2020 Project Descriptions

Pedagogical Resources for Intro Stats & Data Science Courses | David Kane (Government)

David KanePreceptor in Statistical Methods and Mathematics in the Department of Government

Data science and statistics is exploding in popularity, at Harvard and around the world. Unfortunately, there are a lack of high quality open source resources for instructors in these fields, especially for introductory courses. This project will seek to ameliorate this sad state of affairs.

BLISS fellows will work closely with the mentor on creating a textbook for use in Gov 1005: Data and, one hopes, in other courses, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The book will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, meaning that it will be forever free for anyone to use in any class. The core of the book will be based on: Statistical Inference via Data Science: A modern dive into R and the tidyverse by Chester Ismay and Albert Y. Kim and on STAT 545: Data wrangling, exploration, and analysis with R by Jenny Bryan, two other books also issued under such licenses. A major difference, however, is that our textbook will be Bayesian. In addition to work on the textbook, tentatively titled Bayesian Data Science, BLISS fellows will create material for in-class use, specifically interactive tools using R packages like gganimate and htmlwidgets.

BLISS fellows will gain a much deeper understanding of data science. You never really understand something until you try to teach it. Fellows will also improve their technical skills. The complexities associated with creating a textbook are more difficult than those they have been exposed to in their classwork to date. Their R programming will improve. Daily work will be a mixture of writing and programming. They will make test cases in order to ensure that the examples in the book are correct.

Skills Needed
Experience with R, Git and GitHub. Completion of Gov 1005 or Gov 1006 is preferred but not required.

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

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.

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.

Making Workplaces Flourish: From Garment Factories to the Ivory Tower | Agaronov & McNeely (HSPH)

Alen Agaronov, Doctoral Candidate in Social & Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Eileen McNeely, Founder and Director of Harvard Chan’s Project SHINE

The rise of global supply chains such as Amazon, Samsung, Nike, and H&M has drastically changed the landscape for work and how worker health it is governed, especially for low-wage workers in developing countries. Research on global supply chains is relatively new to the public health community and thus limited to old concepts, like preventing fatalities, injuries, and illness, rather than to promoting workers’ well-being, or what makes them flourish – happiness, a meaningful job, or finding purpose in their work.

Based out the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Project SHINE (Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise) is the first endeavor of its kind to partner with global brands to assess how low-wage workplaces impact human flourishing. This summer’s project centers around the assessment of worker flourishing among factory workers for Apparel International, Levi Strauss and Co.’s leading Mexican supplier.

This project primarily involves ethnographic data in the form of interviews from 40 factory workers to answer questions like: What daily challenges do low-wage factory workers face? How do workers even make sense of “flourishing: in the context of factory work? Against the historical backdrop of procedural bureaucratic “factory audits,” how do workers perceive Harvard’s sudden entry into their workplace? What are workers’ reactions to data privacy and disclosure with Harvard? What were their experiences filling out surveys? How did workers feel about findings Harvard reported back to them?

In addition, we will quantitatively explore survey data collected from 2,500 factory workers in 2018-9 to better understand the theoretical construct of worker flourishing.

This position will involve meeting at least once per week with Alen in Harvard Yard and attending additional meetings with the broader SHINE team in the Longwood Medical Area. Qualitative analysis of interviews will primarily involve closely reading, coding and sorting of transcripts, discussing emergent findings, returning to the literature, keeping journals and writing summaries. Time permitted, quantitative analysis may involve psychometric analysis in STATA and MPlus. Under an apprenticeship model, findings will be presented, deliberated, revised, drafted, organized into tables and published.

A student participating in this summer experience would come away with skills in qualitative and possibly quantitative data analysis methods, a substantive knowledge of worker health, human flourishing and partnerships with global supply chains, and potential authorship. This will serve as a great opportunity for anyone interested in getting their feet wet in pragmatic, team- and independent public health research using a mix of methods that fall between clinical and theoretical, science and the humanities.

Skills Needed
Fluency in Spanish is not required but would be a plus. No prior experience with qualitative or quantitative research is needed. The ideal candidate would be interested in questions of labor, health and/or corporate-university partnership, and be curious about playing and experimenting with data using a variety of analytical software they may be unfamiliar with, such as STATA, NVivo and MPlus for interview coding and factor and cluster analysis. The student’s participation and voice will hold equal weight to the team’s and will be crucial for reliable and rigorous analysis of data.

