2019 Project Descriptions

Jocelyn Viterna (Sociology) | Women's Rights, Fetal Rights

Project Mentors: Jocelyn Viterna, Professor of Sociology

Once won, new legal rights are seldom lost again. This is a truism in social science research. And yet over the past two decades, a handful of the world's nations (including the United States) have begun to systematically reverse women's reproductive rights. Why have women's gains in reproductive rights been overturned in some countries but not others? And what are the consequences of these rights reversals for women's lives?

Between 1989 and 2009, six Latin American nations took legislative action to tighten their already-strict abortion laws. Previously, these nations allowed legal abortion only in limited circumstances--typically when the life of the mother was at risk, when the pregnancy was the result of rape, or when the fetus had deformities incompatible with life. With the passage of new legislation, however, these countries removed all abortion allowances. No abortions, no exceptions; not even when a woman's life is endangered by her pregnancy. This backslide in abortion policy has in turn had powerful consequences on women's lives. On one hand, women regularly die because the absolute abortion ban forces doctors in public hospitals to withhold a lifesaving abortion in situations where a pregnancy threatens a woman's life (for example, when a pregnancy puts too much strain on a woman's heart and causes heart failure). On the other hand, in at least two cases--El Salvador and Mexico--the absolute abortion ban has also been accompanied by a swift uptake in the prosecution and incarceration of women for abortion and the so-called "homicide" of fetuses. In El Salvador, for example, more than 30 women have received 12-40 year prison sentences for the "attempted homicide" or "homicide" of their fetuses. Most tragically, the legal, medical, and forensic records make clear that these women serving 30 year prison sentences suffered naturally occurring stillbirths; they did not take any action to abort their pregnancy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the women targeted by these extra-judicial prosecutions, and the women left to die in public hospitals, are overwhelmingly very poor, and very marginalized.

I have spent the last four years investigating these trends in Latin America, and most centrally, in El Salvador.

The student or students who work for me would help me in one of the following areas (students can choose):

  1.  Code 50 focus group interviews and 200 individual interviews about Salvadoran attitudes toward abortion, incarceration, and contraception; help draft a paper or papers using these already-collected-and-transcribed data. (Spanish required)
  2. Investigate the reversal of abortion rights in other countries around the world, and potential transnational connections between these movements, especially as it relates to the Vatican (No Spanish required).
  3. Help me develop training materials for programs about gender discrimination for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys in El Salvador and other Latin American nations (Spanish required).
  4. Interview Salvadoran doctors about their experiences treating obstetrical emergencies under the current legislative climate and, if permission comes through, help Salvadoran scholars code medical charts of women who have had obstetrical emergencies in El Salvador.

Students working with me will start each weekday in a team meeting to discuss what work was accomplished the prior day, and what work will need to unfold in the hours ahead. Students will gain specific research skills (creating an international data set, developing a coding system, analyzing archival evidence, using qualitative software like N-Vivo, writing clear and effective reports, analyzing legislation and court documents), and more generally, will learn how to investigate an academic puzzle through the development of potential hypotheses and the collection of data to test those hypotheses. Depending on where the research takes us, and depending on the students' interests, experience, and performance, the student(s) may also gain experience applying for approval from the institutional review board, and traveling to conduct interviews abroad. My style is perhaps best described as an apprenticeship; I like working side-by-side with students as we develop the initial steps collaboratively (e.g., let's read through these reports together and collaboratively develop a coding schema), until we arrive at the point where there are clear steps to be taken individually (e.g., let's each take and code three interviews, and then we'll re-group to discuss how the coding schema worked and what modifications should be made).

In addition to learning foundational research skills, students will be listed as co-authors on any data set they construct, and on any reports or papers they help write over the course of the summer.

Skills Needed: The ideal student will be a critical thinker, a careful reader, a clear writer, and will care about getting the details right. The ideal student will get excited about questions regarding gender, law, and/or reproductive health.  All other research tasks (creating coding systems, coding with N-Vivo, etc) will be learned on-the-job. Fluency in Spanish is a definite plus, but not required.

Susan Carey (Psychology) | Abstract Thought in Humans (and Other Animals)

Project Mentors: Susan Carey, Henry A. Morss, Jr. and Elisabeh W. Morss Professor of Psychology

We study the human capacity for abstract conceptual thought (a unique phenomenon on earth). We currently have two different research thrusts:

  • Q1. Is the capacity for abstract, language-like, combinatorial thought unique to humans (cross-species studies), and does it arise in human development only upon learning language (studies with human infants)?
  • Q2. What is the role of executive functions (cognitive control, inhibition, working memory—many frontal lobe functions) in the construction of theoretical knowledge?

