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 2021 Course Offerings

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, Prof. Andrew McGee

High Technologies and the Making of Modern America

Professor McGee is working on three projects:

From Steel City to Robot Row: Tracing Pittsburgh’s Rise as an Information Technology and Robotics Hub
Following the collapse of the steel industry and the loss of numerous corporate headquarters from the 1970s through the 1990s, the Pittsburgh region has reinvented itself as a small-but-noteworthy information technology hub, becoming a center for data-driven medical research, banking technology, robotics, and cybersecurity, and hosting regional offices for national firms engaged in bioinformatics, autonomous vehicle, and artificial intelligence research. This project seeks to answer, “Why Pittsburgh?” Using the region’s robotics industry as a starting point, student researchers will work with the project leader to trace the historical evolution of Pittsburgh as a high-technology hub, linking key individuals, institutions, firms, and technological inventions in a database that will become the basis of a digital humanities project. We’ll follow the money, follow transmission of ideas, and follow movements of people from universities to companies, gathering historical, sociological, journalistic, business, technical, policy, and activist perspectives on the Pittsburgh “tech-renaissance.” 

Open to 1-2 students.

Engineers, Environment, and Expertise: Political Debates Over Economic Central Planning and Technological Debates Over Control of Land and Water in the Proposed Missouri Valle Authority, 1940-1955

From the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, a great deal of political and journalistic discourse in the United States centered on the proposed (but now largely-forgotten) Missouri Valley Authority, the planned successor to the Tennessee Valley Authority. This federally-overseen template for land management, water control, and energy production would have transformed the environment, economy, and national governmental presence in a swatch of the interior of the United States extending from Missouri to Montana. It never came to fruition, undone by bureaucratic infighting, political hesitancy, and unresolved debate over the role of central economic planning in postwar America. Debates over environment, energy, technocratic policymaking, the role of engineering, and political regionalism that marked the MVA project hold considerable relevance to present-day political discussions surrounding mitigation of climate change. Student researchers will work with the project leader to identify existing published works on the MVA, locate collections of relevant archival materials around the country, trace mentions of the project in period media, and build up a database of relevant materials on the history of economic, ecological, and engineering practice from the period. This project is well-suited to those interested in developing research skills around themes of environmental, engineering, and policy history. 

Open to 1 student.

The Neoliberal Computer: Economics Modeling and Computing for Policymaking, 1970-2000

The electronic, digital computer was an incredibly transformative force during the second-half of the twentieth century. This project seeks to trace the influence of computing, particularly computerized modeling, on economic thought and policymaking in the United States from the 1970s to the turn of the millennium. How did computer-adjacent systems thought reshape economic practice, particularly as it pertained to national policy discussion in an age of post-industrial neoliberal approaches to political economy? How did computer-drive simulations shape the profession of economics, the discipline’s influence on broader social science research, and the field’s societal impact? Student researchers will work with the project leader to gather resources and studies, identify key historical figures, and develop a glossary and database situating the relationship among computing, digital modeling, and neoliberal economic thought.   

Open to 1 student.

Interested students should e-mail Andrew Meade McGee at amcgee@andrew.cmu.edu, describing their interest in the project and why they think they’d be a good fit.

Section D, Professor Joseph E. Devine

On the Road: A Selective History of Pre-World War II America
Early one morning in late May of 1937, four young men – close friends, barely one year out of high school – set out from their home in Bayonne, New Jersey, in an old Ford that leaked oil, with a specific task: drive to South Bend, Indiana and pick up and bring home another friend who was finishing his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame.  But the trip became much more.  It became their first great adventure as young adults, outside of the rather narrow world they’d known as boys, with no idea of what lay in their futures, but with a vague sense that life might start to pull them apart. They called themselves “The Rover Boys.”  They packed an old manual typewriter, and kept a daily journal that gives a travelogue of their trip, which they stretched into a route that took them west to South Bend, south to New Orleans, east to the Atlantic, and north again to new Jersey and home, over a stretch of several weeks. 

What they did was, certainly for them then, and maybe also for us now, remarkable.  They transformed this simple task into a collective odyssey that, no matter where or in how many directions their future would take them, would bind them together as close friends forever.

For us, this journal now holds promise as a set of first-hand observations by four young men from a different time and place in America, seeing and reacting to parts of the country they’d never seen (and probably never expected to see).  What this journal says about them, and the America they observed, is the focus of this research project.  Their journal will be the project’s central “text.”  Students will be challenged to identify and critique works of history, literature, economics, cultural studies, and other relevant fields that expand and illuminate the contexts of the regions through which these boys passed, and that also shed light on them and their world (and world view) at home.  Possible long-term end-results of this project include a course of study built around this journal, and a monograph of what it represents as a “social/cultural history” of a slice of pre-World War II American life.

Contact by e-mail: jd0x@andrew.cmu.edu ; and include information concerning interest in this project. Recommended: strong background and interest in 20th century American social history and cultural studies.

Open to up to three students.

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:  th1h@andrew.cmu.edu.

Open to up to four students.

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

80-198, Research Training in Philosophy

Section A, Prof. Danny Oppenheimer and Prof. Simon Cullen

Note: This course is also offered as both a Psychology Department Research Training Course (85-198), and as a Social & Decision Sciences (88-198) Research Training Course. 

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 (oppenheimer@cmu.edu) 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).

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 Prof. Gomez anand include information about your interests in this project.

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 jjchin@andrew.cmu.edu.

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 B, Professors Daniel Oppenheimer and Simon Cullen

Note: This course is also offered as both a Philosophy Department Research Training Course (80-198), and as a Social & Decision Sciences (88-198) Research Training Course.

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 (oppenheimer@cmu.edu) 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). 

Section C, Professor Kasey Creswell

Research Training in 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 (glyons@andrew.cmu.edu) and include mention of this course number (85-198), your current GPA, your major, and information about your interests in this lab.

Section E, Professor Brad Mahon

AI and Big Data in the Study of Human Brain Injury
The goal of this course will be to involve students in 1) a large literature review of behavioral consequences of stroke and surgery to remove tumors, 2) retrieve primary MRI and behavioral datasets from   the literature, 3) preparing those data for deposition on open science platforms and 4) analysis of the resulting database.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students should contact Brad Mahon by email (bmahon@andrew.cmu.edu) with Reuven Hanna in cc (rmhanna@andrew.cmu.edu).

Section G, 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.

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: michaeltarr@cmu.edu 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 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.

Contact: Prof. 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.

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 (oppenheimer@cmu.edu) 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).