2021 Project Descriptions


These are last year's project descriptions! Do not refer to these in your 2022 application. Instead, look for updates on the current project descriptions page starting in mid-January 2022.

Can Infrastructure Fund a Campaign? Contracts and Campaign Finance in Developing Democracies | Alisha Holland (GOVT)

Alisha HollandAssociate Professor of Government

Why do politicians invest in large infrastructure projects that won’t be completed during their time in office?  My hypothesis is that infrastructure contracts are key sources of campaign donations, particularly in the developing world where public campaign finance is limited and construction is the largest industry.  Myopic politicians therefore still have reasons to promote long-run expenditures if they can generate short-run campaign returns.  To test this hypothesis, I explore the timing of contract signings for large infrastructure projects globally.  Conventional wisdom is that politicians want to open infrastructure projects while in office.  If so, they should sign contracts early in the terms and favor small projects that can be completed.  In contrast, if motivated by a need for campaign funds, I expect them to sign contracts while running for re-election and favor large projects capable of generating larger donations.  The topic is important because infrastructure projects are pitched as a critical way to generate economic growth and development.  Many countries are planning major infrastructure investments to restart their economies following COVID-19.  But if politicians select projects primarily based on their ability to secure campaign donations, the quality of construction projects and economic growth may suffer.

I am recruiting an undergraduate student to help finish cleaning the data on infrastructure contract signings.  One component involves adding data on the dates of upcoming elections and whether incumbents or their parties stand for re-election.  We will then use this data to analyze electoral cycles in contract assignments and how this varies with reelection rules.  The student also will gather news articles and read secondary sources for case studies of the relationship between campaign finance and the construction industry in select developing countries. 

My goal as a mentor is to involve the student so that he or she leaves with an overall view of the research process. This involves weekly conversations about the goals of the project, the logic of the theory being tested, and how the theory can be matched up to the data. It also will involve more regular communication to troubleshoot problems and questions as they arise.

Skills Needed
Most of the data cleaning can be completed in Excel, but an ideal candidate will have some familiarity with Stata or R to assist with the data analysis. The student ideally will be excited to learn additional qualitative and quantitative methods.

Legislative Redistricting in America | Kosuke Imai (GOVT, STAT)

Kosuke Imai, Professor of Government and of Statistics

We will use statistical methods to evaluate the partisan and racial gerrymandering of legislative redistricting in America. Students will collect and analyze data, write papers and reports, and contribute to the software development. Students will be part of our research group that includes postdocs, graduate students, and myself.  They will attend our weekly research meetings, work closely with graduate students, and are invited to the social gathering events. 

Skills Needed
Proficiency in R statistical programming language. At least one course in applied statistics. Interests in legal and political aspects of redistricting.

New Engines of Hope after the American Dream - Finding Recognition in the New Gilded Age | Michèle Lamont (SOCI, AAAS)

Michèle LamontProfessor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies;
Derek RobeyDoctoral Student in Sociology

In the context of COVID, growing inequality, and political polarization, I am writing a book that diagnoses some of the current challenges facing Americans and offers a way forward. This is achieved by drawing on survey data and interviews with boomers, Gen Zs, and leading “agents of change,” who are producing new narratives in entertainment, comedy, advocacy, religion, art, journalism, impact investing, and other fields of activity. Neoliberal scripts of self, based on criteria emphatically centered on material success, competitiveness, individualism, and self-reliance, are increasingly associated with poor mental health across classes. Agents of change offer alternatives: they are promoting narratives of hope that emphasize inclusion, diversity, sustainability and authenticity – as part of an increasingly salient “politic of recognition” that broadens cultural citizenship and thus affects exclusion and inequality.

I aim to understand how their influence takes shape through “recognition chains” that mobilize philanthropy, new social movements, social media, and more. Drawing on collaborative papers, I also analyze how Gen Zs make sense of growing inequality and COVID, and find/produce hope during this period of high uncertainty by drawing on available cultural repertoires.

A BLISS Fellow would perform content analysis of interviews as well as help review relevant literatures.

The Fellow would learn basic qualitative research methods, particularly concerning coding, and would also develop their organizational/analytical and synthetic skills as well as how learning how to position an argument in conversation with the scientific literature. I will be supervising the student work in collaboration with a graduate student and in the context of regular team meetings.

Skills Needed
Excellent writing skills and background in the social sciences essential; experience with computer-based content analysis and with Zotero (bibliographic software) desirable.

Understanding Privacy Preferences Around the World | David Yang (ECON)

David YangAssistant Professor of Economics

Preferences for privacy is one of the least understood objects in social sciences. In this project, we aim to empirically measuring, describing, and understanding citizens’ preferences for privacy around the world. This project has two major components. First, we develop a conceptual framework that incorporates several core elements concerning preferences for privacy. Second, we aim to quantitatively measure preferences for privacy around the world. We design a set of elicitation methods and validate them in “social science laboratory” settings. These methods will combine state-of-the-art experimental economics games, incentivized behavioral elicitation, survey questions and experiments.

The BLISS fellow will work with several other members of the team to develop the study instruments, implement the survey, and conduct data analyses. The exact task depends on the timing of the project progress.

The BLISS fellow and I will have weekly meetings (over Zoom). I expect to have close interactions with the BLISS fellow online as well. The project will be managed via Github.