BLISS fellows hear descriptions of 10 to 12 ongoing projects, and choose a particular project to collaborate on, under the joint mentorship of a graduate student or postdoc, and me (Professor Carey). They master the relevant background literature, participate in the design of the new study, learn all aspects of running the study, coding and analyzing the data, and bringing the data to bear on adjudicating between theoretically important hypotheses. They are part of a larger internship program in my lab, involving undergraduates and recent graduates from all over they world, and participate in reading groups and activities for the whole internship program, and present their findings in a poster session at the end of the internship program.

The ultimate goal of the internship is to engage students in bringing empirical data to bear on theoretically important issues, to see the process of making a scientific argument. This experience will inform students’ career choices (i.e., does he or she want to become a research scientist, and if so, are the questions within cognitive science of interest?). Whatever the outcome of these decisions (at this stage of life, it’s important to discover what one does not want to do as part of discovering what one does want to do), this experience make students more critical consumers of popular science reporting in the press, and of course work in the social sciences.

The proximate goal of the internship is to engage students in the fun of the collaborative activity that is science!

Skills Needed: An interest in cognitive science (some background in philosophy, computer science, experimental psychology, linguistics,or history of science).

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

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.

Horacio Larreguy (Government) | Assessing the Effects of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs on Political Behavior

Horacio Larreguy, Associate Professor of Government

An accountable political system has the potential to support public service delivery by creating incentives for politicians to perform well in office. However, accountability in Mexico remains weak – especially among municipal governments. Many mayors engage in corruption and have ties with the organized crime (e.g. Larreguy, Marshall and Snyder 2018; Pulido 2018; Trejo and Ley 2017). These issues are often compounded by politicians’ lack of information about how voters would prefer resources to be allocated. We intend to address these common governance challenges across developing contexts.

This project departs from extant work by investigating how non-electoral accountability – bottom-up citizen requests from the government that need not be restricted to pre-election periods – can be enhanced across Mexico. In particular, we propose to evaluate a randomize intervention where we provide citizens with information about: (i) their municipal incumbent’s campaign promises; and (ii) how citizens can make claims from, and hold to account, municipal governments. We anticipate that such information will enable and empower citizens to make claims on their government, provide politicians with localized information about where resources can be allocated to best benefit voters, and create common expectations that politicians will be sanctioned in future for failing to address voter demands. While recent experimental studies in Mexico highlight the limited effectiveness of providing incumbent performance information at low scale on electoral accountability (Arias et al. 2018a,b; Chong et al. 2015), a study from the 2018 elections demonstrates the potential of mass social media campaigns to inform and coordinate citizens’ electoral behavior (Enríquez et al. 2019).

Building on these insights, our field experiment proposes to disseminate information about campaign promises and how to reach governments en masse via localized Facebook ad campaigns targeting treated municipalities. We will randomly vary which of the 1,864 Mexican municipalities that will hold elections in 2021 will be targeted by the campaign. Facebook is Mexico’s most popular social media website. In previous work, we show that a similar information dissemination method reached around a third of citizens in a municipality, and – most importantly – that high saturation is crucial for information to have an effect (Enríquez et al. 2019). This project would be conducted in partnership with the Mexican NGO Borde Político (bordepolitico.com), with whom the PIs have previously partnered on three large-scale field experiments (Arias et al. 2018a,b; Enríquez et al. 2019; Larreguy, Lucas, and Marshall 2016). We will measure municipal government performance and non-electoral accountability-seeking behavior outcomes using scrapped social media data, and administrative data.

This project aims to improve our understanding of how, in the context of low mayoral accountability in Mexico, citizen behavior can be shifted in between elections to improve the performance of their elected municipal governments. More specifically, we intend to test whether three main citizen-level constraints to non-electoral accountability can be overcome. First, citizens are unlikely to remember campaign promises. This in part reflect the vague and unstructured way that candidates typically make promises (e.g. Bowles and Larreguy 2018). Moreover, recent work highlights that citizens – possibly due to the cognitive load of recalling information for prolonged time (Healy and Lenz 2014) or weak social pressure to remain politically informed outside of elections (Marshall 2019b) – often vote on the basis of events shortly preceding elections, ignoring performance earlier in an incumbent’s term (Healy and Lenz 2014; Marshall 2019a). Second, and more fundamentally, citizens are generally uninformed about how to make claims to their local governments or request information about the performance of their incumbents. Indeed, Rizzo (2019) shows that empowering citizens in Yucatán to formally claim government welfare programs both increased claim-making and reduced support for clientelistic quid pro quo exchanges.