Charting developmental changes in brain structure and function | Somerville & Kabotyanski (Psychology)

Leah Somerville, Professor of Psychology; Kat Kabotyanski, Research Manager

The Lifespan Human Connectome Project in Development is a large-scale, multi-modal imaging study that aims to understand how different parts of the brain are connected and how these connections change from childhood to adolescence and into young adulthood. By characterizing typical brain development, we can begin to better understand how brain structure and function differ in individuals who are at risk for various forms of developmental disorders or psychopathologies. This project also aims to explore how childhood experiences and other environmental or socioeconomic factors may influence brain development and health-relevant outcomes later in life.

Because this study will involve testing children and adolescents (ages 8-17 years old) who are otherwise in school during the day, summer is a particularly important time for data collection, since many potential participants are able to come into the lab to take part in studies. We need BLISS fellows to help with the collection of behavioral, cognitive, and brain imaging (fMRI) data. This will involve being present for testing child, adolescent, and adult (parent) participants at the Center for Brain Science. Research assistants will help administer cognitive tasks and standardized clinical measures, prepare the scanner environment before the testing begins, help in the control room while the participants undergo brain imaging, and help with pre-testing and post-testing tasks including preparing testing materials and data entry. The BLISS fellow will also have the opportunity to gain more in-depth knowledge and valuable hands-on skills in fMRI neuroimaging.

The faculty mentor meets with the research assistants regularly, through one-on-one meetings to discuss project progress as well as through lab meetings where all of the lab's ongoing research is discussed, journal articles are workshopped, and general research skill tutorials are held. The Connectome Manager will primarily oversee the day-to-day activities of the research team. The BLISS fellow will learn many practical skills that can translate to work outside of the lab as well including critical thinking skills, time management and attention to detail, as well as use of electronic health records and other data management systems.

Skills Needed
The only skills that we expect students to bring to the lab are punctuality, a willingness to learn, and a respectful, professional attitude. Previous experience with children and families is appreciated, but not required. All lab related skills will be learned through hands on activity.

Restoring a Great but Forgotten Work of Political Theory from the Italian Renaissance | James Hankins (History)

James Hankins, Professor of History and General Editor, I Tatti Renaissance Library

In December 2019 I published a monograph entitled Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (Belknap Press). One of the book’s arguments is that Niccolò Machiavelli is not the only great political theorist of the Italian Renaissance, but that the little-known Francesco Patrizi of Siena (1413-1494) deserves to be considered its most compelling voice of “virtue politics.” Virtue politics is the Renaissance’s more idealistic approach to politics and contrasts with Machiavelli’s amoral realism. There is a lively discussion in modern America right now about the importance of virtue in politics, and it is too bad that Patrizi is not part of that conversation. He has much to offer.

The main reason that Patrizi is not appreciated today is that his political thought is contained in two very long Latin treatises, How to Found a Republic and On Kingship. Neither of these works has been edited in modern times, and neither has been translated into English. Most people who now work in the history of political theory do not read Latin easily, if at all. The best remedy for this situation would be a critical edition and translation of the Latin text, of the kind that we do in the I Tatti Renaissance Library, a series I edit for the Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Renaissance studies center in Italy. However, from long experience I recognize that, even if I could find a qualified classicist interested in the project, it would be at least a decade to prepare an edition and translation of either text.

Fortunately, there is an alternative though less ideal solution to making Patrizi available in English. In the reign of Elizabeth I, a well known translator, Richard Robinson (1544-1603) made an epitome of the more interesting of Patrizi’s works, How to Found a Republic (1465/71). Robinson translated Patrizi’s own presentations of political problems but eliminated most of his classical examples. In other words, the work, entitled A Moral Method of Civil Policy (London, 1576) makes Patrizi’s substantive arguments available, mostly in the form of direct translation of his texts rather than paraphrase.

I am seeking a BLISS fellow to undertake the work of editing Robinson’s English epitome of Patrizi for publication. A scan of the translation made from the only edition of 1576 is available online, on the databasd EEBO (Early English Books Online), but the scan will be unintelligible and unusable to most readers. The project will ask the BLISS fellow to correct the transcription against the printed version (also available online), modernize spelling, capitalization and punctuation, and add explanatory glosses of archaic words and phrases. If there is time, the fellow may also contribute to the identification of classical texts quoted by Patrizi. (See example.)

This project can be done from any computer with an internet connection. I will meet with the BLISS fellow at regular intervals, weekly at first, to discuss problems of transcription and editing. In addition to being among the first modern readers to meet this great political thinker, the BLISS fellow will learn a good deal about Elizabethan English and editorial method. The fellow’s work product, if satisfactory and complete, will be published under her or his name on my personal website, with links from from my site on academia.edu. This will bring it to the attention of most people working in the history of political theory.

