Current Project Descriptions

All projects have been posted!
(As of Feb 1, 2022)

Please note: All students must be in residence (in the designated Harvard House) for the entire summer. However, different projects anticipate a different mix of in-person and online/remote work and project team meetings, depending on the needs of the research, the locations of all the project team members, the availability of resources, and so forth. The fact that much of the work can or will be done remotely on some projects is not meant to imply that the student fellow(s) can live off-campus or otherwise be absent from the Research Village community.

Can Democracies Build Infrastructure? | Alisha Holland (GOVT)


Alisha HollandAssociate Professor of Government


Can democracies build infrastructure? Conventional wisdom is that the short election calendars in democracies lead politicians to invest little in infrastructure. Large projects take years, if not decades, to complete. Many democracies also allow citizens to participate in infrastructure decisions and contest their local impacts, generating delays and even veto points. Yet many democracies do manage to build large infrastructure projects, and expenditures have been on the rise in much of the developing world. What institutions lead to the successful prioritization and completion of infrastructure projects? When do countries build infrastructure projects that citizens want? And what are the political rewards for investing in infrastructure? My book project seeks to answer these questions through case studies of large infrastructure projects in Latin American countries that vary in their institutional structures and through quantitative analyses of cross-national contracting, public opinion, and expenditure data.

I hope that a research assistant will assist with the cleaning and analysis of a global dataset on infrastructure contracts. The data set contains information on the timing and completion of public-private partnership contracts, which will allow us to quantify differences in the level and timing of spending on infrastructure projects in democracies and non democracies. For instance, we will look at whether democracies tend to assign infrastructure contracts just prior to elections and whether participatory mechanisms slow the award or completion of infrastructure projects. I also hope that a research assistant will help to code and analyze qualitative data from interviews with investors on the perception of infrastructure projects in Latin American democracies.

Although I will be based in Latin America for field research for much of the summer, I will meet with the student on a weekly basis to outline the primary task for each week. We will then communicate by email, text, or Slack for smaller questions as the work progresses each week. I do expect to be on campus occasionally to meet with the student. The student will learn how to develop and test hypotheses, how to manage databases and document their coding decisions, and how to integrate qualitative and quantitive data into a research project. The experience should provide the student with a taste of academic research and improve their research analysis skills.

Skills Needed

The ideal RA will have working knowledge of Stata (preferably) or R. Some Spanish also is helpful.

Language Acquisition | Jesse Snedeker (PSYC)


Jesse Snedeker, Professor of Psychology
Briony Waite, Lab Manager


Interns in the Snedeker lab will be working in-person.

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 meaning.

Our approach to these questions is experimental and developmental. We use methods such as: EEG (measuring the electricity generated by the brain); eyetracking (monitoring children’s gaze patterns to infer what they are thinking); and behavioral experiments with a wide range of populations and languages.

BLISS fellows will be given the opportunity to work on one of several projects investigating how children acquire and process language. 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.

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


Kosuke Imai, Professor of Government and of Statistics


The project will involve both in-person and online components.

The Algorithm-Assisted Redistricting Methodology (ALARM) Project is a research team at Harvard University led by Kosuke Imai. The investigators conduct research into redistricting sampling algorithms, best practices and workflows for redistricting analysis, and tools to visualize, explore, and understand redistricting plans. Learn more on the project website at Over the course of the summer the student will learn how to use simulation algorithms to evaluate a redistricting plan and then analyze a few states. The student will be part of my larger research group and participate in weekly research meetings and receive feedback from me and other research group members. Last year's BLISS student stayed on the research project after the summer, and so that's an option too.

Skills Needed

The student should be proficient in R and should also know basic probability and statistics. The student should be passionate about politics too!

What are infants and children thinking and how are they learning? | Elizabeth Spelke (PSYC)


Elizabeth Spelke, Marshall L. Berkman Professor of Psychology
Cristina Sarmiento, Lab Manager


The Spelke Lab will be hosting a hybrid (in-person and remote) summer internship. Currently, all our study sessions are held on Zoom.