The undergraduate student will work with data that has been previously collected. By June, a team of research assistants would have finished putting together a database with campaign promises. The student will first work with this data using Stata to set up videos that we will use to inform citizens through Facebook ads. Then, the student will help to set up the Facebook ads, which will require the use of Python/R and possibly ArcGIS to set up the target Facebook markets. 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 working with ArcGIS, Python/R,  and Stata.

My goal is for students to get an overall view of the research process. Beyond helping with the project, students will become familiar with the related literature and the importance of the project analyses toward filling a specific gap in our knowledge. I emphasize the rationale behind their work -- once students comprehend the type of analysis we aim to conduct, it is much simpler to understand the structure of the work they need to do. I often follow a very hands-on approach with weekly or bi-weekly meetings. In general, I hold an open-door policy with both graduate and undergraduate students. Sometimes the project naturally continues after the summer, and thus I am open to continuing the collaboration through the alternative ways that Harvard provides to engage undergraduates in research activities (e.g., Gov92r, IQSS URS).

Skills needed
I expect to work with undergraduates with a strong quantitative focus and beyond-basic training in Stata or related software that entails coding (e.g., R, Python). Some knowledge of Spanish is also preferred. Regardless, the student working on the project will leave with a good knowledge of Python/R and Stata.

Jesse Snedeker (Psychology) | Language Acquisition

Jesse Snedeker, Professor of Psychology

Language is not one representation but many. A spoken utterance can be characterized as a string of phonemes, a nested set of prosodic phrases, a series of lexical items, a hierarchically-organized syntactic tree, a configuration of semantic relations, or the impetus for inferences about the speaker's intentions. A fundamental challenge for the psychology of language is to understand the relations between these representations: the degree to which they are distinct, the ways in which they constrain one another, and the role that these connections play in language acquisition. My lab explores these questions with a primary focus on semantic representations and their relation to syntax and pragmatics. Semantic representations are central to cognitive science because they provide a window into our generative conceptual capacity. Language allows us to combine concepts from diverse cognitive domains. Understanding how meaning is encoded in language is central to understanding conceptual combination.

Our approach to these questions is experimental and developmental. The study of semantics has been based largely on the judgments of trained linguists. Where these judgments are unclear, controversial or uninformative, theories diverge. By using a broader range of methods with diverse populations, we can gain additional insight into the processes that give rise to meaning and the representations they create. Developmental work is critical for two reasons: 1) Adult language processing is complex and interactive, by observing language at an earlier state we may gain a deeper understanding of its architecture; 2) Developmental studies allow us to explore the relation between language and conceptual development. If the semantics of external languages build on a prior language of thought, then we would expect many aspects of semantic structure to develop early and constrain language acquisition. In contrast, if external language is the sole mechanism of domain-general conceptual combination, then we might expect conceptual and linguistic development to be closely yoked.

BLISS fellows will be given the opportunity to work on one of several projects investigating how children acquire and process language, ranging from how children learn the meanings of novel verbs to how children generalize grammatical and semantic representations across sentences to how children understand the referents of proper names. Fellows will be assigned a project based on their interests and will be involved in all major steps of its lifecycle: preparing study stimuli, conducting literature searches, recruiting participants, coding, entering, and transcribing data, and presenting their results. This will allow fellows to work closely with their mentors to make a contribution to the design of the study and the interpretation of its results.

The typical day in the life of a BLISS fellow in our lab varies depending on the specific project to which they are assigned and their progress over the summer. However, most fellows can anticipate spending 2-3 hours each day running participants, 2-3 hours recruiting participants, and the remaining time in the lab on tasks such as reading literature relevant to their project, attending research meetings with their mentor, or coding and entering data.

This project will be part of the summer internship program that our laboratory, together with others in the department, organizes every year. The BLISS Fellow(s) will be paired with a graduate researcher, and will be involved in all major steps of psycholinguistic research. They also participate in a weekly Reading Group to talk about 1-2 journal articles with other interns, while 1-2 research mentors moderate the discussion, in weekly Lab Meetings, and in weekly meetings with their graduate student mentor and Dr. Snedeker. In short, BLISS Fellow(s) get a chance to experience firsthand how scientific knowledge is actually produced, potentially helping them to decide whether to pursue graduate studies and a career in science, or not.

