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).

Spring 2021 Course Offerings

79-198 Research Training in History

Section A, Prof. Lisa Tetrault

Women and the Vote
2020 marks a milestone in US history: the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which supposedly granted women the right to vote. Spoiler alert, it didn’t. This historic amendment, the capstone of the women’s suffrage movement, will be widely celebrated this year, but also widely misunderstood. I’m writing a book about the amendment, looking less at the suffrage campaign, and more at the amendment itself—how it came to be, what different forms it had, etc. Surprisingly, we know almost nothing about the amendment, not even who wrote it! If you care about democracy and voting rights (for everyone), this is a good project for you!

Open to two students. 

Email tetrault@andrew.cmu.edu and include information about your interest in this project and why you think you'd be a good fit.

Section B, Prof. Noah Theriault

Political Ecologies of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has come a long way since the mid-twentieth century, when coal smoke blocked the midday sun and coated the land in a layer of soot.  Even so, the City of Bridges is by no means free of toxic pollution today.  Its air quality is among the worst in the nation, many of its waterways and soils remain heavily polluted, and communities across the region continue to struggle with contaminated drinking water.  This pollution comes both from legacy sources, such as acid mine drainage, and from newer ones, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  To support my research and teaching, I am assembling a database entitled “Political Ecologies of Pittsburgh,” which will serve as a resource for studying toxic exposure in the region past and present.  The database will include historical, sociological, technical, journalistic, and activist perspectives both on the sources of toxic exposure and on how communities are responding to them.

Open to 1-2 students.

If you’re interested in learning more about your local environment while developing widely applicable research skills, please send email to Prof. Theriault, briefly introducing yourself and your interests: noaht@cmu.edu . No prior skills or knowledge are required, though familiarity with basic web design would be a plus.

Section C, Prof. John Soluri

I am a historian of Latin America whose research and teaching focuses on commodity production and consumption.  In the context of Latin America, People of Color figure prominently as key figures in the production of commodities like sugar, coffee or bananas but less often as consumers of these goods.  Historians like myself frequently use national-level data to track changes in consumption but such data is rarely sensitive to differences based on region, race, class or gender identities. Unsurprisingly, main stream advertising tended to present coffee consumers as white.

This new research project will take advantage of the increasing availability of digital versions of African-American and Latinx newspapers and other digital/library sources to explore the historical significance of coffee drinking in African-American and Latinx communities.  This will include tracking evidence of actual coffee consumption as well as searching for evidence of the role that coffee may have played as a “social lubricant” — that is, coffee drinking as a context for social, cultural, or even political engagements.  Time permitting, other potential forms of evidence, including literature, music, or art forms, may be examined for gaining ideas about the meanings of coffee among diverse Black and Latinx communities in the twentieth-century United States. 

My expectations for how the course will proceed:  we will begin by doing two weeks of background reading on coffee consumption and theories of consumption more generally. Then, working together, we will familiarize ourselves with how to search available databases in consultation with reference librarians in Hunt.  We will develop a preliminary set of search terms that you will use to conduct scientific searches. This means that you will track carefully the results that are returned from using particular search terms and databases. Depending on the amount and quality of the evidence that we find, we will periodically pause to do some preliminary data analysis and refine search terms.  A final project might include developing a short presentation for classroom purposes that describes the research and summarizes preliminary findings.

Prior knowledge of the specific topic is not required. Some familiarity with US history, African-American, or Latinx history would be helpful. Reading knowledge of Spanish would be a huge bonus but not required.

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

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. 

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.

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, Professor Lori Holt

Listen Up: Research Training in the Science of Sound
Have you ever wondered how people learn a second language? We are investigating novel approaches to helping the adult brain acquire the sounds of a new language. In Fall 2018 we conducted a classroom intervention with Carnegie Mellon University students learning Mandarin Chinese. The Freshman-Sophomore project will involve hands-on experience analyzing data from this study. You can also expect to be welcomed into a vibrant, cross-cutting laboratory of researchers with an interest in understanding how the human brain understands speech and other sounds. This project is best suited to a student who has a curiosity about language learning and is comfortable with some programming.

Possibly open to more than one student.

Contact: Please contact Professor Holt by email.

Section C, Professor Jessica Cantlon

Research Training in Developmental Neuroscience
This course provides students with research experience in the cross-section between developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Students will have the opportunity to help with both behavioral research in early childhood (3-9), as well as neuroimaging (i.e. fMRI) research in later childhood (7-12). In both, we at the Kid Neuro Lab look at how children develop their mathematical ability and how these changes and manifest both in their behavior and in how their brain functions. Major responsibilities will include the following: recruiting and scheduling research participants, helping run participants through experiments, input collected data, prepare supplies for new experiment designs, and learn how to analyze and present collected data.

Open to more than one student.

Contact: Send an email to Professor Jessica Cantlon’s lab manager, Nour al-Zaghloul and include information about your interests in this project.

Section D, 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 D, Professors Paulo Carvalho and Ken Koedinger

Learning Sciences: How do people learn?
How do people learn? And how can we leverage our scientific understanding of the learning process to improve educational outcomes? This course involves hands-on experience answering these questions. You will contribute to an ongoing project as part of a team of researchers working to develop and run laboratory and classroom studies, analyze data from studies and large data, and contribute to the development of computational models of how humans learn.

Open to 2 students.

Interested students can contact Paulo Carvalho.

Section F, Prof. Brad Mahon

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 and cc Reuven Hanna.

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 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).