Skills needed
Some experience with programming – in a language such as Python, R, or C – is required. Experiences with Qualtrics survey management and JavaScript are highly desirable. Completion of an introductory statistics or econometrics course is preferred.

Wall Street and Washington: How Banks Influence Financial Regulation | Daniel Carpenter (GOVT)

Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government

How do major banks influence the very rules that govern their behavior? Using statistical text analysis of regulatory rules, network data and data on the mobilization of lawyers, we will explore a crucial mechanism of political inequality and possible regulatory capture.

Students will be gathering data on how major banks employ lawyers both internally and externally to request changes to regulatory rules. This requires data on the regulatory changes lawyers request (comments on regulations), and data on whether those changes are obtained (changes in regulatory rules over time, especially those observed during notice-and-comment rulemaking). Students will learn about the industrial organization of white-collar law firms, and how regulations affect bank profitability, and will help us test the hypothesis of whether bank advocacy changes rules more than non-bank (public interest) advocacy. They will join with our group in collecting and analyzing original data. Depending on agreement among the researchers, some data from the collaborative project will be available for use in senior theses.

Students will learn about the federal rulemaking process in the United States. They will also learn some basic principles of statistical text analysis and how inferences are made about influence using complex legal and regulatory documents. Discussions will be both policy-specific (how do we understand a particular financial rule and the stakes of a debate about it?) and methodological (how do we differentiate bank influence from alternative hypotheses that can explain regulatory change?).

Skills Needed
Basic data analysis skills would be helpful but not required. So too, a basic understanding of American government will be helpful but not necessary.

The Amendments: How to Fix the Constitution | Jill Lepore (HIST)

Jill LeporeDavid Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History

I’m working on a long-term project on the history of efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution, including calls for another constitutional convention. Since the constitution was drafted in 1787, citizens and members of Congress have proposed nearly twelve thousand amendments; the National Archives keeps a complete list here. Thirty-three have been sent to the states; twenty-seven have been ratified. The work would consist, at the start, of brainstorming ways to tag, sort, categorize, and meaningfully process the National Archives’ data. Then we’ll proceed with that work. Other projects might include a review of the legal scholarship and research into specific amendment proposals and the process they underwent. The student(s) would meet with me, in person or by zoom, once a week, to assess work and decide on new directions, etc.

Skills Needed
Coursework in American history and/or government desired, as well as experience with data and databases.

Moral Development in Children | Fiery Cushman & Sydney Levine (PSYC)

Fiery Cushman, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences
Sydney Levine, Postdoctoral Fellow

Our research uses theories derived from moral philosophy to try to understand how young children understand the moral world and make decisions about what is right and wrong. For example, when you teach a child a moral rule, how do they try to understand its permissible exceptions?

Responsibilities will (most likely) involve running studies with preschool-aged children (online or in person), designing and implementing online studies for adults, preparing and setting up testing materials, recruiting subjects, data entry, cleaning and coding data, and helping to pilot new experimental protocols.

The student will be exposed to every part of the scientific process, from conceiving of an experiment, to implementing it, to analyzing the data, to refining the hypothesis, to modifying the experiment, and so on. At the beginning of the internship we will meet every day so the student can learn the experimental protocols and get familiarized with the research program. After that, we will meet a few times a week. The student will also have opportunities to attend lab meetings and small group meetings to discuss articles on a weekly basis. The student will be fully integrated into the Cushman Lab’s summer internship program, which provides structured opportunities to interact with many members of the lab (including during remote work) and get exposed to the full variety of research topics we study. We typically have 3-5 undergraduate RAs in our lab over the summer, and they often form close friendships.

Skills Needed
Experience interacting with children (in any setting) is required. Familiarity with moral psychology or moral philosophy is a plus.

Decision-making, Introspection, and Morality | Fiery Cushman & Adam Morris (PSYC)

Fiery CushmanJohn L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences
Adam MorrisGraduate Student


The purpose of this project is to better understand the motivations and processes underlying people’s decisions and judgments, and people’s relationship to their own motivations and processes. More specifically, we ask questions like: How well can people introspect on their own motivations? Can we, with mindfulness or attention-training techniques, teach people to introspect more accurately? What is the motivation behind people’s judgments of blame or moral responsibility? What role do bodily signals and somatic awareness play in all this? 

The student will be conducting literature reviews, reading and synthesizing research papers, assisting us with developing theory and designing experiments, programming those experiments, running the experiments to collect data, statistically analyzing the data, and then assisting us in interpreting the results and designing new experiments.


The student will come away from the summer with two things. The first is a deep understanding of psychological theory around decision-making, introspection, and/or moral judgment, which they will learn through conversation with us and through extensive reading. The second is a set of practical skills that are needed to do successful research: how to conduct a literature review, design effective experiments, do proper statistical analysis, iterate on experimental design based on results, and ultimately present your findings to other researchers. These skills will be learned hands-on, through the student actually doing them (with guidance and support from us). Mentoring will happen via regular weekly meetings (with extra meetings throughout the week as needed and additional support/guidance via email).The student will also have opportunities to attend lab meetings and small group meetings to discuss articles on a weekly basis. The student will be fully integrated into the Cushman Lab’s summer internship program, which provides structured opportunities to interact with many members of the lab (including during remote work) and get exposed to the full variety of research topics we study. We typically have 3-5 undergraduate RAs in our lab over the summer, and they often form close friendships.