If there is time in the BLISS fellow’s schedule after completing this project, I have another project involving Patrizi, involving preparatory work for an edition of a short, unpublished early work by him called How to Conduct a Magistracy (De magistratu gerendo). The project would involve locating manuscripts in catalogues and writing to libraries in Italy to obtain digital copies.

Skills needed
An interest in the history of political thought, attention to detail. A knowledge of Latin would be helpful but is not necessary.

Toward Effective, Accessible, and Personalized Youth Mental Health Care | Weisz, Fitzpatrick, & Evans (Psychology)

John Weisz, Professor of Psychology; Olivia Fitzpatrick, Graduate Student in the Psychology Department; Spencer Evans, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Psychology Department

In recent decades, there have been significant advances in the assessment, prevention, and treatment of mental health problems in children and adolescents (herein “youths”). However, these efforts have failed to expand access to mental health services or to reduce rates of psychopathology among youths on a large scale. Approximately 1 in 4 youths will experience at least one psychiatric disorder—such as depressive, anxiety, and conduct-related disorders—before adulthood, yet 80% of youths in need of services will never receive them. Our lab aims to address this need-to-access gap by understanding which interventions work best and how they can be better streamlined, personalized, and disseminated. We are excited about the possibility of working with a BLISS student in summer 2020 on research directed toward that goal. The student will have the opportunity to be actively involved in five projects, all focused on the goal of understanding and improving mental health care for young people.

Two meta-analyses: (a) impact of treatments using single principles, (b) using outcome studies to improve treatment matching for disruptive youths.
Two of the projects will be meta-analyses—that is, syntheses of large amounts of prior research, to establish what studies have shown, to date, regarding key questions in the field. The process will begin with a systematic search—in which we collaborate with the BLISS student—identifying randomized clinical trials of youth psychotherapies encompassing a range of disorders and mental health problems. The resulting database will be used for two meta-analyses that pool research findings from hundreds of studies, to answer two questions about youth psychotherapy. One of the meta-analyses will ask what are the effects of youth mental health interventions that focus on a single principle of therapeutic change, such as relaxation or cognitive restructuring. The findings will help us learn how much benefit can derive from brief, streamlined psychotherapies, and whether they may be (as some of our preliminary evidence suggests) as effective as the lengthy, complex treatments that are most often delivered in typical mental health care. The second meta-analysis will investigate how effective youth psychotherapies are for conduct-related disorders and problems in young people? Results of this meta-analysis will clarify what interventions are helpful for addressing specific facets of disruptive behavior (e.g., aggressive behavior vs. angry/irritable mood), and the answers will have important implications for efforts to match individual youths to the treatments that fit them best. In assisting with these meta-analyses, students will work closely with the lab mentors to develop and apply relevant search, screening, and coding systems to youth psychotherapy studies, conceptualize meta-analytic research questions, conduct analyses, and present findings in the form of posters and publications.

Three empirical studies: (a) digital single-session intervention, (b) using smartphone EMA to improve treatment, (c) modular treatment in schools.
In addition to the meta-analytic project, students will have the opportunity to assist in conducting two original empirical studies concerning evidence-based assessment, treatment, and service accessibility for youths and families. One study will examine the effects of a digital, single-session intervention for youth anxiety and depression. A second study will investigate whether ecological momentary assessment—very brief surveys completed via smartphone multiple times a day—can enhance assessment and treatment of aggressive behavior among highly irritable youths. The third study will evaluate the effectiveness of a modular psychotherapy for youth with for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, or conduct problems, with the intervention carried out in Boston-area schools. Through these studies, students may acquire a variety of research experiences, including developing a digital intervention, designing a randomized clinical trial, recruiting community participants, conducting study assessments, analyzing study data, and disseminating findings.

We will pursue the mentoring plan we have followed with previous BLISS students, blending individual and group meetings with conference calls and frequent emails. Lab mentors will provide direct guidance and will work actively and closely with students to ensure successful completion of projects and a beneficial professional development experience for the students. For instance, students will meet one-on-one with lab mentors to discuss project progress, as well as how tasks within the projects can be best shaped to meet the students’ ultimate career goals. Exact research experiences, projects, and mentoring plans will be guided by student interests. In addition to gaining valuable hands-on clinical research experience, students will also be encouraged to attend lab meetings and trainings, such as a training of community-based mental health professionals in an evidence-based, modular psychotherapy. All of the technical and professional skills that students will gain with our lab mentorship can serve as an excellent foundation for future independent research projects. This BLISS experience will be especially relevant to students who plan to pursue graduate study in clinical psychology or clinical psychological science. Our lab has sponsored two recent BLISS students. One these students graduated from Harvard in 2019, had multiple publications, received multiple grad school offers, and is now a graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Penn. The other student graduated from Harvard in December, 2019, has multiple publications, and is now receiving offers to interview at multiple prominent PhD programs in clinical psychology.

