Carnegie Mellon University

Dietrich College Research Training Program

The Dietrich College freshman-sophomore research training program is open to second semester freshmen and sophomores with a 3.0 QPA or by petition. It is designed to give eligible and interested students some real research experience working on a faculty project or lab in ways that might stimulate and nurture the students' interest in doing more research.

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 2018 Course Offerings

Section A, Prof. Lisa Tetrault

The Fight for Women’s Voting Rights
Come help me sort out the wild world of nineteenth century women’s rights (1800s)!  I’m writing about the early political history around women’s voting rights, 1860-1878.  This course will involve work in digitized old newspapers, state and federal legislative records, the person papers of the people involved (including Susan B. Anthony), and more.  I’ll work with you as we try to uncover all the different political arguments around women’s voting rights.   

Open to more than one student. 

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

Section B, Prof. Nico Slate

Prof. Slate is working on three projects:

  • The Intellectual History of the American Civil Rights Movement: Students will use online tools to help research the ideas that drove the civil rights movement.
  • The History of High-School to College Bridge Programs: Students will conduct research online and in local archives. The research will be focused on the history of university-based programs that aimed to help low-income high school students gain admission to college.
  • Digital Mapping of Scholarship on the Transnational Dimensions of African American History: Students will help create a webpage that creatively displays existing research on the transnational dimensions of African American history. Some experience with web design will be helpful, but is not necessary. 

Open to one or more students.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Slate and include information about your interests in this project.

Section C., Prof. Christopher Phillips

Clinical Trials and Medical Statistics
Going to the doctor in the twenty-first century is a numerical experience: height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol level, to be sure, but also genetic risk analysis, five-year survival rates, and false positive ratios. While statistics has long been a part of epidemiology and public health, the field's role in clinical medicine was largely established in the twentieth century. As part of an ongoing book project on the rise of statistics in medicine, this course will involve uncovering how and why the clinic has been quantified, and what is at stake for those involved.

Together we'll gather resources and studies, build a database, and identify important historical events and transitions–all with the hope of uncovering the people and historical contingencies behind the quantification of medicine.

Open to 1-2 students.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Phillips and include information about your interests in this project and why you'd be a good fit.

Section A, Professor Kenya C. Dworkin

Cyber-Activism and Independent, Civil Society in Contemporary Cuba: Digital Platforms and Social Media as Tools for Change
As part of an ongoing project on contemporary, independent, civil society in Cuba and the tools it is employing to promote its agendas and projects both inside and outside Cuba, this project will involve guided research and analysis of print & digital blogs, news sources, webpages, digital platforms published in and/or about contemporary Cuba, by Cubans and non-Cubans. We will work to: (1) follow established sources (web pages, Twitter accounts, Facebook posts and their bloggers/Tweeters and owners/users), (2) discover and analyze news ones, and (3) assess their effectiveness regarding reach and language of materials. 

Open to one or two students. Prerequisites: (1) Students must have at least advanced level reading skills in Spanish and be fully proficient in English. (2) Students must also be willing to sign up for and follow Twitter and Facebook accounts, and blogs belonging to and/or that host the work of Cuban Cyber-Activists.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Dworkin and include information about your interests in this project and why you'd be a good fit.

Section B, Prof. Sébastien Dubreil

Students will join an interdisciplinary team of other undergraduate students to design a video game entitled Bonne Chance, which aims at enhancing the learning of French at the elementary level.

In the game, the learner plays as a traveler going to Paris, who is then faced with an epic quest (in this case rescuing the French time-space continuum, which is being disrupted by the resident villain). The game progresses through a series of problem-solving language puzzles and form-focused, language-practice mini-games that connect to French culture. By solving the enigmas, players are able to practice language skills in a rich, culturally authentic context.

In language learning, one of the best methods of content acquisition is through immersion. When true immersion is unavailable, situating the language within an authentic cultural context is a viable alternative. Narrative-based gaming provides a series of familiar mechanics and structures into which this cultural context may be situated. Bonne Chance is designed to be an immersive language learning game that manifests in the form of a mobile app (designed using Unreal EngineÔ).

Students will be involved in the research process both as researchers and participants. Students’ roles will be (a combination of) the following:

  • Participate in every facet of the design decision-making process
  • Execute the design plan by either coding, creating assets, writing parts of the storyline or playtest the game
  • Participate in a weekly meeting with team members (to be determined)
  • Assist in evaluating French learning through game design and/or gameplay 

To ensure the best experience possible, Prof. Dubreil is willing to tailor the course to best match students’ interests and goals.

Previous experience in French preferred but not necessary.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Dubreil and include information about your interests in this project

Section C, Prof. Bonnie Youngs

Using Data to Improve Learning in French Online
For this research we will analyze the data logged from students using the French Elementary 1 Online course. This semester we will examine plots of data from lessons to understand the patterns of student use behaviors for example why do students skip certain items and why do some questions or question sequences result in all correct or all incorrect answers? Using the plotted data we will cross-reference student behaviors with actual course material to find solutions to improving the course. No knowledge of French or statistics is required, just a good eye for detail and a willingness to share ideas.

Section D, Prof. Felipe Gomez

Encoding Hispanic Comics
This project involves research of Spanish-language comics. The course will teach 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 Spanish-language 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, 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 two students with at least intermediate level reading skills in Spanish. 

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Gomez and include information about your interests in this project

Section A, Professor Vicki Helgeson

Adjustment to Chronic Illness
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. 

Open up to 5 students.

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.

Students with a special interest in sound synthesis and/or matlab programming should bring attention to that interest.  

Open to more than one student.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Heller and include information about your interests in this project

Section K, Professor Erik D. Thiessen

The Role of Learning in Infants' Language Acquisition
In order to master their language, infants need to learn an extraordinary amount.  They must discover what sounds occur in their language, how those sounds relate to meaning, the identity and meaning of words in their language, and how to string those words together into sentences.  Infants are exposed to a rich linguistic environment, but little is known about how infants are able to take advantage of the richness of this environment. In the Infant Language and Learning Lab, we try to understand how infants are able to learn from their environment.  In particular, we explore how infants respond to the distribution of probabilistic information across levels of linguistic organization like sound and meaning.  To do so, we use a variety of experimental methods, such as habituation, in studies with infants between the ages of 6 and 24 months.

Our experiments present infants with novel languages, and examine what infants are able to learn from them.  Specifically, upcoming projects will examine how infants learn that different sounds (like /d/ and /t/) indicate different meanings, how infants discover the rules governing word order in phrases, and how infants learn about the rhythmic structure of their native language.

Open to more than one student. 

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Thiessen and include information about your interests 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.

Interested students: Send an email to Professor Feeney and include information about your interests in this project.