Skills Needed
At least one introductory course in psychology (like SLS20 or PSY15) and a basic understanding of how to read a psychology paper. Ideally at least one philosophy course (or significant philosophical reading independently). The project also draws on techniques and insights from mindfulness/introspective practices, so some experience with (or interest in) practices like these would be great (although not required). Finally, the student should have some basic knowledge of statistical analysis (e.g. they should know what linear regression is), and should know how to program, ideally in R and Javascript (although if someone knows other programming languages and feels confident in their ability to learn R/Javascript over the summer, that’s totally fine). Besides that, we’re just looking for someone organized, diligent, and motivated to learn, who likes taking initiative.

02/03 Republicans & Covid-19: How Do Facts & Experiences Connect to Partisanship & Commitments? | Hochschild (GOVT, AAAS)

Jennifer Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government; Professor of African and African American Studies
David Beavers, graduate student
Kirsten Walters, graduate student

What are the conditions, if any, in which President Trump’s supporters change their views as a consequence of Covid-19, so that they no longer endorse his presidency? Do personal or local experiences with Covid, or Trump’s own Covid infection, or actions by Republican leaders diminish support? (We also examine Covid-related conditions under which Democrats’ support for Trump increases.) Our evidence comes from public opinion surveys, print media and social media, and voting patterns. The larger question is when and why people with strong partisan loyalty change their opinions in response to events or new information.

Work will include: Compiling data on 2020 election results, campaign spending, and endorsements; finding evidence on characteristics of the population and health care in states and localities; helping to review relevant research; doing keyword searches in news databases to identify prominent events connected with Covid in local communities or states.

Both mentors (David Beavers and Jennifer Hochschild) will work with the student. We will describe what we have accomplished so far, and meet as needed (at least weekly, and probably more often) with the student. Both are available by email for questions, discussion, decisions to be made during the work, etc. The student will learn how social science research is done, starting from an intuition or puzzle and moving into a do-able project (which always changes along the way). The student will also learn how to turn bits of evidence or data into an organized set of material that can be used to explore important political questions.

NEW 02/03 Students may also work on a second project, on the intersections among race, class, policing, and housing in American cities, with graduate student Kirsten Walters. Why do some policies target narrowly-defined groups (along lines of race, class, gender, and neighborhood) while others impact many different sorts of groups? Why do activist organizations mobilize around some policies in a broad, cohesive way, while mobilization around other policies is fragmented and localized? We explore whether a policy’s structure shapes what sorts of groups are impacted and how mobilization occurs. We test our theory on two cases: “stop and frisk” policing in New York City and urban development in Atlanta. The student fellow would be involved in collecting information about activist organizations in the two cases – including looking through local newspapers and transcripts of local meetings, surveying organizational leaders, and tracking information about organizations. The student will learn about conducting social science research and learn research tools such as Nexis Uni and conducting surveys through Qualtrics. The student will also learn about 2 important policies, and their race/class implications. The student will meet with both mentors (Kirsten Walters and Jennifer Hochschild) via Zoom a few times each week to check in, and both mentors  will be available via email or questions, discussion, decisions to be made during the work, etc.

Skills Needed Familiarity with demographic databases or how to find them (e.g. U.S. census) will be useful, as will familiarity with newspaper databases (e.g. Nexis Uni). Interest in the details of American presidential politics! Familiarity with use of spreadsheets.

NEW 02/04 The Place of Animals: Delving into the Archives of Animal Advocacy… | Rebecca Lemov & Kat Poje (HSCI)

Rebecca LemovProfessor of the History of Science
Kat Poje, graduate student

Pound, shelter, sanctuary. These terms all describe institutions designed to house animals. But they have different implications. When did each term come into prevalent usage? And how have these institutions historically materialized distinctive ethical norms about the proper treatment and place of different kinds of animals in a more-than-human world?

To answer these questions, this project delves into the archives of one of the oldest animal advocacy organizations in the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Founded in 1868, the MSPCA today runs multiple shelters and a hospital for animals. Over the years of its operations, it has also organized a sanctuary for retired working horses (Nevins Farm, est. 1917), a wildlife sanctuary (Alford Wildlife Sanctuary, est. 1956) and an educational farm (Macomber Farm, est. 1981). Closely reading the records of each of its shelters, farms, and sanctuaries as case studies, we will determine both the daily regimes of animal care and the ethical discourses deployed at these sites. Of particular focus will be the way these institutions imagined animal wellness, illness, and death, and the proper role of human intervention in each of these areas.

Daily research activities might include the following: attaching metadata to photographs of archival materials; coding archival records to establish discursive patterns; searching historical newspapers and magazines to discover media references; and determining significant sites for additional future research.

As part of their engagement with the archival materials, students will write an original research paper on any aspect of the project that they wish to study. Project leads will support students in this process.

Both Kat Poje and Prof. Lemov will regularly supervise the student(s)’ work. We envision the project as a sustained conversation, which will take place as conditions (Covid-related and geographical) allow. We would love to be able to go out for tea/coffee and discuss the ethical issues this project raises. We both are very interested in the mentoring part of the program, which is our main motivation in getting involved. The insights of the student will be valued. The student can expect a collaborative and supportive environment.

