Carnegie Mellon University

Dietrich College Research Training Program

This program is designed to give eligible and interested students real research experience working on a faculty project or lab in ways that might stimulate and nurture the students' interest in doing more research.

It is open to second-semester first-year students and sophomores with a 3.0 QPA or by petition.

The projects take the form of a one-semester/9-unit research apprenticeship with a faculty sponsor. Faculty members are expected to meet with the student regularly and provide a grade. The benefit to faculty is some potentially quite useful research assistance, where projects can be broken down into manageable chunks (e.g., literature reviews).

Fall 2023 Course Offerings

76-198 Research Training in English

Section A, Professor Andreea Ritivoi

Secrets, Lies, and Alliances: A Cold War Network of Power
Connections mattered greatly in the suspicions-fueled environment of the Cold War: whom one knew and trusted (whether rightfully so or not) played a significant role in how individuals acquired and shared information, and thus in how people ­­formed political opinions and made political commitments: communist, anti-communist, or undecided. For a refugee from the Soviet Bloc, who one knew and was connected to was a matter of survival, as it often meant whether one could secure an affidavit of support or a job to earn a visa or residency rights and to make a living. The social network project we will re-construct will show us the circulation of political ideas across political and ideological borders. By tracing connections across the individuals from both sides of the Iron Curtain and with different ideological position, we can hopefully get a clearer picture of how power and influence circulate across different national groups, private organizations and government agencies, and finally across individuals with different cultural backgrounds but with similar political goals. The Cold War network we will recreate connected people who might have never met in person but who corresponded regularly and avidly; close friends who had grown up together in the same cities and neighborhoods before they emigrated; former political rivals turned allies against a shared enemy, be that the communist regime in power in their country, the Soviet Union, or more abstractly, communism; writers and readers, or journalists and listeners; employers and their employees and their sponsors (as in the case of Radio Free Europe journalists and the National Free Europe Committee).

The focus of this course is the creation of a dataset that will include information about the individuals involved in this network. We will also discuss and decide together the political issues the network can visualize, such as what constitutes a trustworthy relation in an era of great secrecy and suspicion; how political influence is defined and exerted; who can speak in the name of a nation. You will learn how to interpret and connect archival documents from several Cold War digital archives.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Ritivoi and include information about your interests in this project.

79-198 Research Training in History

Section A, Professor Lisa Tetrault

The Right to Vote: An Unexpected History
Did you know that American citizens have no right to vote?  None. The United States is one of the only constitutional democracies in the world that does not enshrine this right in its founding charter. Not only did the nation’s founders punt on creating one, social movements have also never succeeded in creating one. Yet we hear all the time about how different groups won the vote:  Black men in 1870; women in 1920; everyone else in 1965. Again, nope. So what, then, have voting rights activists won over the centuries? And how and why has an affirmative right to vote never been achieved? This book project looks to answer those questions, starting with the U.S. Constitution and working forward to the present. 

I’ll happily train all students on the skills needed. Work will be largely in digital sources. Class requires your commitment to work independently, as a lot is work you have to find time do on your own—to get in your weekly hours. In truth, that’s the hardest part of the class, the self-discipline. If you have that, or want to practice it, come join me in sorting out this history.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Tetrault and include information about your interests in this project.

Section B, Professor Christopher Phillips

The History of Biostatistics
This project involves tracing technical changes in statistical procedures for making inferences about causality over time. From the 1890s to the present, statisticians have tried to find new ways to get around the age-old problem that correlation doesn't imply causation. In medicine this problem was particularly vexing, as questions about what therapy worked, or what vaccine was more effective, had both ethical, financial, and practical consequences for millions of people. Students will be reading statistics articles from the 1890s through the 1950s, tracing specifically how regression, correlation, inference testing, and data modeling have changed over time. Some knowledge of these statistical ideas required; interest in the history of medicine a plus.

Open to more than 1 student, but not more than 3.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Phillips and include information about your interests in this project.

Section C, Professor John Soluri

From "Banana Republic" to "Cup of Excellence:" Explaining the rise of Honduras in the Global Coffee Business
In recent years, drug-trafficking, government corruption, and migration have dominated news headlines about Honduras. In the world of coffee however, Honduras has emerged as a leader. Some Honduran coffees now earn the highest prices ever paid for coffee beans. The rise to prominence of Honduran coffee comes after generations of industry experts dismissing Honduras's coffee industry as inferior to coffee sourced from Colombia, Costa Rica, or Guatemala.