The Spelke Lab conducts research in developmental cognitive science with infants and children and investigates the development of perception and knowledge of objects and their motions, agents and their actions, people and their social engagements, number, geometry, and formal mathematics.

Research assistants work in the lab for 20-35 hours per week. Throughout the summer, students have the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of research topics within the cognitive sciences and attend professional development workshops. Research assistants will be responsible for:

  • recruiting and scheduling infant and child participants and their families
  • assisting lab researchers in testing infants and children
  • interacting with families who participate in remote study sessions
  • coding infant looking time responses and toddler behavioral responses
  • working with grad students/postdocs to complete tasks specific to their research
  • analyzing data

Students may also have the opportunity to assist in designing of new studies. An interest in and ability to work with young children is essential, and previous experience is a plus.

Additionally, each student is paired with a grad student or postdoc in the lab to focus on one topic in depth. Students will always be supervised by the lab manager and/or mentor. Students will have weekly check-in meetings with the lab manager and will meet with their mentor weekly, or more frequently on an as-needed basis.

Skills Needed

An interest in working with infants and children.

US Party Organizations in a Polarizing Era: State Party Chairs, 1980-2022 | Theda Skocpol (GOVT/SOCI)


Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology
Kirsten Walters, PhD Candidate in Government
Ben TerMaat, PhD Candidate in Social Policy


This project will be conducted through a mix of in-person and virtual meetings. The BLISS fellow will have access to on-campus office space for the duration of the program.

Political scientists have developed rigorous theories to explain how US political parties act in Congress and influence voters’ electoral choices. Less well understood, however, is how parties function as organizations and sets of institutional rules. This project aims to break new empirical and theoretical ground by taking seriously this organizational conception of parties, focusing specifically on state parties, which are not often studied but are critical nodes of authority and resource deployment within the US electoral college and federal system. Using newly assembled data on party chair transitions across all states from 1980 to the present, coupled with close case studies of key states, we examine the following research questions: How have state party organizations changed as national politics become increasingly polarized? Of most contemporary relevance, how can we situate Trump-era changes in party structure against the backdrop of earlier transformations in party rules and personnel?

The primary task for the research assistant will be collecting information about state-level party chairs – including the dates they assumed and left office, their career lines before and after holding office, and their connections with interest groups and social movements. This will involve using historical newspaper databases, such as NexisUni, to collect press releases and biographical information, as well as supplementing this material with additional archived sources from the Internet Wayback Machine. The research assistant may also assist with coding state party platforms. This task involves tracking the policy issues addressed by each platform and comparing the stances taken on particular issues by platforms across states, parties, and years.

The student will gain insight into the process of conducting social scientific research using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The student will also learn specific approaches and tools for conducting research that they can apply to their own work (including, but not limited to, using the Internet Wayback Machine and NexisUni, and mapping and plotting descriptive data in R). Kirsten Walters and Ben TerMaat, the graduate students working on this project with Professor Theda Skocpol, will take primary responsibility for supervising the research assistant, meeting with the research assistant a few times each week to check in as well as being available via email to answer any questions.

Skills Needed

No specific requirements, beyond an interest in the material. Experience with conducting original research (e.g., having written a term paper for a social science course) is a plus, as is having taken courses about American politics and/or political parties.

Advancing equity and family engagement in K-12 in-school civic learning | Katie Giles (E. J. Safra Ctr for Ethics)


Katie Giles, Strategic Initiatives Project Officer, Democratic Knowledge Project (Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics)


We anticipate that a summer fellowship will be a hybrid mix of in-person and remote, depending on university guidance. The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (EJSCE) typically has a mix of team members working in person or remotely on any given day (when able to based on university policies). Members of the Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP) initiative team have all been in person at least a couple days a week when able according to University guidance. Project meetings are a mix of remote and in-person depending on the day and team member participation.