Skills Needed

  • A willingness to read material (scientific reports on methods of animal culling or slaughter, for instance, or shelter data about numbers of animals killed) that may be quite graphic in its descriptions of animal pain and death. The ways scholars cope with violent archives vary. Finding these materials challenging is absolutely legitimate; finding a way to balance visceral reactions and the work of engaging the materials for historical research is important for anyone who might join the project.
  • Facility reading cursive handwriting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the project's archival materials are typewritten, but some are not, and an ability to read those that are handwritten would be extremely helpful.
(Susan Carey "Abstract Thought in Humans (and Other Animals)" project was posted in error; this project is not available.)

American Mass Incarceration in Comparative and Historical Perspective | Adaner Usmani (SOCI, SOST)

Adaner Usmani, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies

American mass incarceration is one of the major social problems of our times. The United States incarcerates more people than perhaps any other country in world history except for Stalin's Soviet Union. Those it incarcerates are disproportionately likely to be poor and nonwhite. Scholars have offered various compelling explanations for American mass incarceration, but one of the weaknesses of most work on punishment is that it seeks to understand America by studying just America.

With some collaborators, I seek to remedy this by bringing a comparative and historical perspective to bear on the problem of American punishment and American policing. We aim to gather four kinds of data on punishment and violence in comparable countries (other advanced capitalist countries and countries in Latin America) between 1800 to the present. First, data on the number of people in prison or prison-like facilities. Second, data on police employment. Third, data on the amount of money spent by governments on prisons, police, and the courts. Fourth, data on the number of people killed by homicide.

The RA will be responsible for collecting these data, which will involve reading archival documents, maintaining an existing database, trawling for new sources online, emailing scholars in the field, and more. This continues research done by other RA's in previous semesters and summers, so there is quite a lot to build on. You will be joining a team of RA's from Harvard and the University of Chicago rather than working alone.

I will ask that you write weekly summaries of what you have accomplished and in how many hours. You will also meet once weekly with me and the other RA’s.

We will be having weekly check-ins as a research team. The BLISS RA and I will also meet occasionally to make sure all is going well. You will end the semester with experience doing collaborative social science research and building a big dataset from a patchwork of sometimes inconsistent sources. We will also talk regularly about how to use these data to test arguments about punishment and policing.

Skills Needed
Spreadsheet and basic quantitative skills to curate and maintain the dataset. More advanced skills (programming, webscraping, regression analysis, etc.) would be a real plus.

Village China: A Modern History | Michael Szonyi (EALC, HIST)

Michael Szonyi, Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History; Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Until the early twenty-first century, most Chinese people lived not in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai but in the countryside, in millions upon millions of villages. China’s transformation from an overwhelmingly rural society to an increasingly urban one is among the most significant transformations of the modern world. Looking at the lives of the rural majority and how they have changed can help us see more clearly what is distinctive about China’s historical trajectory, what it has in common with other places around the world, and what lessons it might offer for rural people in other places. For the past few years, I’ve been working on a book, to be published by Princeton University Press, that explores the extraordinary changes of the last century from the perspective of this rural majority, and asks how a focus on the rural can change our understanding of Chinese history. With China-based research on the project suspended by the pandemic, my focus has now shifted to library and online research tasks in Cambridge. This is an opportunity to participate in that work.

The specific research tasks will depend very much on the aptitude and interests of the successful candidate. After an initial 1-2 weeks (as needed) of familiarizing yourself with the project and the field of modern Chinese history (through a combination of intensive reading, online lectures, and one-on-one meetings with me), your daily work might include some of the following tasks:

  • Problem-solving in the social sciences, original research, and analysis: How might you go about answering questions like the following: “How did literacy levels in rural China change over the course of the twentieth-century?” “What percentage of the rural population from different parts of China is currently living away from their home village and engaged in migrant labor?” Where would you look for data? Having located the most reliable data, can you develop an explanation for these changes?
  • Quantitative data analysis: organize and present quantitative information derived from secondary literature to generate hypotheses about historical change
  • Literature reviews: Reading widely in the immense secondary literature in history, political science, anthropology, rural studies and related social sciences to answer specific questions and find relevant supporting evidence
  • Archival work: Exploring, analyzing and summarizing digitized village and township archives from Chinese villages, on subjects ranging from the assignment of people to class ranks in the 1950s to the implementation of birth control regulations (requires Chinese language ability)
  • GIS and mapping work: Produce maps to store, check, and illustrate data that you’ve collected; devise maps to demonstrate spatial relationships historically

I would expect to meet (probably online) with you multiple times per week in the initial phase of familiarization, and then twice a week thereafter, once to discuss research outcomes and findings and once to plan the coming week’s research activities. Working on this project you will learn the processes involved in a long-term humanistic research project. You’ll develop useful research skills that you will be able to use for future projects: how to locate and evaluate information in support of a larger research, how to manage large quantities of information/data/evidence; develop analytical skills; and develop communication skills to convey research findings. Participants in the project can expect to be acknowledged in the published book.

Skills Needed
The ideal candidate will be energetic, self-motivated, able to work independently and have an interest in how ordinary people experience the big changes of history. Ability to read Chinese would be a plus, but is not required. Similarly, an interest in Chinese history, development studies or rural studies would be an advantage but is not required.

