feasible, then replicate the research in another state (Maine or Maryland). As a starting point, the research assistant can draw on existing cursory research that is already developed and documented.

This research will provide the undergraduate research assistant with an opportunity to become familiar with qualitative single and comparative case research methods, including the use of coding software. The research assistant will have an opportunity to learn about state-level innovation and diffusion research that underpin aspects of American federalism. Familiarity with accessing public record data, professionalism and ease of communication with potential interviewees, and effective note-taking skills are important competencies for this project.