This research project seeks to answer a basic question: How and when did Honduran coffee growers transform perceptions of their product? We will consider both quantity and quality: When did Honduran coffee exports begin to capture a significant portion of the US market? How and when did perceptions of the quality of Honduran coffee change? What has been the impacts of this shift on the lives of coffee farmers and rural environments in Honduras? We will try to answer these questions by compiling and analyzing government documents, newspapers, and trade journal reports (now often available in digital formats) on coffee exports from Honduras to the United States. We will also meet and interview some Honduran business-people who import and roast Honduran coffees in Pittsburgh.

Open to one or two students.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Soluri and include information about your interests in this project.

Section D, Professor Ezelle Sanford III

Mapping Segregated Medicine
As part of a larger project tracing how African Americans used St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital (1937-1979) to engage in political, social, and economic struggles for equality and full citizenship in the United States, “Mapping Segregated Medicine” is a digital history project designed to chart the greater record of what historian Vanessa Northington Gamble calls the “Black Hospital Movement” across the twentieth century. Using GIS technology, this project maps important health institutions that served Black communities in the Jim Crow era and overlays them with demographic data from the US census.

In visual form, this project reveals the impact of American healthcare’s desegregation in the 1960s. Analyzing the impact of hospital closures and mergers amid an increasingly privatized hospital system, this project attempts to answer the following questions: What did the network of healthcare institutions available to African Americans during the period of racial segregation look like across the United States over time? To what extent did the network of African American-established and Black-serving institutions spread across the United States? What happened to this network of health institutions after American hospitals were desegregated in the 1960s?

“Mapping Segregated Medicine” is intended to be used as a teaching tool to complement my larger book project. Mapping this institutional network will provide new insights on an extensive African American health network in the Jim Crow era. It illustrates the extent to which segregation impacted where African Americans could obtain healthcare and enhances our understanding of how shifting African Americans populations themselves played a role in shaping the development of American healthcare.

Developing Mapping Segregated Medicine offers opportunities for undergraduate research and teaching. Undergraduate students will be given opportunities to engage in historical research, data management, and develop new ways to use digital tools for research and presentation. 

Student Research Roles:

  • Review Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Research and Collect information about historical Black-serving hospitals
  • Digitize primary sources
  • Opportunities to learn about and use GIS mapping tools
  • Research at the intersection of African American history and history of medicine.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students should email Professor Sanford and include information about your interests in this project.

82-198, Research Training in Modern Languages

Section A, Professor Felipe Gomez

Latin American Comics Archive
This project involves research of Latin American comics. The course will teach the basics of Comic Book Markup Language (CBML, a TEI-based XML vocabulary) for encoding and analyzing the structural, textual, visual, and bibliographic complexity of digitized comic books and related documents. Student researchers will assist in: a) editing, marking up, and structuring digitized Latin American comics; b) reading and subjecting these texts to interpretation, making inferences, and embarking in theoretical explorations of issues according to given criteria.

Long-term results of this project entail possible inclusion of encoded materials in the Latin American Comics Archive (LACA), an award-winning Digital Humanities project; collaboration with national and international students and researchers; and perhaps a published work (for which student participants would be acknowledged as contributors).

Open to one or more students with at least low-intermediate level reading skills in Spanish.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Gomez and include information about your interests in this project.

84-198, Research Training: Institute for Politics and Strategy

Section A, Professor John Chin

Schrödinger's Coups and the History of Assassination
John Chin is seeking research assistants for one or more political science research projects. One project involves reading historical narratives of coups since World War II and coding data for an article on types of ambiguous evidence in the Colpus coup dataset and uncertainties over what is a coup. A second project involves research and writing for an Historical Dictionary of Modern Assassinations cataloging all attempts to kill dictators and democratically-elected leaders since World War II. Other projects related to self-coups, democratic backsliding, and/or civil resistance and nonviolent revolutions may be available upon inquiry.

Interested students can email

85-198, Research Training in Psychology

Section A, Professor Vicki Helgeson

Coping with Chronic Illness and Other Stressors
Students will be introduced to the topic of how people adjust to chronic illness (e.g., diabetes, cancer) within the field of social and health psychology. The research focuses on individual difference factors (e.g., illness identity) as well as relational factors (e.g., communal coping) that influence adjustment. Students will read articles on the topic and have hands-on experience conducting research related to this topic. There may be opportunities to examine data on people with chronic illness, collect data on people with chronic illness, or conduct laboratory research on healthy people coping with stress, including discrimination.

Interested students can email Professor Vicki Helgeson.

Section B, Professor Bonnie Nozari

Speaking, Writing, and Typing
How much do you think speaking, writing, and typing have in common? We investigate the similarities and differences between various modes of communication in children, adults, and individuals who have suffered brain damage. If you are a highly motivated student, interested in the science of language, and in moving towards building a strong independent research career for yourself, this position may be ideal for you. Students with programming skills are particularly encouraged to apply.