Criminalized Survivors: Women’s Incarceration & the Limits of Self-Defense | Caroline Light (WGS)

Caroline Light, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

This multi-site, multi-archival, interdisciplinary collaborative project mines public health data, court cases, and legal history to investigate the nature and incidence of women’s self-defensive violence. Since many justice-involved women are survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence, this project explores the phenomenon of criminalized survivors, asking how many justice-involved women have been punished for defending themselves and/or their children from violent (predominantly male) intimate partners or exes. Given our nation’s growing support for civilian “gun rights” and increasing legal immunities for lethal self-defense (in 2005, Florida passed the first “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use lethal violence when they reasonably perceive a threat), it seems counter-intuitive that women who defend themselves and their children from their largest statistical threat – their own abusive spouses, boyfriends, and exes – are often treated as criminals rather than “good citizens” exercising their rights. Currently, there is little concrete data – beyond observations of high rates of incarceration among female survivors of domestic and/or intimate partner violence – so this project aims to help “close the data gap” between (1) women’s high incarceration rates nationwide and (2) women’s frequent exclusion from the exonerating logic of Stand Your Ground laws and other legal immunities for “law-abiding citizens” who protect themselves when they reasonably perceive a threat.

The research for this project will be conducted using multiple different methods and through a number of different archives and data sets. We will begin by gathering/surveying existing data on gender, race and homicide, and we will address the reasons why some vital data sets are missing or difficult to access. We may start by reading some shared texts (and exploring existing data sets) on the intersections of gender, race, sexuality, and violence more generally.

We will explore several different evidentiary sources and data sets, including: legal documentation from Texas court cases collected by our community partners at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC); the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS); and the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Researchers will gain familiarity working with different types of evidence, while bringing various sources into conversation with each other.

An average day may have the researcher reading through and coding court cases involving self-defensive homicide, or constructing surveys to code "big data" sets for insight into (for example) the circumstances under which women have used lethal violence in self-defense, and what percentage of those cases involve someone known to the suspect. Or the researcher might scan state legal codes to develop a map of differing "castle laws" (the laws that excuse violent self-defense, without retreat, in one’s home). Researchers may also investigate homicide proceedings to determine how the criminal justice system adjudicates different people's claims of self-defense.

We will start the summer with frequent meetings where we check in and plan each day's work. Depending on the researcher's level of familiarity, we might start with some shared readings to set the conceptual stage (e.g. articles on "intersectional" violence, an introduction to the various databases and archives we'll be working with, some basic overviews of the kinds of questions we want to ask). My hope is that the researcher will gradually gain confidence in asking difficult questions of the existing literature, and that these questions may help direct our later research. Once we have gotten started and established our work expectations, we might meet weekly to check in.

Skills Needed
The ideal researcher will be intellectually curious and comfortable working independently. Ideally, it would help to possess some familiarity with the basics of gender and ethnic studies, perhaps having taken one or two relevant courses in feminist/queer and Ethnic/EMR or African American Studies. Some experience in social scientific methods and analyzing quantitative data is preferred but not required. Above all, the ideal researcher will possess an open mind and an abundance of curiosity, plus a capacity to look beyond the surface of our culture’s prevailing assumptions about safety and justice.

The Democratic Knowledge Project Design Studio | Danielle Allen & Michael Blauw (Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics)

Danielle AllenDirector of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; James Bryant Conant University Professor
Michael BlauwSenior Manager for Partnerships and Engagement

Research universities can revitalize K-12 education in the humanities and social sciences—and particularly in ethics and civics. This is achieved through curriculum design, professional development offerings, assessment development, research, and policy development. By partnering with a diverse range of educational sector actors on implementation of high quality K-16+ social studies and civic education, universities can foster youth capacity for agency, reflection, and healthy participation in constitutional democracy and civil society. The Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP) Design Studio at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics works with partners to co-design and implement innovative ethics and civic education curricula, professional development offerings, assessment tools, and policy frameworks.

This summer we are seeking up to three BLISS Fellows to work on two different projects. Although the students will be supervised, they will have considerable freedom to develop a research project in line with their own interests. Questions and tasks for each project are outlined below, and more information can be found here. Successful completion of student projects will be fostered by the Center’s research and program staff through dedicated weekly meetings and other consultations as needed. Students will have frequent virtual meetings with the project team and mentors. (In-person meetings and office space are dependent on campus policies at the time.)

DKP 8th Grade Civics Curriculum: A particular focus for Summer 2021 would be on conducting activities in support of our 8th grade civics course, answering the following questions:

  1. What are teacher and student experiences in delivering a year-long 8th grade civics curriculum in Massachusetts and how can the curriculum and professional development supports be redesigned to better meet their needs?
  2. How aligned is the DKP 8th grade curriculum to Massachusetts state social studies and history standards/frameworks and/or to active learning/project-based learning pedagogies?
  3. What can we learn from best practices for student-led civics projects to be applied to classroom resources?

Tasks include: coding curricular materials with our Design-based Implementation Research team; supporting our curriculum and professional development teams optimizing professional development for our Community of Practice of 8th grade educators; deepening our research and offerings in student-led civics projects; researching copyright permissions of curriculum materials; lesson planning and maximizing resource access; and research on our interactive graphic novel based on the Declaration of Independence, Portrait of a Tyrant.