The EJSCE is currently seeking BLISS Fellows to support a major initiative, the Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP), seeking to renew K-12 civic education. The DKP offers curriculum development resources, professional development workshops for educators, and assessment tools and resources—all in support of education for constitutional democracy. Dr. Carrie James, Research Associate and Principal Investigator at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is leading two of DKP’s major research efforts: 1) a design-based implementation research study of a year-long 8th grade civics curriculum and related professional development supports, as well as a new study seeking to a) integrate a stronger, intentional, and more explicit focus on equity across all strands of DKP work; and (b) expand and increase the effectiveness of an engagement program with school/district administrators/leaders and families in the diverse communities where our curriculum is being implemented. With this project, we seek to explore questions such as which aspects of the curriculum land more easily or present greater challenges and why for students? What do students wish parents understood about what they are learning in the civics classroom and what do students wish their teachers understood about their parents’ conception of civic issues? On the family engagement side, we will explore questions such as what does civics mean to parents/guardians? What do they see as the role/responsibility of K12 schools in preparing students to participate in their communities and in democracy?

We anticipate that the student will be participating in our research project focused on equity and family engagement. One of the key components of that project involves youth engagement, through a youth advisory board and related research. We anticipate the student will be working with the research team to help co-construct facilitation guides for convenings of that group, co-facilitation of meetings and post-meeting research note synthesis. We anticipate the student will conduct literature reviews related to this work, collect data related to youth participation in the advisory board and prepare a report/memo regarding those activities and themes emerging from that work.

Professor Nien-he Hsieh, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, is the current Acting Faculty Director of the EJSCE. The DKP is part of a consortium of ethics and civic education initiatives at Harvard called the Design Studio at the EJSCE. The Design Studio is led by Dr. Meira Levinson, faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and EJSCE faculty committee member. The DKP is administratively led by Katie Giles (Project Officer). Successful completion of the BLISS fellow’s project will be fostered primarily by the DKP’s research staff (including Dr. Carrie James, DKP Director of Design Based Implementation Research, a post-doctoral fellow, and a research assistant staff member), with administrative and operational support from Ms. Giles. We anticipate the student will participate in dedicated weekly meetings, team work meetings, and other consultations as needed; the student and project team members will communicate frequently over email and instant messaging platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Slack) to answer questions as they arise. Our goal is to involve the student so that they are able to achieve an overall view of the DKP’s work and the frameworks, principles, and methods that guide us. We anticipate that project onboarding will include discussion about the goals of the DKP broadly and the equity and engagement research project specifically, as well as the methods and theories underlying this work. The student will gain experience working as part of an interdisciplinary team that works in close collaboration with K-12 educator partners. We aim for the student to learn not only about specific research related to K-12 civic education, equity perspectives, youth engagement and family engagement, but also about general research processes like literature reviews, collecting and analyzing qualitative research, and writing up and presenting findings. The student will be provided with desk space at the Center.

Skills Needed

We seek BLISS Fellows with knowledge of, and interest in, any of the following areas: K-12 education (particularly with regards to social studies, history and civics) and research; US government; youth engagement, group facilitation; qualitative research methods; curriculum writing/development. An ideal candidate will have experience working with youth ages 12-15, be comfortable working in Google Suite, have good attention to detail, and be highly organized.

American Communities Computable Newspaper Database | Melissa Dell (ECON)


Melissa Dell, Andrew E. Furer Professor of Economics


Interactions with the larger project team will be via Zoom (not everyone is in Cambridge), but there will be opportunities for in-person interactions with pre-docs/PI in Cambridge.