Skills Needed
An active interest in working with children, some background in linguistics and psychology, a high degree of independence, problem-solving skills and the ability and interest to quickly acquire new skills.

Paige Sweet & Anthony Johnson (Social Science) | Inequality in America

Project Mentors: Anthony Johnson and Paige Sweet, IAI Postdoctoral Fellows

Anthony Johnson and Paige Sweet are both qualitative sociologists who study inequality. This collaborative research project responds to substantive topics related to race, class, gender, and social problems. Anthony and Paige seek a BLISS fellow who is interested in learning qualitative methods in the social sciences and in asking questions about social inequality in the United States. The fellow would be mentored by both Paige and Anthony, working jointly across both projects, learning both interview and archival methods.

Paige’s research is an exploratory study into the gender and health politics of the opioid epidemic. The way a social problem is represented in the media shapes the policy efforts that come later. As the opioid crisis continues to unfold, how does the media represent substance users? Who is marked as the “problem” and why? How is the crisis gendered and racialized? The BLISS fellow will assist Paige in developing a database of newspaper and archival documents related to the opioid crisis. The fellow will code documents and analyze emerging data about the extent and demographics of the opioid crisis. The fellow will also assist in tracking legislation and policy at federal and local levels related to opioids.

Anthony’s research examines the experiences of engineering students at elite colleges and universities, with a particular focus on how students form and navigate academic peer networks (i.e. work or study groups) in ways that perpetuate inequalities by social class, race/ethnicity, and gender. He investigates mechanisms of inequality reproduction at the group, institutional, and micro-interactional levels. The BLISS fellow will work with Anthony to conduct supplementary coding and analysis of interview data on the experiences of a sociodemographically diverse sample of engineering undergraduates at an elite university. The fellow will also develop annotated bibliographies of more recent scholarship on the classed, racialized, and gendered experiences of college students.

Skills Needed: The fellow should have strong critical thinking skills and an interest in developing their sociological imagination on topics related to inequality in the United States. It is preferred that the fellow has some familiarity or experience with qualitative data analysis, such as developing a code book and rubric and coding qualitative text, but this is not required.

Michele Lamont (Sociology) | From Having to Being: Self-Worth and the Current Crisis of American Society

Project Mentor: Michele Lamont (Sociology)

I am developing a book tentatively titled “From Having to Being: Self-Worth and the Current Crisis of American Society.” With growing inequality, the American Dream is becoming less effective as a collective myth. With its focus on material success, competition and self-reliance, the intensified diffusion of neoliberal scripts of the self is leading the upper-middle class toward a mental health crisis while the working class and low-income groups do not have the resources needed to live the dream. African-Americans, Latinos and undocumented immigrants, who are presumed to lack self-reliance, face more rigid boundaries. One possible way forward is broadening cultural membership by promoting new narratives of hope centered on a plurality of criteria of worth, ‘ordinary universalism’ and destigmatizing stigmatized groups.

A BLISS Fellow would assist in the early stages of this research, conducting bibliographic searches, reviewing the literature, and performing content analysis of interviews.

The Fellow would learn basic research and organizational skills; how to connect theory and evidence; how to develop an argument in conversation with the scientific literature. I will be supervising the student work in collaboration with a graduate student and in contact for a biweekly team meeting (over the phone during most of the month of June, otherwise in person).

Skills needed

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

Bethany Burum (Psychology, HEB) | Can hidden incentives explain moral quirks?

Project Mentor: Bethany Burum (Psychology, Human Evolutionary Behavior)

Why do we remain strategically ignorant to avoid doing the right thing? Judge commissions more harshly than equally intentional omissions? Give ineffectively? Feel more empathy for one victim than for many? We are running social psychology laboratory experiments to test whether counterintuitive social incentives can explain these moral quirks, and others. Our BLISS fellow will be assisting with all aspects of the research process, including research design and materials, data collection, literature reviews, data processing and analysis, and communicating the results.

Our BLISS fellow will learn how theory is translated into concrete laboratory experiments, and gain firsthand experience with the details of implementing these experiments. Our student will also learn about key theoretical explanations for moral quirks, with a focus on those rooted in evolutionary game theory. 

Skills needed: Previous social psychology research experience is helpful but not necessary.