National Ethics Project: This summer we will also partner with ethics faculty members at various institutions of higher education to collect data on instructors' learning goals and implicit learning theories. Questions we are trying to address include:

  1. Where and how is ethics taught to undergraduates, within and beyond the classroom? What trends exist in adoptions of ethics courses, degrees, and initiatives?
  2. What ethical quandaries do students express that they face or care about?
  3. To what degree are student and instructor perceptions of the methods and goals of ethics education aligned? Where are the gaps between current pedagogic practices and students’ articulation of needs?
  4. To what degree are current opportunities for ethics education aligned with student needs and institutional goals?
  5. What should contemporary ethics education and assessment look like in light of students’ articulations of need, technological and demographic changes, and trends in higher education?

Our student researcher(s) will assist with preparing, cataloging, and analyzing data; assisting with a literature review of relevant scholarship; assisting with preparing potential contributions to recent debates in ethics education. The student researcher(s) will also assist with faculty- and student-centered surveys and will contribute to research on and analysis of the current state of undergraduate ethics education at US colleges and universities. Other student projects could take several forms, depending on student interest and the research findings.

Skills Needed
DKP 8th Grade Civics Curriculum: We seek BLISS Fellows with knowledge of and interest in any of the following areas: social and cognitive psychology and/or assessment; curriculum development; case-writing; U.S. history, especially the early Republic; democratic and constitutional theory; history of U.S. political thought; history of indigenous cultures, history of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. 

National Ethics Project: Any student with a background in education, philosophy, ethics, history, literature, government, gender studies, statistics/data science, social psychology, or sociology, would be well suited to these projects. Students from other disciplines are also welcome to apply, particularly if they have an interest in quantitative or qualitative research methods, and/or ethics curricula and pedagogies. Previous experience working with archives, managing large data sets, conducting literature reviews, writing research papers, and/or research and analysis of primary documents is preferred, but not required.

Decision-Making in Psychotherapy | John Weisz & Katherine Venturo-Conerly & Olivia Fitzpatrick (PSYC)

John Weisz, Professor of Psychology
Katherine Venturo-Conerly, graduate student
Olivia Fitzpatrick, graduate student

In everyday clinical practice, making psychotherapeutic treatment decisions is complicated. Most patients have multiple problems for which they want help, and therapist and client circumstances, demographic characteristics, and preferences can play a role in determining the best treatment decisions. In this review, we aim to discover what key decision-points exist in psychotherapy, to examine the possible decisions at these points, and evidence for which decisions are best at these decision points. We will focus in particular on decision-points in transdiagnostic, modular psychotherapies, because psychotherapies that allow for flexible decision-making and clients with multiple problems are most representative of everyday clinical practice. Our aim through this review is to support clinical practitioners of psychotherapy in their everyday decision-making, as well as to inform future research on decision-making in psychotherapy.

The student will work on literature review, screening of studies for inclusion, design and implementation of a classification system for included studies, data extraction, and, if the student is interested, they may assist with data analysis and manuscript preparation. Within this role, we will be flexible and discuss with the BLISS fellow the skills and experiences they wish to gain. There are a number of projects ongoing in the lab, and the student may spend some time assisting with other lab projects or tasks if they wish. (A review of the lab website will tell students what other projects are ongoing and available as opportunities for additional experience.)

Mentoring plans are flexible depending on the needs and preferences of the BLISS fellow. We expect, however, that the student will meet via Zoom or phone call with their primary mentor (graduate student Katherine Venturo-Conerly) at least once per week, and with secondary mentors in the lab (e.g., PI John Weisz, graduate student Olivia Fitzpatrick) as frequently as needed, but at least once every 2-3 weeks. Additionally, the BLISS fellow and lab members will communicate frequently over email or instant messaging to answer questions as they arise. We aim for the student to learn not only about decision-making in psychotherapy, but also about the general process of completing a systematic review of the literature, which can be applied to many topics and questions of interest to the student, and about the process of extracting, analyzing, and writing up and presenting data.

Skills Needed
We would prefer if the student had some background in psychology coursework, especially abnormal or clinical psychology. Ideally, the student would also have strong critical reading skills, an eye for detail, and willingness to learn new skills and ask questions. Students who are considering grad school as a next step may find this experience particularly relevant and helpful. Working in our lab has been part of the path to excellent PhD programs in clinical psychology for numerous Harvard undergraduates, including BLISS fellows.

The Vietnam War and Trust in Public Institutions | Melissa Dell (ECON)

Melissa Dell, Professor of Economics

The 1960s witnessed a dramatic decline in trust in public institutions in the United States. This plausibly had major implications for individuals’ political attitudes and support for social welfare programs and other government policies. This project examines how local media coverage about the Vietnam War influenced individuals’ attitudes towards the government, social welfare spending, redistribution, and a host of other social and cultural phenomena, using an instrumental variables strategy. We consider immediate impacts as well as trajectories during the following decades.

Depending on the skills and interests of the student, tasks may include data plotting and regression in R, data parsing using Python, natural language processing, management of large datasets, and qualitative search for data sources and related literature.

We will have in person meetings at least weekly to discuss progress, and more often as needed. The project will be managed using a Kanban board, which will facilitate efficient communication and project planning.

Skills Needed
Some experience with programming – in a language such as Python, R, or C – is required. Completion of an introductory statistics or econometrics course is preferred but not required.

Arts and Social Impact | Doris Sommer (RLL, AAAS)

Doris SommerIra and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies

Research on the impact of participatory arts in violence prevention and civic engagement will support good policy decisions by government and NGOs. This internship opportunity is to review existing projects in Nashville TN, Tulsa, OK, Atlanta, GA, and Boston, MA and develop a comparative grid of activities and outcomes that will help to support good policy.