We have developed a deep learning pipeline to extract structured text from over 50 million page scans drawn from over 10,000 historical U.S. newspapers (1880-1978). We are now using cutting edge NLP methods to understand what content different newspapers printed, the sources they used (i.e. locally generated versus newswire or syndicated content), the sentiment of their coverage, and what factors influenced the choice of content and its sentiment. Specific topics examined currently include the drivers of anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War and how a deadly vaccine accident in the 1950s influenced sentiment towards vaccination and public health more generally.

Working with the PI/pre-doctoral fellow to build out a full deep learning pipeline to analyze newspaper sentiment across time on a topic of mutual interest. This entails compiling data necessary to train an NLP model, validating results, and doing visualizations and statistical analyses of the output. The PI and fellow will work together to identify a public policy topic that received substantial media coverage across space and time, that is feasible to quantify, and that is of mutual interest.

The student will join weekly group meetings with the entire team, including the PI, and will give a brief presentation at these meetings on a weekly basis. The student will also receive daily feedback from the PI and/or a predoctoral fellow on a short written report of daily progress. The predoctoral fellow mentor will help the student troubleshoot and acquire the needed skills to implement a topic/sentiment analysis pipeline.

Skills Needed

Knowledge of Python and R. Strong interest in using quantitative methods, including those drawn from deep learning, to shed new light on fundamental social science questions.

The Amendments: Rewriting the Constitution | Jill Lepore (HIST)


Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History, and Affiliate Professor of Law


Work will be in person as possible this summer, but with some remote components.

The Amendments: Rewriting the Constitution
I’m working on a long-term data collection and data analysis project on the history of efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution. Since the constitution was drafted in 1787, citizens and members of Congress have proposed more than fourteen thousand amendments. (Only thirty-three have been sent to the states and only twenty-seven ratified.) This summer’s stage of the project will involve research in large, digitized historical archives, searching for proposed amendments, as well as data analysis and research into specific amendment proposals and the process they underwent. The student(s) would join an existing undergraduate research team that will meet together with me, in person or by Zoom, once a week, to assess work and decide on new directions, etc. The project website is

Skills Needed

Coursework in U.S. history & government is helpful and coursework or experience in data science projects, including working in R and Tableau and related programs, is strongly preferred.

The Gender and Race of Armed Self-Defense | Caroline Light (SWGS)


Caroline Light, Historian and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Program in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality


Given the US’s growing support for civilian “gun rights” (21 states now allow permitless or “Constitutional” carry) 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 to consider that women who defend themselves and their children from their largest statistical threat – their own abusive spouses, boyfriends, and exes – are often treated by the criminal justice system as criminals rather than “law-abiding” citizens. Currently, there is very 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 use firearms to defend 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 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 Center for Justice and Equity (TCJE); the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS); and the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), and the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. 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 large 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) or “stand your ground” laws. 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 may meet weekly to check in and share our findings.

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. 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.

Inferences About Gender and Gender Differences | Nicole Noll (PSYC/SWGS)


Nicole NollSenior Preceptor in Psychology


“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:

  • 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?
  • Are body postures and styles of movement related to individuals’ perceptions of their own gender and that of other people?
  • What does the process of gender identity development look like for individuals who identify as nonbinary?
  • Does the type of explanation given for a gender difference in an illness influence a reader's future decision-making and/or behavior related to that illness?
  • Do the inferences people make about scientific findings about sex/gender differences vary based on how the data are represented visually?

BLISS fellows will have the opportunity to work on one of several current projects and will get experience with multiple stages of the research process, such as 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 working with an existing dataset. The remaining lab hours will be devoted to tasks such as meetings, conducting literature reviews, developing experimental materials and protocols, or entering/coding/analyzing data.

At the beginning of the summer we will meet to establish a foundational understanding of the project(s), 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, follow-through, proactive communication, 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.

