Carnegie Mellon University
March 25, 2020

Research Training Courses Open for Registration

By Cameron Monteith

Stacy Kish
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-9309

Are you a first- or second-year student interested in gaining more research experience? The Dietrich College Research Training Program (RTC) is a pathway for you to gain the experience you need to further your pursuits in academic research.

“Students are able to gain experience and exposure to topics they might be able to pursue later in their academic career with the mentorship of a Carnegie Mellon professor,” said Joseph Devine, the associate dean for undergraduate studies. “Students aren’t expected to just do chores, like getting books out of the library, but to participate in the current academic conversation.”

Research training courses are open to second semester first-year and all sophomore students during course registration. More information on RTC professors and topics options can be found on the Dietrich College Research Training Program website or by contacting Joseph Devine.

Research in Modern Languages

Susan Polansky, head of the Department of Modern Languages and teaching professor of Hispanic Studies, has led a research training course titled “Cross-Cultural Currents between Spain and the Americas: The Case of Chocolate,” along with other courses on Federico García Lorca’s puppet plays and the novel Abel Sánchez by Miguel de Unamuno.

The information gathered by students in these courses has contributed to several conference presentations, the publication of an article and the development of an edited volume of Miguel de Unamuno’s work.

Professor Polansky speaks positively about her experience guiding students in their introductory research efforts.

“These have been great opportunities to work closely with a faculty member, learn more about a particular topic in a particular discipline and gain skills in conducting research,” Polansky says.

Polansky speaks to the independent nature of the research training program, where students can generate interesting questions of their own while connecting the topic of the course with their interests in other disciplines.

“One student, in the case of the chocolate project on cross-cultural currents between Spain and the Americas, combined his study of economics and Hispanic studies in order to focus on the commodity of cacao/chocolate,” says Polansky. “He took initiative during weekly sessions with well-prepared notes based on what he researched and read. It has been great to see students’ interests and curiosity develop through the course.”

Polansky has noticed the effects of RTC courses on students in their academic careers.

“It has been a delight to invite students to work closely with me on my research,” says Polansky. “It has resulted in our continuing connections, and often in the students taking additional courses in the department to develop their interests in cultural studies.”

Polansky will be continuing her course “Cross-Cultural Currents between Spain and the Americas: The Case of Chocolate” in the fall semester of 2020.

Research in History

Noah Theriault, an assistant professor in the Department of History, testifies to the positive experiences he has had in his own research training courses. He previously held an RTC titled “Hostile Environments of Pittsburgh,” in which students analyzed journalistic, organizational, activist and scholarly resources centered around themes of political ecology and pollution within Pittsburgh. His team created an online database that allows for individuals to seek connections between different environmental issues through mapping and filtering techniques.

“I noticed that my students lacked a tool or resource to look into environmental justice in Pittsburgh in a comprehensive way,” said Theriault. “The goal is to enable researchers and activists in the community, as well as students and scholars at other universities, in order to complete environmental research in a more complete way through the mapping and filtering of disparate sources.”

Theriault also believes in the strength of the research training courses for students in providing opportunities that might not be available to them without prior experience.

“Research training courses are a way for students to get their feet wet in a topic they might be interested in, like pursuing an Environmental and Sustainability Studies degree at Carnegie Mellon,” said Theriault. “These opportunities also connect students to the community they are surrounded by, giving them an intimate view of the issues affecting their surroundings.”

Theriault appreciates that students can connect students' interests to actual research.

“It’s great to have multiple students in a research training course in order so that individuals can focus on the aspects of research they feel most excited about while also being able to be challenged to work outside their comfort zone,” said Theriault.

Theriault will continue growing the database project in the fall semester of 2020 semester through an RTC entitled “Political Ecologies of Pittsburgh.”