Carnegie Mellon University

Dietrich College Research Training Program

This program is designed to give eligible and interested students real research experience working on a faculty project or lab in ways that might stimulate and nurture the students' interest in doing more research.

It is open to second-semester first-year students and sophomores with a 3.0 QPA or by petition.

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 2024 Course Offerings

76-198, Research Training in English

Section A, Professor Andrea Comiskey

The Poetics of Stop-Motion Animation
Students in this course will assist in a research project on the style(s) and production processes of stop-motion animation, a cinematic art that involves the frame-by-frame manipulation of puppets and other objects. One main strand of the project explores how computer-generated imagery has been integrated into stop motion and how stop-motion logics and styles have been reproduced in computer animation. Other strands include the medium's basic visual affordances, animators' repurposing of familiar objects, and how practitioners and audiences discuss the medium. A student researcher's work might include: watching films (and taking notes, making screengrabs, or making subclips); assisting with reviews of secondary literature; collecting examples of current or historical discussions of stop-motion animation; assisting with interviews; compiling filmographies; and helping with data management.

Prospective student participants should have an interest in animation. They should also have a basic ability to work with video and image files (or a willingness to learn how to do so). Access to Adobe Premiere Pro is a plus but not strictly required.

Open to up to one student.

Interested students should email Andrea Comiskey to discuss the possibility of participation.

79-198 Research Training in History

Section A, Professor Lisa Tetrault

Voting Rights in the United States
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.

Open to up to two students.

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

Section C, Professor John Soluri

Environmental Justice and Human Rights in Latin America
The goal of this research project is to assist in the creation of a database of resources related to documenting current and historical campaigns for environmental justice in Latin America where Indigenous people, rural communities, and urban activists challenge governments, mining companies, and agribusinesses to respect their rights to healthy living and working environments. These campaigns often are supported by international organizations and activist networks.  These activists often face not only political opposition, but also violations of their human rights.  In recent years, dozens of environmental activists have died due to violence. Struggles for environmental justice therefore are about human rights as well as protecting non-human life.

This project is directed toward generating a list of case studies and activist profiles for use in an undergraduate class focused on the history of environmental activism in the Americas. The research will involve searching digital databases, media websites, and social media to identify environmental justice campaigns and human rights violations related to these campaigns. Participants can also assist in developing teaching materials for the course.  Knowledge of Spanish and/or Portuguese is very helpful but not required.

Open to one or two students.

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

Section E, Professor Carl Kubler

Research Topics in Asian American History: Chinatowns
“Chinatowns” have a long but often tumultuous history in the United States, as residents and outsiders alike have endeavored to navigate and delineate the relationship between these immigrant communities and their environs. This research training course will let student participants develop their research skills and knowledge base through work on two projects centered on New York City’s Manhattan Chinatown: one project on the history of immigrant children’s experiences of cross-cultural engagement and identity formation in the neighborhoods intersecting Chinatown and Little Italy in the first half of the twentieth century; and another on the underappreciated impact of the September 11th attacks on Manhattan Chinatown. Student responsibilities will include reviewing primary and secondary sources, basic data entry and analysis tasks (transcribing information from handwritten records into Excel and analyzing it), and researching and collecting historical information on public libraries, schools, and other institutions that served Chinatown communities.

Open to one student.

Interested students should please contact Professor Kubler to discuss their interests.

80-198, Research Training in Philosophy

Section A, Professor Christina Bjorndahl

Speech Production
In this course, students will gain experience running speech production experiments, working closely with the instructor. Students will gain hands-on experience with various stages of the research process, including study design, recruiting and running participants, data collection, and data processing. Depending on student interest and experience, students may also be involved with study design, particularly if they have familiarity with a language other than English. For example, a project being carried out in Spring ’24 examines how altering auditory feedback influences speaker production. This experimental paradigm allows for an exploration of speech motor control. The current project is restricted to English, but motivated students may work with the instructor to design a similar study on a language other than English as a way to probe how motor control interfaces with cross-linguistic differences in phonological systems.

Open to more than one student. 

Questions should be directed to Professor Bjorndahl.

82-198, Research Training in Languages, Cultures & Applied Linguistics

Section A, Professor Seth Wiener

The Language of Pain
This interdisciplinary research looks at the exciting intersection of linguistics and medicine. Specifically, how we use language to express the severity of physical pain. The student will join a collaborative research team, which includes a linguist and pain doctor. The student will work with the team to help with the literature review on language and bodily pain. The student will also work to improve and develop questionnaires aimed at describing pain using simple pictures and words. Finally, the student will help carry out small pilot studies to test basic hypotheses related to language and pain. The ideal candidate is interested in medicine, language, and/or psychology.

Open to one or two students.

Interested students should contact Professor Seth Wiener.

Section B, 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 Professor Gomez and include information about your interests in this project.