Improving the Effectiveness of Youth Mental Health Care | John Weisz (PSYC)


John Weisz, Professor of Psychology
Olivia Fitzpatrick, Doctoral Candidate in the Psychology Department


In recent decades, there have been major advances in the assessment, prevention, and treatment of mental health challenges in children and adolescents (herein “youths”). However, these efforts have not markedly reduced rates of psychopathology among youths on a large scale. Indeed, approximately 1 in 4 youths will experience at least one psychiatric disorder—such as depressive, anxiety, and conduct-related disorders—before adulthood, and these rates have not considerably changed over the years. With this in mind, our lab aims to explore methods for improving the effectiveness of youth psychotherapies, with a recent focus on finding ways to optimize decision-making by the clinicians who treat young people.

We hope to better understand, and ultimately improve clinical decision-making, through a large-scale project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This project is designed to examine shared decision-making (SDM)— a method that prioritizes active collaboration and power-sharing among clinicians and families during treatment planning processes—through a series of studies leveraging a variety of methodologies. These studies include (1) a comprehensive scoping review designed to identify key principles and components of SDM in youth psychotherapy, existing measures of SDM in mental health care, and ways to adapt these measures for assessing SDM in youth psychotherapy, (2) the development, refinement, and application of decision-making tools intended to help clinicians select treatment approaches according to client-reported data, and (3) the development and application of an observational coding system designed to capture SDM in youth psychotherapy sessions recorded as part of a randomized effectiveness trial in community clinics.

We are excited by the possibility that a BLISS student might participate in each of these studies, and especially #3, which will involve training a team of coders in how to apply the coding system to session recordings. Through this project, the BLISS student would have a unique opportunity to play a key role in the development of a new measure, engaging with real psychotherapy session recordings, and developing skills as a research coordinator (e.g., coordinating comprehensive training of the coding team). The BLISS student will be encouraged to identify pieces of this project that are most interesting to them to pursue for their final project, and opportunities to be involved with data analysis and manuscript development will be offered, as appropriate

Our lab has proudly sponsored numerous BLISS students across recent years. Two of these students graduated in 2019 and are now doctoral students at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University, and a third BLISS fellow graduated in 2021 and is now a post-baccalaureate clinical research coordinator at Yale University. Our most recent BLISS fellow completed the program in summer 2021 and is currently completing their undergraduate degree. All of these fellows have maintained a relationship with the lab following the completion of their fellowship for professional development purposes and to support in manuscript preparation. Collectively, these mentees have published N=37 articles in collaboration with our lab, with many more in preparation.

A BLISS fellow will be primarily supervised by Olivia Fitzpatrick, who will provide individualized and detailed training in lab-related skills. Olivia has considerable experience mentoring students. Previous mentees have described her as “inspiring, compassionate, committed, and genuinely dedicated to empowering those around her” and “empathetic, flexible, and genuine,” as well as that she “treats mentorship as a partnership.” Olivia is dedicated to cultivating an enriching environment for students that allows them to gain valuable technical skills, as well as explore research interests and professional goals. To that end, mentorship involves working together to establish team structures that best support the student’s learning style (e.g., meeting frequency, communication of task instructions, hard vs. soft deadlines, etc.), regular opportunities for bidirectional feedback, and actively supporting the advancement of the student’s career.

Skills Needed

This BLISS experience will be especially relevant to students who plan to pursue graduate study in clinical psychology. Students are most likely to thrive in our lab when they prioritize kindness and collaboration, attention to detail, reliability, and a genuine willingness to learn. Previous coursework in clinical psychology and/or research methods may be helpful but is not required.

Abstract Thought in Humans | Susan Carey (PSYC)


Susan CareyHenry A. Morss, Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Psychology


We study the human capacity for abstract conceptual thought. We currently have two different research thrusts:

  • Q1. How does the capacity for abstract, language-like, combinatorial thought arise in human development. For example, does it depend upon learning language? Does it involve the type of theory change that can be seen in the history of science?
  • Q2. What is the role of executive functions (cognitive control, inhibition, working memory—many frontal lobe functions) in the acquisition of concepts and theories?