Jennifer Hochschild (Government) | Class-in-Group: Intra-racial Dynamics in Metropolitan Politics and Policy

Project Mentors: Jennifer Hochschild, H.L. Jayne Professor of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies

How do the large "clunky" categories of black/white/Asian/Latino etc. get mobilized or modified in political and policy disputes in American metropolitan areas? In particular, do the interests and viewpoints associated with being well-off or poor affect intra-group dynamics, as well as relations across groups?  Do the policy arenas of policing, school reform, housing disputes, and city budget choices show the same racial and class dynamics across metro areas?

We have completed four site visits, involving a week-long trip to the site (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta), to interview experts about, respectively, the criminal justice system, public pension reform, school reform, and urban development. Interviews have been transcribed, along with initial coding. The BLISS intern will continue our research on the four policy issues through published documents, census and other reports, and perhaps further conversations with experts.  

We also have a completed survey and I hope that the BLISS intern can do some basic statistical analyses of the results. There is likely to be additional coding of the interviews, and coding of newspaper articles and other media, around the themes of intra-group consensus or disagreement, and initer-group coalition or tension.

The BLISS intern will work closely with me and other research collaborators. My BLISS student from summer of 2016 continues to work on the Class-in-Group research. We will have frequent conversations, ad hoc meetings, exchanges of notes and information, etc. I will also work out a more specific research plan for analysing the survey, so that those proceed along a clear and fairly fixed path. The BLISS intern will gain experience in researching particular policy arenas and locations, setting up and participating in interviews, analyzing survey data, and moving from evidence to the first stages of writing an article or book chapter.

Skills Needed: Ideally, the student will have data analytic skills so can work with the survey data--so some hands-on statistical training would be very helpful. That is not essential however. Facility with JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis, and other electronic tools would be great.

Peter Der Manuelian (Anthropology; NELC) | Preparing an Online Exhibit of Ancient Artifacts

Project Mentors: Peter Der Manuelian, Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology and Director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, Joseph Greene, Deputy Director and Curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum; Adam Aja, Assistant Curator of Collections

In the summer of 2018, the Harvard Semitic Museum BLISS intern successfully completed the 3D scanning of almost the entire Egyptian collection (350 objects over ten weeks), using our Artec Space Spider portable 3D scanner. We established best practices for using the scanner for producing 3D models of ancient artifacts.

For the summer of 2019 we would like to expand on the experience gained and turn to our world-famous collection of 5,000 inscribed cuneiform tablets excavated at ancient Nuzi in Iraq by a Museum-sponsored expedition in 1927-1931 and now held by the Museum. A selection of the most interesting and important inscriptions (economic texts, business transactions, legal inscriptions) will be made by the NELC Department’s Assyriologists and Harvard Semitic Museum curators, perhaps a few hundred tablets. The goal is to 3D-scan them, research and assemble the archaeological and textual museum data (provenance, publications, translations, etc.) and prepare the digital materials for an online exhibition on the Museum’s website (through Sketchfab, the online repository for 3D models).

The student will work primarily under the supervision of the Museum director, deputy director, and curator in the Harvard Semitic Museum storage collections, where other summer staff and volunteers will be on hand. We believe this project will provide valuable exposure to all aspects of museology, archaeology, and public presentation.

Skills Needed: We seek students interested in digital technology (3D scanning), museums and exhibits, archaeology, and artifact research. The chosen intern will have excellent digital and organizational skills and be able to work unsupervised for periods of time. Experience with graphics and online storage, along with Excel tracking lists is a plus.


Danielle Allen (Government) | The Democratic Knowledge Project

Project Mentors: Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and the DKP team

  • How can curricular innovations be brought to the K-12 space to specifically develop skills, knowledge and motivations for civic life?
    • What compelling, well-researched narratives in the U.S. context can be utilized to create accessible 8th grade learning material in American political philosophy?
    • How can gaming be better leveraged by civic educators to foster learning both in and outside of the classroom?
  • How might new forms of K-12 assessments better capture and drive civic knowledge, skills and dispositions?
  • How can Professional Development programs be structured to equip teachers with the knowledge and pedagogical capacity to actualize civic learning in K-12 students?

Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics is currently seeking BLISS Fellows to support a major initiative to support the renewal of K-12 civic education. After decades of decline in the delivery of civic education in the U.S., we have reached a moment of widespread appetite to renew civic education in the nation’s schools. Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, through its Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP), seeks to contribute to that nation-wide process of reinvention through engagement with civic education reform at the level of individual states. In June 2018, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in the State of Massachusetts passed new state educational standards intended to extend and deepen the place of civic education in the curriculum. The standards now require a year-long 8th grade civics course. The DKP is working with Massachusetts school districts on the development of that course. We are supporting curricular and resource development, creating assessment instruments to support instructional practice, and developing professional development opportunities for civic educators.

We seek BLISS Fellows with knowledge of and interest in any of the following areas: 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; social and cognitive psychology and/or assessment; curriculum development; case-writing. Hours and duties will vary with the background and the availability.

Most immediately, we are seeking: (1) a fellow to do historical research in support of a six-chapter adventure video game based on the Declaration of Independence, which we are co-developing with the educational game firm, Amplify; (2) a fellow to join our teams working directly with school districts on research in curriculum development; this will include doing research and contributing to the development, writing and production of curricular materials.

Successful completion of student projects will be fostered by the Center’s research staff through dedicated weekly meetings and other consultations as needed. The student(s) will be provided with office space at the Center, where they will have frequent interaction with fellow researchers and their mentors. Although the student(s) will be supervised, they will have considerable freedom to develop a research project in line with their own interests.

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

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.

Daniel Gilbert and Adam Mastroianni (Psychology) | The Surprising Psychology of Everyday Life

Project Mentors: Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology and Adam Mastroianni, graduate student

There are currently several active research projects in the lab, and students will join one or more of them:

Nobody knows when to stop talking: our studies so far show that people rarely leave a conversation when they want to. We’re now working on why this happens, and whether it happens in conversations between larger groups of people.

Intergenerational perception: our studies so far show that young people don’t agree with each other on whether aging makes people better or worse, but old people are united in claiming that aging is good, and that their generation is better than the generation coming after them. We’re now working on why people think this way, and its consequences.

Premature takeovers: we have some evidence that people are too quick to take over for someone else when working on a task together. This project is still in the data collection phase.

The Ideological Turing Test: In order to engage in a good-faith debate, you should be able to make a statement for the opposite side so well that an outside observer might mistakenly think you really believe it. We plan to ask people to write statements about social issues that are either consistent or inconsistent with what they truly believe, and see if readers can tell the difference.

Public opinion change: Our studies so far show that people think American public opinion has changed more than it actually has. For instance, people think that the American public is much more pro-gun control than it was in 1972, when in reality attitudes have not changed at all. We’re now researching the mechanisms behind this effect.

Regardless of project students may work on all aspects of the research process: generating ideas, designing and running studies, analyzing data, and interpreting results. The work changes day to day as projects progress: we may run a study, analyze its results, and design and launch the next step all within the same week. This would be a great fit for someone considering writing a thesis and/or applying to graduate school in psychology, or someone who wants firsthand experience in creating original social psychological research.

Students will learn firsthand how to do research in experimental social psychology. They will be mentored on a daily basis by a pre-doctoral or post-doctoral fellow in the lab, and their work will be overseen by Professor Gilbert. Students will meet frequently with their mentor to discuss progress, solve research problems, and collaboratively analyze results and plan next steps. The experience is a great way to get a “taste” of what it is like to be a graduate student in an experimental psychology program.

Skills Needed: A background in social psychology and statistics is a plus, but not required.

Nichole Noll (Psychology, WGS) | Understanding Understandings: Inferences about gender and gender differences

Project Mentor: Nicole Noll (Psychology & Women, Gender, 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 whether posture is related to individuals’ perception of their own gender and that of other people, and whether the inferences people make about scientific findings about gender differences varies 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, and presenting results. 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 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. The remaining lab hours will be devoted to tasks such as meetings, developing experimental materials, or entering/coding/analyzing data.
At the beginning of the summer we will meet frequently 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 students to have are attention to detail, punctuality, followthrough, and a professional attitude. Most importantly, the student researcher should be interested in identifying and challenging their own assumptions about the meaning of empirical data and research results.


(Pilot Program) BLISS Independent Research

In addition to the menu of BLISS projects on offer, students may propose their own campus-based social science research projects under supervision of a faculty mentor. (At this time a maximum of three “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 commit to 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 academic and professional goals
  • a general plan for your daily/weekly research-related activities (“fulltime” research is loosely defined as 35-40 hours per week.)
  • information about the resources and materials to be engaged on campus
  • 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 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 you are traveling at any point during the summer, 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?