Possibly open to more than one student.

Please contact Professor Bonnie Nozari and include information about your interests in this project.

Section C, Professor Kasey Creswell

Alcohol Use and Abuse
This course provides students with research experience in the area of alcohol addiction. Students will have the opportunity to help with several ongoing studies, including a large, federally-funded clinical trial examining responses to alcohol consumption and the development of alcohol use disorder symptoms. Major responsibilities will include helping to do the following: recruit and schedule research participants, run participants through research protocols, prepare materials for research studies, code behavioral data from videos, perform literature searches, and input data. Students are also required to attend a one hour weekly lab meeting, where we will read and discuss papers related to alcohol addiction.

Open to more than one student. 

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Kasey Crewell’s lab manager, Greta Lyons ( and include mention of this course number (85-198), your current GPA, your major, and information about your interests in this lab.

Section G, Professor Catarina Vales

Raising Anti-Racist Youth
Millions of children around the world grow up in racialized societies – societies organized along racial lines historically, politically, and economically. It is well known that children growing up in racialized societies develop racialized thinking patterns – they come to represent the socially constructed notion of race as a relevant category for making predictions about individuals, interpreting ambiguous evidence, and making friendship choices. These racialized thinking patterns persist beyond childhood, and cause harms to individuals and communities. In this project, we try to understand not only how racialized thinking develops during childhood, but also how it can be changed with experience and learning. Towards this goal, we study (1) how racial diversity in picture books children are exposed to may change racial biases in preschool-age children; and (2) how conversations about historic roots and present-day manifestations of systemic racism may help challenge racialized thinking patterns in school-age children.

Open to more than one student.

Questions should be sent to Dr. Catarina Vales.

Section J, Professor Laurie Heller

Auditory Perception
This course provides students with research experience in the area of auditory perception. Students will assist with research projects in the Auditory Perception Laboratory, obtaining hands-on experience with various aspects of conducting research. Students will gain experience in study design, participant recruitment & scheduling, working as an experimenter, data collection, and data management/analysis including acoustic analysis and possibly sound recording and sound synthesis.

For example, students may conduct an analysis of the acoustics of sounds which have similar perceptual qualities, or they may run an experiment in which listeners judge the causes of sounds, or listeners may do tasks seemingly unrelated to the sounds they hear and show evidence of unconscious priming when sounds and words (or gestures) are related.

Open to more than one student.

Contact Professor Heller by email, and include information about your interest in this project. Students with a special interest in sound synthesis and/or matlab programming should bring attention to that interest. 

Section K, Professor Erik Thiessen

Storytelling, Communication, and Learning in Language Acquisition
Language is perhaps the signature cognitive achievement of our species, and few aspects of language are more fundamental than the ability to communicate via stories.  The goal of this project is to understand the emergence of children’s storytelling and linguistic competence.  We will approach this goal with a variety of different methodologies, including behavioral studies, analyses of recorded conversations, and investigation of the kinds of stories and storytelling opportunities that children receive.  This project requires no prior experience, and will provide students with an opportunity to learn all relevant skills.  Additionally, students will attend a weekly lab meeting where we will discuss ongoing tasks and relevant literature.

This project is open to more than one student.

Contact Professor Thiessen by email and include information about your interest in this project.

Section M, Professor Brooke Feeney

Social Psychology
This course provides students with research experience in the area of social psychology. Students will assist with research projects in the Relationships Laboratory, thereby obtaining actual, hands-on experience with various aspects of large research projects on the topic of interpersonal relations. As a member of the Relationships Lab, students will gain experience in study design, participant recruitment & scheduling, working as an experimenter, data collection, and data management/analysis. For example, students may work with newlyweds and dating couples in an experimenter role, code videos of couple interactions, assist with data entry and data analysis, assist with preparation of research reports, and assist with library work.

Open to more than one student.

Contact by email: Professor Feeney, and include information about your interest in this project.

88-198, Research Training in Social and Decision Sciences

Section A, Professor Julie Downs

Decision Science Survey Research and Analysis
This course provides students with research training and experience in the area of decision science. Students will get training with commonly used tools including Qualtrics for building online surveys, spreadsheets for managing data, producing basic statistical output, and an introduction to the statistical package R for data visualization and reports. Most training will happen through self-paced tutorials, with the opportunity to put these skills to work helping with ongoing projects or creating a sample project of their own. Motivated students can turn this training experience into ongoing independent research in future semesters with relevant faculty.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students fill out Dr. Downs’ research lab interest form and mention that they are specifically interested in the research training course.