BLISS fellows are mentored by Professor Carey and a graduate student or postdoc. They master the relevant background literature, participate in the design of new studies, learn all aspects of running the study, code and analyze the data, and use the data to adjudicate between theoretically important hypotheses. They are part of a larger internship program in the Carey and Snedeker labs, involving undergraduates and recent graduates from all over the country, and they participate in reading groups and activities for the whole internship program. More information on this program can be found here.

The ultimate goal of the internship is to engage students in bringing empirical data to bear on theoretically important issues. This experience will help inform students’ career choices (e.g., does the intern want to become a research scientist, and if so, are the questions within cognitive science of interest?). It will also support the intern's developing critical thinking skills.

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

Skills Needed

The ideal candidate should have experience working with children and families. Prior coursework in cognitive science (e.g., psychology, linguistics, etc.) is also important. Lab members are expected to be responsible, industrious, collaborative, resourceful, and professional.

Republicans & COVID: How Do Facts & Experiences Connect to Partisanship & Commitments? | Jennifer Hochschild (GOVT/AAAS)


Jennifer Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government; Professor of African and African American Studies
David Beavers, PhD Candidate in Government
Kirsten Walters, PhD Candidate in Government


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

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

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

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

Skills Needed

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

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


Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government


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

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

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

Skills Needed

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

Capital Punishment in Central Europe | Alison Frank Johnson (HIST/DGLL)


Alison Frank Johnson, Professor of History


The research may require occasional visits to a Harvard library, but most of it can be done from any location the student chooses. Mentorship and check-in meetings with me can occur either in-person or remotely, as is most convenient and as best matches the prevailing public health context.

Between 1848 and 1918, capital punishment was legal in the Habsburg Monarchy, but it was almost never used. What convinced the people who administered and ruled the empire that a prison term was almost always a more fitting punishment for murder, treason, and other capital crimes, than execution?

The student will do research into individual murder cases and their press coverage. The student will help me create a database of known cases, based on archival research I have already done. The student will look for and read newspaper articles, some secondary sources, where available. The student will be actively engaged in historical research, together with me.

I will stay in touch with the student through zoom or in-person meetings (at least once a week) as well as by email and text, if the student prefers text over email. The student's work will be incorporated into my book project, and so we will discuss on a regular basis what historical questions arise from the work the student is doing. So, for example, if the student reads Hungarian, I might ask the student to find Hungarian press coverage of a murder case, conviction, and/or execution that occurred in Hungary. If they find that the press compares this case to another -- I might ask them to look into that case. If the information in the press coverage differs from the information in the archive, we might brainstorm what additional information we could seek to help us decide which account we believe. As patterns evolve or questions emerge, the research will move in new directions. The student will learn how archival-based research works.

Skills Needed

The student should have some experience with historical research so that they can follow rigorous standards for noting source citations. Students must be able to read one of the following languages (or more, but really only one is necessary and any one of these will do): German, Hungarian, Polish, Bosnian/Croatian, Italian, Czech.

Digitally Mapping the Creation and Movement of Ancient Wealth | Michael McCormick (HIST)


Michael McCormick, Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History


Treasure buried beneath the land and lost under the sea offers incredible insights into the production and distribution of wealth in ancient and medieval societies. In this Science of the Human Past project, students will work with the SoHP team to develop existing geodatabases documenting the ancient and medieval extraction, transport and distribution of wealth from ancient mines and newly discovered shipwrecks. This will be done in the framework of Mapping Past Societies (MAPS), a Harvard-created digital resource which allows innovative spatial and temporal analyses of world civilizations from 1500 BCE to the present. As part of this unique summer project, you will be involved in mapping all ancient lead, silver, tin and copper mines documented archaeologically or historically. As such, you will learn about Harvard’s historical ice core project, which analyzes the anthropogenic atmospheric pollution records trapped in glacial ice recovered from the Swiss Alps and which allows unparalleled access to changes in human-climate interactions and metal production over the past 2000+ years. You will have the opportunity to learn how the Science of the Human Past team uses and constructs its geodatabases, in combination with the most advanced scientific ice core analyses, to make revolutionary new discoveries about ancient Mediterranean economic patterns and structures. Additionally, as part of our work on recent shipwreck discoveries, you will also have the opportunity to learn to use basic archaeological and historical databases of secondary sources, collecting information into a database (incorporating additional shipwreck databases not yet resourced, or printed collections and newly discovered shipwrecks) – both building on our existing research for Mediterranean-area shipwrecks, and additionally expanding the reach outside the Mediterranean.