Fundamental questions:

  1. Evidential. Do the arts work to develop integration across ethnic and class identities?  Before constructing arguments in favor of policy change, we will document the impact of participatory arts programs in medium sized US cities.
  2. Theoretical. Given the experiences of these cities, we will consider the reasons for the success or failure of particular programs and the general value of participatory arts. Here is where the humanities and the social sciences partner.


We will prepare drafts of “Cases for Culture,” that include narratives and statistical information on outcomes. The designated cities are sites where Cultural Agents has initiated collaborations with local actors who will help to guide the research.  Our project is to collect and interpret the research to produce the “Cases” for publication in a new journal dedicated to “Cases for Culture.”

Skills Needed

  • Oral and written communication, to conduct interviews
  • Basic evaluation techniques for qualitative and quantitative evaluation
  • Research skills to include comparative analysis from past studies, including humanistic sources (e.g. John Dewey and other pragmatists of the arts)


Are Toddlers Curious About What They Can Do? | Sam Gershman (PSYC)

Sam Gershman, Associate Professor of Psychology

Toddlers regularly try things that are beyond the limits of their capacity—they try to lift heavy things, dress themselves, and pour juice on their own, even if they can’t do these things yet (and make a big mess!). Why do they do it? In this project, we explore the possibility that children are motivated by “competence-directed curiosity”: The child lifts a heavy object to test whether she can do it, much like a mountaineer reaching for the summit. The goal of this project is to test whether 3-year-olds systematically seek out activities that provide information about their own competence.

A BLISS fellow would work on the following tasks:

  • Build “game kits” for 3-year-olds to play with their caregivers
  • Schedule play sessions and game kit shipments (if remote)
  • Lead play sessions in person or via Zoom
  • Enter and manage play session data in Excel

By the end of the summer, the fellow will have had hands-on experience running behavioral studies with children and will have developed a conceptual understanding of central issues in developmental psychology and cognitive science. The fellow will meet weekly with a postdoctoral mentor and regularly with the faculty mentor. In addition, the fellow will participate in summer activities in the host lab, including lab meeting, journal club, and social events.

Skills Needed
We are looking for motivated students with excellent communication skills and prior experience working with children. We welcome applicants who (a) have taken courses in developmental psychology (e.g., PSY 16, PSY 1645), (b) are interested in developing polished, child-friendly materials using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, and (c) have experience with Excel and R, but these qualifications are not required.

NEW 02/02 Does Debate Participation Matter? | Pia Raffler & Horacio Larreguy (GOVT)

Mentors Pia RafflerAssistant Professor of Government
Horacio LarreguyAssociate Professor of Government

We are interested in exploring whether debate participation hurts or promotes electoral success. A growing number of countries hold Presidential debates, including in the developing world. Whether candidates participate in such debates is an important strategic decision of which we do not yet understand the ramifications. How do voters respond to candidates abstaining from debates? What factors shape voters’ short and longer term response? Organizations promoting debates, such as the National Democratic Institute, wonder about this question as well.

We have constructed a dataset with presidential elections, whether a debate took place, and if so, who participated in it. In addition, we are collecting time-series polling data of each case where a debate took place, before and after the debate, as well as Twitter data. We have compiled data for all 37 countries in Africa and Latin America where Presidential debates have taken place since 1990. We will use this data to estimate the effect of debate participation on voter sentiment through difference-in-difference and event-study analyses. We are recruiting an undergraduate student to conduct data analysis. In the process, the student will learn about debates, politics in Africa and Latin America, and will build her/his skills manipulating and analyzing data. Most importantly, as we describe below, our goal is for students to be part of different steps of the research process.

By this summer, we will largely focus on data analysis. We may want to complement this dataset with more Twitter data to obtain more fine-grained measures of sentiments. The undergraduate student will mostly perform econometric analysis of this data implementing difference-in-differences and, in the case of sharp eligibility cut-offs, regression discontinuity designs. The undergraduate will learn creative ways to undertake these tasks since there is no standard way of doing this. Effectively, a day as part of the project entails doing significant coding in Stata, presenting results using LaTex, as well as a lot of discussion with us to figure out the logic behind such coding and result presentation.

Our goal as mentors in BLISS is, as with all our undergraduate research assistants, that students get an overall view of the research process. Beyond helping with the coding and developing coding skills, as well as gaining experience in presenting results, our goal is to ensure that students get familiar with the related literature, how the project fits into this literature, and the contribution of the project towards filling a specific gap in our collective knowledge. As such, we put emphasis on developing a joint understanding of the rationale behind the work. This works in everyone’s interest: When students comprehend the type of analysis we aim to conduct, it is easier for them to understand and contribute to the optimal data structure and approaches to coding. In order to foster a collaborative process and a deep understanding, we will employ a hands-on approach with weekly or bi-weekly meetings and an open-door policy. In making students part of the research process and exposing them to different steps from hypothesis formulation, research design, data analysis, and interpretation and presentation of empirical results, we aim for students to develop ownership of the project and to gain an understanding of the research process in the social sciences. As projects demand, we are open to continuing the collaboration through other avenues for undergraduate re-search at Harvard, such as Gov92R and IQSS URS. Ultimately, the goal is to attract talented students to research and academia.

