Carnegie Mellon University

Dietrich College Research Training Program

The Dietrich College research training program is open to second-semester first-year students 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 2022 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.

Section B, Professors Chris Warren and Sam Lemley

CSI Underground Books and Printing
This is a research training course devoted to solving unsolved crimes, offered jointly between the Department of English and the Department of Special Collections in CMU Libraries. We’ll take on puzzling cases of illegal printing that have stymied investigators for hundreds of years. In working together to determine who may have been responsible for scandalous and illicit books, we’ll learn about the history of censorship, the history of printing and typography, copyright and its discontents, crime syndicates, piracy, document forensics, and more. We’ll get our hands dirty with rare books from the 16th and 17th centuries and also see what we can discover using modern technology and data analysis. This is a course for students who’ll enjoy the thrills of creatively aggregating and assessing evidence and the challenges of real-world humanities problems that span history, literature, and technology. Students should expect to work in teams and also to expect the unexpected. Who knows what we’ll find? With any luck, we’ll be able to crack a few cases!

Open to multiple students.  Interested students can reach out to Professor Warren.

79-198 Research Training in History

Section A, Prof. 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. This fall 2021 I’ll be working on the founding era and the Constitution. But work may extend into the modern era. 

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

Section B, 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 Role: *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.

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

Open to more than one student.

Section E, Prof. Tim Haggerty

The Pittsburgh Queer History Project
The Pittsburgh Queer History Project (PQHP) is an ongoing research effort to collect and catalog archival material that document the experiences of LGBTQ people in Pittsburgh and its environs from the second half of the 20th century to the present. The PQHP is co-directed by Prof. Tim Haggerty, the Director of the Humanities Scholars Program and Dr. Harrison Apple, a BXA graduate of Carnegie Mellon who received a doctorate degree from the University of Arizona in 2021, studying with the noted trans scholar Susan Stryker.  

Students will meet with community activists, learn how to conduct community outreach, organize archival material, and help formulate research questions based on these documents.  There is no prior experience needed.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop your research skills in LGBT studies, please send a brief email outlining your interests to Tim Haggerty:

Open to up to four students.

Note: This course is cross-listed with 65-198 Section E.

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

Section A, Prof. John Chin

Coups, Self-Coups, and Assassinations
John Chin is seeking research assistants for one or more research projects related to political violence, political instability, and the breakdown of democracy. Depending on student background and interest, students may gain experience in qualitative or quantitative research in political violence / non-violence. How often, in what ways, do presidents and prime ministers illegally concentrate power and extend their rule? When, how, and to what effect do everyday citizens resist unlawful attempts to seize and keep power? The first project involves assisting in historical research and writing historical narratives of self-coups and coding a new global cross-national dataset of self-coups (autogolpes) since World War II. The 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. The third project involves assisting in refining and data visualization for ColpusCast, a new global statistical forecast model of different coup types.

Interested students can email

85-198, Research Training in Psychology

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 to more than one student.

Contact: Prof. Helgeson 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.

Professor Bonnie Nozari

Speaking, Writing, and Typing (This course will be offered in Spring 2023)
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.

Section H, Professor Michael Tarr

Modeling Biological and Artificial Intelligence 
Can modern artificial Intelligence tell us something about how we think and how our brains work? Conversely, can how our brains work help build smarter artificial intelligences? We are studying how biological and artificial systems learn task-relevant representations from visual and semantic inputs. Our approach includes collecting human neuroscience data with fMRI and building “deep” neural networks - both to predict/understand our neural data and to test our theories in complex, behavior systems under controlled conditions.

Interested students should have some experience in neural network development through either the Psychology PDP course or one of the SCS deep learning courses.

Contact: and include information about your interests in this project.

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 Prof. 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: Prof. Feeney, and include information about your interest in this project.

88-198, Research Training in Social and Decision Sciences

Section M, Professors Daniel Oppenheimer and Simon Cullen

Note: This course is also offered as a Psychology Department Research Training Course as 85-198 Section B.

Reducing Political Polarization by Improving Argument Understanding
Project: Recent theories of political ideology suggest that liberals and conservatives may prioritize different values.  For example, while fundamental values such as tradition, purity, equality, and inclusiveness are widely held across the political spectrum, conservatives are theorized to prioritize tradition and purity while liberals are theorized to prioritize equality and inclusiveness.  This can lead to ineffective political communication, as conservatives attempt to persuade through purity and tradition based arguments which are not as persuasive to liberals, while liberals attempt to persuade through equality and inclusiveness arguments which are not as persuasive to conservatives.  This can lead to polarization, as each side feels the other is ignoring important values in the debate.

For this project, we are seeking assistance in developing arguments for and against specific issues, based in the logic of different fundamental values.  (e.g. tradition based appeals in favor of stricter immigration laws, tradition based appeals in favor of looser immigration laws, equality based appeals in favor of stricter immigration laws, and equality based appeals in favor of looser immigration laws).  The ultimate goal is to reduce partisan polarization by allowing people of different ideologies to better communicate with one another. 

Contact: Interested students should email Danny Oppenheimer ( with the subject heading "RA for political values and communication project." In the email, please include a sentence or two about why this project appeals to you, and a sentence or two on any relevant experience (none is required, but if you have some, please let us know).  Then, choose an issue of political relevance, and write

   1)  a 1-2 sentence argument that you believe would appeal to liberals

   2) a 1-2 sentence argument ARGUING THE SAME SIDE OF THE ISSUE that you believe would appeal to conservatives. 

 (e.g. if you argued for stronger gun control in your appeal to liberals, you also need to argue in favor of stronger gun control when appealing to conservatives, but your argument should be based in values that conservatives prioritize).