Carnegie Mellon University

Research Opportunities

Research is an integral part of studying international relations, politics, and foreign affairs. In addition to research done in the regular course of study, the Institute for Politics and Strategy offers additional opportunities to conduct and publish research. 

IPS students interested in doing research for credit with an IPS faculty member should contact the faculty member directly about the opportunity. Once the student and faculty member have agreed on the research project, please complete the Institute for Politics and Strategy Research for Credit Form and submit it to Emily Half, Deputy Director.

The IPS research lab allows students to work with faculty on ongoing research projects, enhancing their primary-source research and data analysis skills. For more information, contact IPS Research Coordinator John Chin.

IPS also publishes the Carnegie Mellon University Journal of Politics and Strategy, which provides an outlet for undergraduate and graduate students to publish their research. Past journals have tackled issues such as the 2020 election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and US-China relations. To learn more, check out our archives or contact John Chin

Students interested in undergraduate research should consult the resources available through the Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Research Office (URO). 

Ignacio Arana

Dr. Ignacio Arana has worked with fifty students to compile a world leaders database.

"The World Leaders Database Project (WLDP) is an extension of my research on elites. This database is currently being integrated and contains detailed biographical information about the more than 1,800 national leaders that have governed countries around the world from 1970 to 2020. The goal is to address pressing questions about how the uniqueness of national leaders may relate to issues of foreign policy and domestic governance, including tendencies toward authoritarianism and policies related to democratic development. I have used the WLDP data to analyze the performance of heads of government during the pandemic, in a paper currently under review called “World Leaders and Covid-19: Women, Populists, and Political Families Reacted Faster.” I am also using the WLDP in the working paper “Covid-19 and Power Grabs across the globe.”

Daniel Silverman

While studying at the Ohio State University, Daniel Silverman enjoyed a series of academic workshops where PhD candidates discussed their latest work. When Silverman joined the Institute for Politics and Strategy, he brought the idea with him and created the Politics and Strategy Research Workshop.

"It's meant to be a smaller, more intensive workshop where you have to read carefully ahead and come armed with your ideas," said Silverman, an IPS Postdoctoral Fellow.

Six to eight times a semester, IPS faculty will submit a paper or portion of a book for discussion. They'll receive feedback on everything from voice and presentation to order and argument.

"We have a thriving, productive internal faculty research and postdoctoral research workshop," Silverman said. "It's something that I think people enjoy. Everybody is able to present in there. You learn about each other's work, but usually substantially improve your own.

"The main goal is to refine and bolster people's research in the department, so they succeed, that we succeed, etc. I feel that it's done that. That's not just on me, that's a credit to everybody who's been regularly participating for the last couple of years. We have a young, sharp group of postdocs and junior faculty that really make that work."

Millie Zhang

After Millie Zhang's first class with Dr. Geoffrey McGovern, she asked him about research opportunities. She found plenty.

Zhang performed research with Dr. John Chin, who is compiling a database of coups. She also served as a guest editor of the Carnegie Mellon University Journal of Politics and Strategy, known at the time as the Center for International Relations and Politics (CIRP) Journal. Now Zhang, a senior International Relations and Politics major who is also a member of the Accelerated Master's Program in International Relations and Politics, is a Director's Fellow in the IPS research lab. 

"What kind of research I enjoy the most is definitely case study work, looking at different stories for different countries and different actors and seeing how they relate to one another," Zhang said. "For example, with the coups d'etat, seeing how the general picture of coups d'etat differ in the Asian region and the Middle East."

Zhang likes the idea of working for a think tank so she can continue to conduct research, but government work also appeals to her; she interned for the House Ways and Means Committee in the summer of 2019. Working in cybersecurity at a technology firm also interests her. Whichever way she goes, her research will have helped her get there. 

“This is something that I always say to freshmen or any students who are interested in research in IPS, is, there are just so many opportunities," she said. "The fact that it’s so easily accessible for students from any year to get research experience and learn something valuable through the department, it’s a good experience for students. It’s definitely given me a lot to be able to add to my own skills.”

colombia1

MS IRP-AMP student Colin Tait spent his spring break in Bogotá, Colombia conducting interviews for his thesis titled The Transnational Diffusion of Peace.

"For spring break, I was lucky to travel to Bogotá, Colombia. While down there, I conducted field work for my thesis by interviewing people directly involved in the Havana negotiations that ended a fifty-year conflict between the Colombian government and insurgent group Las FARC. In between interviews and processing the information I collected, I was able to visit many different parts of the city and experience Colombian culture firsthand. Conducting field work is important and necessary when writing about conflict and conflict resolution because it gives you a perspective on society that cannot be gained from reading books or watching the news.

"Following my trip, I feel a special responsibility to the Colombian people to present a piece of work that captures the nuances and accurately portray the peace process in respect to the people I spoke with and the things I observed when exploring the city.

“Unrelated to my thesis, a large impact from the trip was seeing and interacting with the vast amount of Venezuelan refugees. There are one million refugees in Colombia and 300,000 in Bogotá alone. I realize now how much of a humanitarian crisis it is and am even more inspired to pursue a career in conflict management and peacebuilding.” 

Madison Schramm

Madison Schramm won an award for her dissertation about the perception of world leaders, their regimes, and the dissonance between the two.

During Madison Schramm’s first semester of her PhD program at Georgetown University, as she laid the groundwork for what would become her dissertation, she found herself fascinated with Iran. Why, in a country whose supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pulls the levers of government, was so much angst and distrust aimed at president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? 

“There seemed to be this disjuncture between how we conceptualized the state and who the threat was, and actually who was making the decisions,” said Schramm, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy. “I doubled down on project in 2013, when Ahmadinejad left office and [Hassan] Rouhani came to power and you saw this perceptual shift in the US and elsewhere.” 

That disjuncture became the subject of her dissertation, which Schramm successfully defended in August to receive her PhD. The dissertation, titled “Making Meaning and Making Monsters: Democracies, Personalist Regimes, and International Conflict,” won the American Political Science Association’s Kenneth N. Waltz Dissertation Award, granted to the best doctoral dissertation in the field of security studies. 

“This is really great validation of the work itself, but it’s also, I think, a reflection of the type of community I was brought up in in grad school,” she said. “My ability to do this type of work was really a byproduct of having thoughtful colleagues, really incredible mentors and a dissertation committee who really pushed me on different aspects of the project.” Read more

Additional Resources

Dietrich College Senior Honors Program

Through the Dietrich College Senior Honors Program students complete an honors thesis and graduate with College Honors. For more information contact Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, Joseph Devine.

Dietrich Honors Fellowship

Fellows spend the summer before their senior year undertaking early-stage research and development of their thesis topics, leading to completion of their thesis by the end of the spring term. For more information contact Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, Joseph Devine.

Meeting of the Minds

An annual undergraduate research symposium organized by the Undergraduate Research Office each spring. All students engaged in undergraduate research are encouraged to apply. 

Research Training for Undergraduates

Through this academic course, qualified first- and second-year students have the opportunity to work directly with a Dietrich faculty member on an ongoing research project. For more information contact Deputy Director Emily Half.

SURA

The Summer Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship (SURA) course awards tuition-free elective credit to first-year and sophomore undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon for existing faculty projects focused on undergraduate research or creative inquiry under the direction of a Carnegie Mellon faculty member.

SURG, SURF, ISURG

Small Undergraduate Research Grants (SURG), Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), and International Small Undergraduate Research Grants (ISURG) are offered by Carnegie Mellon University's Undergraduate Research Office, these grants and fellowships provide funding for undergraduate students to pursue research in any discipline.