Section C, Professor Kiyono Fujinaga-Gordon

Promoting Equity in Mental Health Through Language Access for Immigrants
Mental health services rely on language as the principal medium of diagnosis and treatment; patient-provider conversational alignment is consequential for immigrant health and wellbeing. Our project investigates multiple and specific facets of language assistance to inform best-practice guidelines and policy surrounding language access and interpreter services. Three key questions target: 1) assessment of patient-provider-interpreter concordance in emotional communication, 2) comparison of patient-provider concordance in language characteristics during multilingual medical conversations, and 3) evaluation of conversation characteristics and modality of interpreter services that yield best patient satisfaction, patient-provider alliance, and psychological health outcomes for immigrant families. For the RTC program, students will work on literature review regarding multilingual language service in mental health practice.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students can send email to Kiyono Fujinaga-Gordon to schedule an interview.

84-198, Research Training at the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy and Technology

Section A, Professor John Chin

Coups D'etat, Mercenaries, and US Military Exercises
John Chin is seeking research assistants for one or more political science research projects. One set of projects involves investigating, writing historical narratives, and coding data on (a) the sordid post-World War II history of coup plots (conspiracies to depose leaders that are not actually attempted, perhaps because the regime discovered and thwarted them), (b) the pre-World War II history of coup attempts, or (c) the post-World War II history of mercenary attacks. A second project involves coding data on U.S. joint military exercises since the 1970s to understand the evolution of U.S. military diplomacy and deterrence priorities. Other projects related to sharp power, democratic backsliding, and/or civil resistance and nonviolent revolutions may be available upon inquiry.

Interested students can email Professor John Chin.

85-198, Research Training in Psychology

Section A, Professor Michael Trujillo

Navigating Social Identities in Social Interactions
Students will be introduced to the development and formation of social interactions amongst marginalized communities. The research examines how stigma contributes to health outcomes and social functioning and the underlying mechanisms that link stigma to these outcomes with a focus on physiological, affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains. Students will read articles on the topic, develop technical skills through the use of psychophysiology equipment, and have hands-on experience assisting with research studies related to this topic. There will also be opportunities to examine, collect, and interact with data throughout the experimental process.

Interested students should contact Professor Trujillo.

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.

Section G, Professor Catarina Vales

Raising Anti-Racist Youth
Millions of children around the world grow up in racialized societies – societies organized along racial lines historically, politically, and economically. It is well known that children growing up in racialized societies develop racialized thinking patterns – they come to represent the socially constructed notion of race as a relevant category for making predictions about individuals, interpreting ambiguous evidence, and making friendship choices. These racialized thinking patterns persist beyond childhood, and cause harms to individuals and communities. In this project, we try to understand not only how racialized thinking develops during childhood, but also how it can be changed with experience and learning. Towards this goal, we study (1) how racial diversity in picture books children are exposed to may change racial biases in preschool-age children; and (2) how conversations about historic roots and present-day manifestations of systemic racism may help challenge racialized thinking patterns in school-age children.

Open to more than one student.

Questions should be sent to Dr. Catarina Vales.

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 Professor 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

The role of metacognition in the development of reading and comprehension
Children’s cognitive skills develop rapidly from toddlerhood to primary school.  Between 3 and 6, children’s communication, problem solving skills, formal reasoning abilities, and social behavior all make rapid strides toward maturity.  One of the key components of this developmental process is the ability to monitor one’s own thinking, referred to as “metacognition”: thinking about thinking.  This skill continues to be used throughout the lifespan, and individual differences in metacognition are predictive of outcomes in a wide variety of domains.  Our goal in this project is to examine when and how children use metacognition, in particular in relation to feedback during problem solving, and comprehension of stories and conversations.  This project involves a wide variety of different tasks, including creation of stimuli, interacting with children, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating results with other members of the lab and the university community..

Contact Professor Thiessen by email and include information about your interest in this project.

88-198, Research Training in Social and Decision Sciences

Section G, Professor Julie Downs

Decision Science Survey Research and Analysis
This course provides students with research training and experience in the area of decision science. Students will get training with commonly used tools including Qualtrics for building online surveys, spreadsheets for managing data, producing basic statistical output, and an introduction to the statistical package R for data visualization and reports. Most training will happen through self-paced tutorials, with the opportunity to put these skills to work helping with ongoing projects or creating a sample project of their own. Motivated students can turn this training experience into ongoing independent research in future semesters with relevant faculty.

Open to more than one student.

Interested students fill out Dr. Downs’ research lab interest form and mention that they are specifically interested in the research training course.

Section K, Professor Kara Kedrick

Explanation Generation and Curiosity
How do individuals come up with novel explanations? We seek to answer this question by exploring the ways in which individuals utilize their existing knowledge to construct explanations in response to 'why' questions, and examine how this process subsequently fuels their curiosity for answers. Your contributions will include conducting a review of related literature, assisting in designing experiments, reviewing and categorizing participants’ responses, and potentially using natural language processing techniques for data analysis. Together, we'll explore the mechanisms of explanation generation and the dynamics of curiosity, aiming to shed light on the intricate processes that fuel the creation and pursuit of knowledge.

Open to one student.

Interested students should send an email to Dr. Kara Kedrick