Skills Needed
We expect to work with undergraduates with a strong quantitative focus that have ideally taken an intermediate statistics or econometrics course and have slightly-beyond-basic training in Stata or related software that entails coding (e.g., R, Python). A quantitative mindset and some basic training in a software structured around coding avoid spending a few weeks bringing students up to speed. Some knowledge of LaTex is also preferred. The student working on the project will leave with a proficient knowledge of Stata/R and LaTex.

NEW 02/03Understanding Understandings: Inferences About Gender and Gender Differences | Nicole Noll (WGS & PSYC)

Nicole NollSenior Preceptor in Psychology and Lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

“Gender” is a construct with many aspects and meanings. It is used to refer to one of an individual’s identities, to describe traits and behaviors that are considered more typical or appropriate for women vs. men (or vice versa), and (incorrectly) as a synonym for “sex.” How do these various aspects and meanings of gender play out in people’s day-to-day lives?

We pose and explore research questions broadly related to gender, such as:

  • Are body postures and styles of movement related to individuals’ perceptions of their own gender and that of other people?
  • Some people's appearance does not conform to gender norms. Does that affect their lived experiences and what other people think about them? If so, how?
  • Does the type of explanation given for a gender difference in an illness influence a reader's future decision-making and/or behavior related to that illness?
  • Do the inferences people make about scientific findings about sex/gender differences vary based on how the data are represented visually?

BLISS fellows will have the opportunity to work on one of several current projects and will get experience with all the major stages of the research process: articulating a research question, conducting a literature review, preparing experimental materials, collecting and analyzing data, writing research reports, and presenting results orally. The student researchers will make a substantive contribution to the project through their work.

The activities of BLISS fellows will vary based on the project(s) they are working on, their previous knowledge and experience, and their progress over the summer. Most student researchers may expect to spend a few hours each day reading scientific literature related to their project and a few hours collecting data or building data skills. The remaining lab hours will be devoted to tasks such as meetings, conducting literature reviews, developing experimental materials and protocols, or entering/coding/analyzing data.

At the beginning of the summer we will meet to establish a foundational understanding of the project, set goals for the summer, and lay out a work plan for each day. We will begin by reading and discussing articles that provide the basis for the research question addressed by the project and learning relevant lab procedures (e.g., experimental protocols, data management, etc.). We rely on student researchers to be actively engaged, ask questions, and think critically about all aspects of the research process. We hope to foster BLISS fellows’ ability to generate their own hypotheses and design experiments to test them. After we have laid a foundation, we will meet weekly (or as needed). This summer experience will help students decide whether they want to pursue a career path that involves social science research.

Skills Needed
Curiosity about human behavior, some background in psychology and, ideally, gender studies. Previous experience in a psychology lab is preferred, but not required, as project-specific skills will be learned as needed. The only other skills that we expect BLISS fellows to have are attention to detail, punctuality, followthrough, and a professional attitude. Most importantly, student researchers should be interested in identifying and challenging their own assumptions about the meaning of empirical data and research results.

BLISS Independent Project

In addition to the menu of BLISS projects on offer, Harvard College undergraduates may propose their own social science research program under the supervision of a faculty mentor. Only two to four “independent research” students will be accepted to the program. NOTE: These slots may be extremely competitive, and priority will be given to advanced students demonstrating strong research skills. Students earlier in their academic careers should consider applying to faculty-led projects.

This option may be most suitable for an existing student-faculty research collaboration that would benefit from the student’s ability to engage in fulltime work over an extended period.

To propose a BLISS independent research project, student applicants must a) identify a mentor, and b) describe the proposed research in detail, including:

  • The goals/expected outcomes for the 10-week summer research period, and an explanation of how this relates to your general short-term (undergraduate) and long-term (post graduation) academic and professional goals.
  • A general plan for your daily/weekly research-related activities. (“Fulltime” is loosely defined as 35-40 hours per week.)
  • Information about the methods, materials, and resources needed for your research. Can this research be conducted fully remotely, if necessary?
  • A plan for communicating with the research mentor. (How often will you meet? What will you do if you encounter problems or have questions between meetings?)

In the BLISS application, your independent project proposal will be included as your first and second essay responses. If you have already conducted research with your mentor, make sure to explain how this summer opportunity is significantly different from term-time research and particularly beneficial to your academic and career development. Please answer the third essay question as it is framed.

Research Mentor Confirmation Letter

Your letter of recommendation must be from your research mentor and should comment on your qualifications for the project as well as the mentor’s role over the summer. Please provide the following instructions to your mentor (which differ from the general instructions to recommenders). Please also see the "Independent Research FAQs" on the BLISS homepage.

Instructions for mentors

Please provide a letter of recommendation for the applicant, addressing the following information:

  1. In what capacity do you know the applicant? If the student is already conducting research with you, how will BLISS differ significantly from the applicant's term-time work?
  2. Is the applicant qualified to carry out the research as described? Are the goals feasible within the specified time period? Does the workplan seem reasonable?
  3. What is your mentoring plan? What will the student learn from you? How will you oversee their work? If we are operating remotely this summer (or if you are traveling at any point), how will you stay in contact with the student?
  4. A critical component of the BLISS program is the student’s participation in the “summer undergraduate research village” community. How do you envision the applicant benefitting from, and contributing to, the community?