By crossing disciplines and embracing innovation, this project pushes the boundaries of convention as it relates data from the social sciences and humanities to allow undergraduate researchers to reveal undiscovered facets of the human past. Students who contribute substantially to each database will be cited as co-authors of digital dataset releases as well as, potentially, research publications. The project will improve the contributor’s skills in data science, Geographic Information Systems (GIS, the technology behind all digital maps), and management of “big data,” to reveal revolutionary insights into the distribution of wealth and the economic trends that shaped the ancient world and which define ours.

Reading historical sources and literature and translating them into data that computers and mapping software can understand. Locating unknown sites on maps and atlases. Deep reading of texts to understand overall context and meaning of historical circumstances in which documents were produced. Producing digital maps of mines, shipwrecks, and other forms of wealth. Reading scholarly research in history, archaeology, and several other disciplines and translating that information into maps or databases for additional research applications.

Selected student will meet weekly with faculty leads, and keep in touch with leadership team via Slack or email. Assignments will be made via Zoom tutorial. You will learn the basics of GIS software and how to build digital maps, either through a direct initial overview or via training offered by the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis (or both, depending on CGA’s schedule). You will also learn how to create databases, how to coordinate work in a sizeable team, how to quality-check and deliver a finished, reliable research dataset. If warranted, you will be asked to develop basic analysis queries through GIS or other software that can reveal hidden patterns in big-data. Selected student may receive ongoing guidance when needed through email or Slack.

Skills Needed

The successful candidate will have familiarity with Microsoft Excel, PDFs, and will be able to learn quickly how to use Google Translate. Familiarity with foreign languages (German, Latin, French, Greek, or Arabic) is a plus but not required. Familiarity with GIS, Python, R, or other statistical software desirable but not at all required. Prior coursework in history or archaeology a plus, but not a pre-requisite. Discipline, enthusiasm and enjoyment of a team environment working closely with senior researchers is essential.

The Role of Emotion During Information-seeking Under Uncertainty | Elizabeth Phelps (PSYC)


Elizabeth Phelps, Pershing Square Professor of Human Neuroscience
Haoxue Fan, Doctoral candidate


This project will be mostly in person since we expect to collect in-person experiment data and hope that the student could benefit from daily communication with other lab members. That said, there exists some flexibility in the amount of time onsite when the student is not actively collecting data.

When facing uncertain situations (e.g. told by the doctor that you need a medical test; the first day of undergraduate), people sometimes choose to seek more information (e.g. google about their disease; reach out to seniors to chat) to learn more while other times they shut themselves off and avoid information How and why do people make these decisions? What is the role of emotion in this process?

The general purpose of this project is to better understand people’s emotional responses when facing uncertain situations and how these emotion responses relate to information-seeking behavior. Specifically, we ask questions like: what are the subjective and physiological emotional reactions (e.g. subjective fear; physiological arousal) when facing different kinds of uncertainty? How do emotional reactions influence the amount of information they seek and the information source they turn to? What are the emotional reactions after information is sought?

The students will take part in every step of the whole research process, including conducting literature reviews, reading and synthesizing research papers, designing experiments, coding and running the experiments (potentially including collecting physiological data such as pupil diameter), analyzing the data, interpreting the results and deriving new hypotheses. At the end of the summer, the student will present the project in the lab meeting and receive feedback from lab members.

