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).

Spring 2019 Course Offerings

79-198 Research Training in History

Section A, Prof. Lisa Tetrault

Women and American Democracy
This project studies women's pursuit of equal voting rights in the United States. As the vote is increasingly threatened, this work takes on more urgency. Most of this research can be done on your own time, using electronic databases. I'll teach you how to use them, how and what to search, then set you free. We'll meet periodically to assess progress and findings.

Open to more than one student. 

Interested students: Contact by email:, and include information about your interest in this project.

Section B, Prof. Noah Theriault

Hostile Environments 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 “Hostile Environments 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: No prior skills or knowledge are required, though familiarity with basic web design would be a plus.

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: Contact, and include information about your interest in this project and why you think you'd be a good fit.

80-198, Research Training in Philosophy

Section A, Prof. Mandy Simons

Understanding Language in Context
Understanding language, spoken or written, almost always involves going beyond the meaning inherent in the words used. Typically, the interpreter has to use inference to build from the meaning of the words to the meaning that the speaker or writer intends to convey. One case of this is understanding simple definite noun phrases like the window. Often, these phrases are used without explicit specification of which entity is being referred to; to understand the phrase, the interpreter has to create an inferential bridge from the definite noun phrase to information already in the discourse. The current research project will create a database of examples of inferentially bridged definite noun phrases and explore their properties. The participating student will search written texts and transcripts of spoken conversations to identify relevant examples and will work with me to create a schema for cataloging them. This course is appropriate for a student who is interested in theoretical aspects of language understanding, is comfortable with basic grammatical concepts, and is willing to do detailed analysis.

Open to 1 student.

If you are interested in the project, please send email to Professor Simons at, explaining how this project relates to your interests and why you think you would be a good fit.

82-198, Research Training in Modern Languages

Section A, Prof. Seth Wiener

Using Eye-tracking to Understand Spoken Language Processing
There is a moment in speech when a listener can disambiguate the word 'candle' from 'candy.' One way to capture and understand this moment is by analyzing a listener's eye movements as he/she views photos of candles and candy. Eye movements are closely aligned to speech and therefore provide insight into language processing. In this research project, students will take part in the development of an eye-tracking study that explores spoken word recognition in native and non-native listeners. Students will gain experience preparing the experiment, testing participants, collecting data, and learning to analyze and visualize the data.

Open to one or two students.

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

Section B, Prof. Felipe Gomez

Encoding Latin American Comics
This project involves research of Spanish-language Latin American 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 (LACA), 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 intermediate level reading skills in Spanish.

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

Section C, Prof. 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.

Contact by email:, and include information about your interest in this project and why you think you'd be a good fit.

Section D, Prof. Gabriele Maier

Social Justice in German Graphic Novels
As part of a collaborative project on well-being and wellness funded by The Center for the Arts in Society, this course researches social justice in recent German graphic novels. As a first step, we will learn about the history and theoretical background of graphic novels in general and discuss their importance as documents of societal shifts and changes. In addition, we will briefly discuss the question of social justice in Germany and how we think it could be portrayed in literature. Our main goal, however, will be the graphic novels themselves and their contents. We will classify our novels according to different themes, be it food insecurity, poverty or disability and create an archive that will showcase those novels. The archive will contain, among other things, brief summaries of our novels as well as information about the respective authors.

I am seeking student collaboration for the creation of a website that will house this archive and will eventually be accessible to the public. Knowledge of German is a prerequisite since almost none of those graphic novels we will read have been translated into English. If time permits, we will try our hand at translation as well to make the novels available to an American audience.

Open to more than one student.

Contact by email: and include information about your interest in the project.

84-198, Research Training in the Institute for Politics and Strategy

Section A, Prof. Ignacio Arana

World Leaders Database Project
The World Leaders Database Project will contain biographical information about the 1,616 heads of government that have governed in the world since 1970. Assistance is needed to:

  • a) Code the biographies of national leaders based on online and printed sources.
  • b) Fact-check that the nearly 500 biographies coded so far are free of errors.

This database is part of a long-term effort to answer a series of research questions about the most powerful national politicians, such as:

  • What happens to leaders after they leave office? Relatedly, which leaders decide to remain active in politics? What happens to leaders who leave office involuntarily?
  • How the political experience (or lack thereof) that national leaders accumulate before reaching office explain their behavior once in power?
  • Do democracies select more educated leaders?
  • Which type of leaders is more likely to erode democratic institutions?
  • How the relation to the previous government conditions what a government can do?

Research assistants will gain research and data collection experience, and their contribution will be acknowledged once the database is published.

Open to more than one student.

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

Section B, Prof. John Chin

Historical Dictionary of Modern Nonviolent Revolutions
Professor Chin is looking for help researching, writing, and editing an Historical Dictionary of Modern Nonviolent Revolutions. If you want to read and write about how "people power" movements topple dictators (or not), this is the project for you! The research assistant will help conduct historical research (compiling newspaper reporting from online databases, and reading secondary books and articles) on various nonviolent revolutions since 1945, write initial draft narratives of revolutions, and by the end help revise and proof-read a 350-400 page manuscript. No prior experience is needed. Professor Chin will be able to guide the student appropriately throughout the length of the project. There will be opportunities for continuing the research into the summer as well for those who are interested.

Open to more than one student.

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

85-198, Research Training in Psychology

Section A, Prof. 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.

Contact by email:

Section B, Prof. 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 two ongoing studies: a large, federally-funded clinical trial examining responses to alcohol consumption and the development of alcohol use disorder, and an experimental study examining risk factors for solitary alcohol consumption. 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, 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 and include your current GPA, major, and information about your interests in this lab.

Section I, Prof. 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 J, Prof. 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 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, Prof. 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:, and include information about your interests in this project.

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

88-198, Research Training in Social and Decision Sciences

Section C, Prof. Gretchen Chapman

Choosing Health, Wealth, and Stealth
Students will gain experience in decision making research. Specifically, they will work on projects investigating incentives, unethical behavior, and risky investment decisions. In our studies we typically have subjects participate in simple decision making tasks and games, either individually, or in pairs. As a member of our lab, students will gain familiarity with the field of decision science by reading related articles as well as experience in study design, participant recruitment and scheduling, data collection, and data analysis. Students will attend and present at lab meetings.

We would welcome multiple students.

Students can contact our lab manager Ben Schenck