Past Research Inqueries
Please craft your proposal keeping in mind an intelligent and engaged audience who has no familiarity with your discipline’s jargon or debates. Considering crafting it as an elevator pitch or an opening paragraph of a newspaper article intended to capture the attention of the lay person. The topic should appeal to those broadly within your discipline and should be appropriate for an independent, undergraduate project that can be reasonably undertaken within the 8-week timeframe. Graduate applicants will be selected in part due to the intriguing nature of their proposed line of inquiry and the inquiry’s ability to draw in undergraduate applicants. Idiosyncratic, arcane, or narrow proposals that require too much background knowledge or developed skillsets will likely not be selected.
Here are some examples of past research inquiries by successful doctoral student mentors.
From Artificial Atoms to New Types of Matter
Can we see a single atom? What new insights will we have if we could watch individual particles undergoing their random molecular motion? Although our everyday matter is made out of many atoms, the challenge is how to directly observe its constituents in real time. Colloidal particles offer an experimentally accessible model system for the study of atomistic dynamics. Colloids are micron-size particles, one hundred times smaller than a single strand of hair, and share many characteristics with atoms. Colloids can be grafted to attract or repel, crystallize or melt, and even to self-propel. Though small, colloids are still large enough to allow for the real time imaging of individual particles, opening a window for direct observation of phase transition, reaction kinetics, and biological processes.
What can we learn about the dynamics of a single particle? How important is the binding strength of two particles to the formation of crystals? Does a stronger bond make a cleaner crystal? How does the size of a particle dictate the symmetry of the formed crystal? Is there an overarching lesson we could learn from these model-atoms to improve our understanding of existing materials and potentially invent new types of matter? Research in this line of inquiry will develop an experimental system to synthesize, track and directly observe colloidal particles to study the dynamics of their crystallization and phase transition.
Why do people engage in active political demonstrations or protests?
Through this project, we will study the political, social, and motivational psychological factors that predict protest behavior. We want to understand why, despite rampant injustices and very visible inequality, people do not collectively act to change systems of inequality but are rather mostly complacent to them. Most research on protest behavior focuses on three underlying factors of engagement: (a) identifying with a disadvantaged group; (b) perceiving group injustices; and (c) group-based anger. However, these findings focus mostly on collective action challenging the system. Why do some people protest in order to support the current system? For instance, why do people rally for Trump even when Trump is in office? Additionally, identifying with a specific disadvantaged group is not enough. In other words, what makes an atheist join an anti-Islamophobia march, despite the fact that they neither practice Islam nor culturally identify as Muslim? Why does a White person join in a Black Lives Matter march? The decision to engage in protest appears more complex; it is one that involves emotions that individuals hold toward the system, as well as motivations, needs, and ideologies that drive their actions. In sum, we will examine the psychology behind protests and revolution vs. inaction. What takes people to the streets? And what keeps them complacent with a status quo of inequality and injustice?
This project will provide training in psychological research while focusing on a topic of important societal impact. Students will learn how to design research studies (both experiments and surveys), collect data, and run experiments. Students will also receive training on statistics and concepts that they can employ for future research ventures. Finally, students will acquire the skills necessary to present research. This project will teach students how to bridge science with real life and how research can impact social change.
What are the social forces and policies that maintain school segregation in New York City?
School choice programs have grown over the past 20 years and continue to grow in urban areas. One goal of these programs is to diminish school racial segregation and increase access to safe schools. However, evidence from the New York City High School Admissions process, where families can apply to attend any school in the city, reveals persistent school segregation. In NYC, students attend schools with substantially more classmates from their same racial group than what is represented in the city. This research project will focus on gaining insights into why schools are still racially segregated. In our research, we will conduct an experiment with NYC students and parents to understand what school characteristics influence families’ school choices. We will focus on the following questions: Do families choose schools with more students from their racial groups, even when choosing amongst similar schools? Do families avoid schools with particular racial groups? How does the effect of a school’s racial population intersect with other school characteristics, such as the school having a metal detector, the school’s neighborhood, and the school’s graduation rate? To what extent are families’ choices influenced by their perceptions of particular racial groups as friendly, intelligent, or violent? This project will provide students who interested in social science, education, race, and public policy with an opportunity to explore how education policies combine with individual behaviors to sustain, dismantle, or exacerbate inequities.
How can the stories and memories of trans* and non-binary people complicate dominant historical narratives about life in the United States?
Trans* and non-binary Americans rarely appear in dominant historical narratives about the modern United States. Why do we, as students and members of the American public, rarely hear about trans* and non-binary experiences when we learn about American lives in the late-twentieth century? And how might the stories that trans* and non-binary individuals tell about their lives complicate historical understandings of America? This research project zooms in on recent US history to consider the perspective of trans* and non-binary people who have lived in North America. We will work closely with oral history interviews, YouTube videos, online publications, and/or memoirs, to ask key questions about how trans* and non-binary individuals remember and tell stories about their lives, their worlds, and their place within modern America. When individuals talk about their lives, what do they reveal about the way they understand the world and their place within it? How do individuals position themselves in relation to others? Which memories do people emphasize when they talk about the past? How do their stories change depending on audience, mood, or the events of the past week? And how can we, as researchers, work with other people’s stories in order to complicate our understanding of the past? Over the course of the summer we will develop critical methods for historical intervention, and think in-depth about the challenges of listening to and using first-hand narratives and memories as historical evidence. Students will work with existing collections of trans* and non-binary interviews and have the option to conduct interviews of their own with residents of New York City.
This summer, we will think creatively about what constitutes an “archive” and what counts as historical evidence. To this end, students are encouraged to take unusual sources seriously: As we seek out trans* and non-binary stories, we will analyse YouTube videos, Tumblr accounts, and Instagram feeds. By working very closely with trans* and non-binary accounts, we will ask how and when individuals’ stories can create meaningful ruptures in prevailing narratives.