The students will take part in every step of the whole research process, including conducting literature reviews, reading and synthesizing research papers, designing experiments, coding and running the experiments (potentially including collecting physiological data such as pupil diameter), analyzing the data, interpreting the results and deriving new hypotheses. At the end of the summer, the student will present the project in the lab meeting and receive feedback from lab members.

Skills Needed

We are looking for someone that is motivated to learn, with good communication skills and is passionate about science. Specifically, the prerequisites for this project are (1) at least one introductory course in psychology (e.g. PSY15) (2) basic knowledge of statistics (e.g. what a linear regression is) (3) some familiarization with programming languages (one of R/Matlab/Python, ideally also javascript. We are also open to candidates who are comfortable with other programming languages and are confident in their skills). Having taken any class on decision-making is a plus (e.g. psych/econ electives) but not required.

Urban and Housing Policy in the United States | Winnie van Dijk (ECON)


Winnie van Dijk, Assistant Professor of Economics


We will have in-person meetings at least weekly to discuss progress, and more often as needed.

You will work on projects related to urban and housing policy in the US. For example, you may work on a project studying the long-run impact of government policies encouraging homeownership on homeowners and their families using historical data from the US Census. Or you may work on a project about America’s landlords and the supply of rental housing, for which we will use administrative data. You will also interact with the graduate students working with me on these questions.

Depending on your skills and interests, tasks may include data cleaning, plotting and regression in R, and searching for data sources and related literature. The exact tasks will depend on your interest and on the timing of the project progress.

Students working with me will learn about doing empirical research on social policy. They will learn about national, state and local housing policy history, and how we can use historical policy changes to study policies of present-day relevance. They will work with me and one of my graduate students directly, and will receive frequent feedback on their work. We will stay in touch via Slack and in-person meetings. Students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

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.

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


Adaner Usmani, Assistant Professor of Sociology


American mass incarceration is one of the major social problems of our times. The United States incarcerates more people than perhaps any other country in world history except for Stalin's Soviet Union. Those it incarcerates are disproportionately likely to be poor and nonwhite.

Scholars have offered various compelling explanations for American mass incarceration, but one of the weaknesses of most work on punishment is that it seeks to understand America by studying just America.

This project seeks to bring comparative and historical perspective to the study of the American carceral state. We aim to gather several kinds of historical data on punishment, policing and violence in other countries (with a focus on other advanced capitalist countries and Latin America).

The RA will be responsible for collecting these data, which will involve reading and transcribing archival documents, trawling for new sources online, maintaining an existing database, emailing scholars in the field, and more. This continues research done by other RA's over the past two years, so there is a lot to do and a lot to build on. You'll be joining a team of RA's from Harvard and the University of Chicago, as well as some independent scholars.

I will ask that you write weekly summaries of what you have done. You will also meet once weekly with me and the rest of the research team. We will be having weekly check-ins as a research team. The BLISS RA and I will also meet occasionally to make sure all is going well. You will end the semester with experience building a big dataset from a patchwork of sometimes inconsistent archival sources. We will also talk regularly about how to use these data to test arguments about punishment and policing.

Skills Needed

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

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


Michèle Lamont, Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies; Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies


This project will be a mix of online/remote and in-person activities.

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

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

A BLISS Fellow would help me with finalizing the book (bibliography, checking footnotes, etc.) and perform content analysis of interviews for future projects using the same data. The Fellow would learn basic qualitative research methods, particularly concerning coding, and would also develop their organizational/analytical and synthetic skills as well as how learning how to position an argument in conversation with the scientific literature. I will be supervising the student work in collaboration with a graduate student and in the context of regular team meetings.

Skills Needed

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

BLISS Independent Research

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

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

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

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

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

Research Mentor Confirmation Letter

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

Instructions for mentors

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

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