Skills Needed
The most important attributes students need in our lab are attention to detail, punctuality, and a respectful, professional attitude. All the lab-related skills will be learned through hands-on activity and trainings with the lab mentors. Previous coursework in abnormal/clinical psychology, including a focus on intervention research and statistics would be helpful.

Decision Science Lab Internship | Minson, Iliopoulou, & Leonard

Julia Minson, HKS Associate Professor of Public Policy; Alki Iliopoulou, Lab Director; Brian Leonard, Research Computing Specialist; HDSL researchers

The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory (HDSL) is a university-wide bio-behavioral research facility serving investigators from a variety of disciplines exploring the science of decision making. A research assistant here will get exposure to fields such as behavioral economics, organizational behavior, social and educational psychology. Researchers at Harvard and other universities, ranging from senior faculty to undergraduate researchers, and private/public external organizations use the lab to investigate how emotion, neuroscience, and cognitive processes combine to shape human judgment and decision-making.

In addition to working on Professor Julia Minson's research on judgment, collaboration, and social influence, the BLISS fellow will assist the lab staff with research tasks for other investigators involved in the lab. Day-to-day at HDSL can be very different depending on current needs; the BLISS fellow might be at the front desk checking in and out participants, in a lab room conducting experiments, or helping researchers design and test studies. You will work with experimenters in the conceptualization and design of their experiments; conduct studies designed with MediaLab, z-Tree, E-Prime, MatLab, or Qualtrics; and interact with participants in the lab. Working at HDSL is a unique opportunity to: (1) be exposed to a wide variety of research methods; (2) gain experience in designing, improving, and running effective studies; (3) develop an understanding of current trends and approaches in the behavioral sciences; and (4) apply behavioral science concepts to everyday verbal and written communication, and to projects and processes that promote the growth of the lab.

Skills Needed
Undergraduates from all disciplines are welcome to apply, as we support a diverse pool of investigators. We do recommend that students have taken an introductory course in economics and/or psychology. We are especially excited about applicants with an interest in decision science and an ability to stay organized and collected when asked to multitask on the multitude of research running at our lab.

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

Michele Lamont, Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University; Derek Robey, Doctoral Student in 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 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 (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.

Preparing a Digital Exhibit of Ancient Artifacts | Manuelian, Greene, & Aja (Harvard Semitic Museum)

Peter Der Manuelian, Barbara Bell 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 2020 we would like to expand on the experience gained and turn to two other of our collections: 150 recently acquired small Egyptian objects, and a selection from our world-famous collection of 5,000 inscribed cuneiform tablets excavated at ancient Nuzi in Iraq by a Museum-sponsored expedition in 1927–1931. After scanning the Egyptian objects, a selection of the most interesting and important cuneiform inscriptions (economic texts, business transactions, legal inscriptions) will be made by the NELC Department’s Assyriologists and Harvard Semitic Museum curators. 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.

AM scanning objects

Campaign Promises and Non-electoral Accountability in Mexican Municipalities | Horacio Larreguy (Government)

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.

Literacy, a Response to Adversity | Doris Sommer (AAAS & RLL)

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

Research on human development – in all dimensions – includes literacy as an indicator of crises or advances. As an extension of Professor William Julius Wilson’s multi-year research on “Cumulative Adversity” in Boston, the Pre-Texts teacher training program has begun to respond with an innovative approach to literacy.  Pre-Texts develops 21st Century skills, needed for STEM fields as well as for the “human sciences.” Paradoxically, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication are all skills cultivated in the humanities. We feature these skills in Pre-Texts.

By now, Pre-Texts has launched as a national program in Mexico’s Normal School system, and is being implemented in many other sites, including Boston, through the “Cumulative Adversity” research project.  An undergraduate researcher would greatly contribute to “Pre-Texts’ work toward making civic contributions through basic and advanced public education. During the summer, the BLISS Fellow would:

  • Identify Boston Public Schools that will adopt Pre-Texts as a Professional Development Program for teachers;
  • Participate in summer training sessions with BPS;
  • Investigate points of convergence and divergence with similar pedagogies [Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Dewey, Finland];
  • Update information on Pre-Texts website as evidence for comparative study;
  • Produce an essay on the comparative research.

I will meet with student at least once a week, and daily during training workshops. My assistant and colleague Emilia Pfannl will supervise if I am away during any part of the summer. Emilia currently leads our work as “commissioner” for IOP students; she is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert in the field. Additionally, I will plan skype meetings with the student fellow during any absence.

Among the skills student will acquire are:

  • Research, connecting fields of pedagogy and social development;
  • People skills, as we engage teachers to become facilitators in student-centered learning;
  • Written communication skills, as research is worked into an essay;
  • Organizational skills, to refine design and management of website.

Skills Needed
An ideal candidate will have a strong commitment to public education; enjoy research and writing; appreciate the arts as vehicles for exploring a range of intellectual interests.

China’s Engagement with Africa and the Challenge of Democratic Ideology | David Yang (Economics)

David Yang, Assistant Professor of Economics

Over the last two decades, China has emerged as a major player in trade, foreign direct investment, and aid throughout the African continent. As China rapidly displaces Africa’s traditional partners such as the US and Europe, the Chinese engagement with Africa poses a set of timely and fascinating political economy questions. In this project, we ask: does Chinese involvement in Africa (re)shape locals’ political ideology? Do Chinese projects and China as a role model challenge the perceived conventional wisdom that democracy fosters growth and prosperity?

The primary tasks of the BLISS fellow will involve: (a) collect systematic information on Chinese projects in Africa; (b) use GIS tools to conduct spatial analyses of the projects’ locations; and (c) synthesize surveys and related data on African’s political opinions.

The BLISS fellow and I will have weekly in person meetings when I’m in town, or Skype calls if I travel. 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 ArcGIS or similar GIS software are highly desirable. Completion of an introductory statistics or econometrics course is preferred.

Language Acquisition | Jesse Snedeker (Psychology)

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.

Does Debate Participation Matter? | Raffler & Larreguy (Government)

Pia Raffler, Assistant Professor of Government; Horacio Larreguy, Associate 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 are in the process of constructing 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. So far, 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 prepare the data for analysis and 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 have collected most if not all of the data for the project and will largely focus on data analysis. As mentioned above, a team of research assistants is putting together a unified database of debate participation, polling data, and election results in all 37 countries which have held presidential debates in Africa and Latin America since 1990. We may want to complement this dataset with more Twitter data to obtain more fine-grained measures of sentiments. The undergraduate student will then mostly perform econometric analysis of this data implementing difference-in-differences and, in the case of sharp eligibility cutoffs, 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 research 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.

Internship at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics | Danielle Allen (Government)

Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; DKP Team and NEP Team


The Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP)

  • What are teacher and student experiences in delivering a year-long 8th grade civics curriculum in Massachusetts?
  • 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? And how can it be more strongly aligned?
  • How might new forms of K-12 assessments better capture and drive civic knowledge, skills and dispositions?
  • How can teacher and student experiences implementing student led civics projects in high school be measured?

Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics is seeking undergraduates to work on 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. The center's 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 implementation and redesign of that course. We are redesigning curricula and resources, assessment instruments to support instructional practice, and professional development and instructional support 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 join our team to synthesize information on state standards and active learning pedagogy best practices; (2) a fellow to join our team working with data collected from school districts on curriculum implementation, student learning and professional development/instructional supports; (3) a fellow to join our team to work on measurement and assessment tool development.

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.

National Ethics Project

  • Where and how is ethics taught to undergraduates, within and beyond the classroom? What trends exist in adoptions of ethics courses, degrees, and initiatives?
  • What ethical quandaries do students express that they face or care about?
  • 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?
  • To what degree are current opportunities for ethics education aligned with student needs and institutional goals?
  • 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?

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics is offering an undergraduate research opportunity which will focus on the primary activities of archival and survey research, evaluation, and writing. This project would offer the student a chance to work with research staff under the supervision of University Professor Danielle Allen, as well as with other researcher partners at Stanford University, DePauw University, and the University of South Florida.

This summer, we will partner with ethics faculty members at various institutions of higher education to collect data on instructors' learning goals and implicit learning theories. 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 on assessment-related topics in ethics education. The student researcher(s) will also assist with designing and developing 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. We would work with the researcher(s) to identify how their projects and interests connect to our national project on ethics pedagogy being conducted, in part, by the Center. Although the student(s) will be supervised, they will have freedom to develop a research project in line with their own interests.

Skills Needed
Any student with a background in education, philosophy, ethics, history, literature, government, gender studies, 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 assessment 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.

Understanding Understandings: Inferences About Gender and Gender Differences | Nicole Noll (WGS & Psych)

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?
  • 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 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 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.

(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?