Research Spotlights

Chelsea, Hannah, and Jason are three of 31 undergraduates awarded fellowships in the summer of 2020 for their research. For additional stories, read about recent partnerships in Social Sciences.

Chengrui (Chelsea) Wu, ’22

Chengrui (Chelsea) WuMajor: Psychology & Education
Minor: East Asian Studies
Project Title: The Mediating Effect of Dependent Stress Frequency and Perceived Controllability on the Relationship Between EF and Internalizing Psychopathology
Faculty Mentor: Hannah Snyder, Assistant Professor of Psychology
Funding: Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice Fellowship

About the project: The COVID-19 pandemic has added many new stressors to a college student’s daily life. Chelsea notes that “previous research has found that dependent (self-generated) stress and the perceived controllability of stress play potent roles in the development of internalizing psychopathology” such as anxiety, health anxiety, or depression. Her research project, in collaboration with other researchers, examines potential associations between Executive Function (EF) performance and depression, general anxiety, and health anxiety in a population of more than 150 Brandeis undergraduates, who were recruited through Brandeis-related pages on social media platforms. Chelsea will continue with data collection and analysis during this academic year.

Personal reflection: This summer, Chelsea gained experience conducting a literature review and working as part of a collaborative research team. She advises new undergraduate researchers that “always staying positive” helped her address challenges.

Hannah BenDavid, ’22

Hannah BenDavidMajor: Neuroscience
Minor: French
Project Title: Sleep disruption in SHANK3 knockout mice
Faculty Mentor: Gina Turrigiano, Joseph Levitan Professor of Vision Science
Funding: Provost’s Undergraduate Research Summer Research Award

About the project: Hannah responded to travel restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with resilience and positivity. She had arranged a collaboration with a research group at Humboldt University in Germany to image live neurons using cutting-edge techniques. When it became apparent that travel would not be possible, she consulted with her faculty mentor, Professor Turrigiano, and shifted to a new remote research project. For this project, Hannah used a behavioral tracking program and computational approach to investigate the role of a specific neuronal protein in the sleep-wake cycle of mice, a model organism used to study human diseases. Mutations in this protein in humans are associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, which are typified by abnormal sleep. Hannah will continue her research this academic year.

Personal reflection: Hannah “would advise anyone working on independent research to recognize that setbacks and troubleshooting are a core part of research” and that “knowing when to ask for help is extremely important.” She appreciates the mentoring she received from her faculty and graduate student research mentors.

Jason Frank, ’22

Jason FrankRead in BrandeisNOW about Jason Frank, ’22, and his inquiries on “why there are no famous gay comedians.”

Recent Research Partnerships

The Western Jihadism Project (WJP)

Jytte Klausen launched the Western Jihadism Project (WJP) to support research on terror networks. Over the past 20 years, she has engaged over 80 student researchers. Yujiao “Sue” Su ’19, led peer researchers and contributed findings to WJP from her senior research thesis. Yujiao considers herself fortunate to have had Professor Klausen as a mentor who taught her the value of research. Building on their experience, WJP research alums have gone on to prestigious positions such as intelligence analyst with the New York Police Department and member of the UN Steering Committee for the Global Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

The BiRCh Project

Sophia Malamud Associate Professor of Linguistics, Irina Dubinia Associate Professor of Russian and Director of the Russian Language Program, Benjamin Rozonoyer ‘20, Ruth Rosenblum ‘22, and also Maria Shaposhnikova ‘18 and Yan Shneyderman ‘18 are building an annotated corpus of audio recordings of Russian-speaking children and their parents (the BiRCh project). The dataset includes audio of families from Russia and Ukraine, as well as the US, Canada, and Germany (where the language the children speak at home differs from the one they will speak at school). From the recordings they create transcripts, which are then separated into segments and annotated for morphological and syntactic features. The goal is to build a full, publicly accessible corpus of audio-aligned transcripts of spoken Russian with detailed linguistic annotation, that could then be used to conduct linguistic studies about the acquisition of language by children who grow up bilingual (speaking Russian at home and a different language at school). While undergraduates at Brandeis, Masha and Yan became co-authors on a study of discourse markers using the BiRCh data. Benjamin wrote a program to perform the first steps of syntactic analysis as part of a class project, and is currently an active researcher in the syntactic analysis team.  Ruth is also involved with the morphological annotation team and hopes to work on syntactic analysis as well in the future.


African Migrant Research Project

Elenah Uretsky, Assistant Professor of International and Global Studies, is collaborating with undergraduates on the African Migrant Research Project focusing on African migrants and their lives in Guangzhou, China: 

The students were tasked to go through the transcribed interviews that were conducted with the migrants in Guangzhou. They analyzed each transcription to find/ “code” based on recurring themes, such as the importance of religion, access to healthcare, and community support, in order to then condense their analysis with quotes.

 “I've been able to really explore more aspects of the major and choose electives that interest me. Something that I have really begun to enjoy is when I am making connections between classes and when they click with regards to real-world situations. The ability to apply information that I am learning in classes (such as migration theory from my class POL 134 about the GLobal Migration Crisis) and applying it and making connections to real-world examples of African migrants in China.” 

-Kate Ross ‘21, International and Global Studies major with triple minors in East Asian Studies, Economics, and Health: Science Society and Policy. 

“This project is incredibly rewarding in many ways! It is interesting to learn about the lives of these migrants and how they are adapting to life away from home. It is interesting to read their views on how they fit into society, what their future goals are, and various other aspects of their lives. I also enjoy the data analysis because I think it is more engaging than quantitative analysis in the sense that every new interview is a whole different story, but it is still challenging because I have to pay attention to very minute details (such as the tone of one's interview) that may not be very obvious. I've really enjoyed watching my analytical skills grow, and I am incredibly excited to see where my peers and I can take this project with Professor Uretsky's guidance.

I definitely feel like the greatest challenges in obtaining research projects is gathering the courage to email a professor about their work, and asking for positions. There is a huge mentality that professors are always busy and that email response rates are low. My suggestion is to email professors asking to come into their open office hours and have an in-person conversation with them! ”

 -Nabeeha Haq ‘22, HSSP and Biology major, on the pre-med track.  

Research on DARPA

Aldo Musacchio, Professor of Business, worked with Aseem Kumar (Schiff Fellow, ‘19) on a project of how innovations financed by the US government as part of the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) promote not only innovations in the US, but also on how similar innovations, in the form of patents, spring up in China, South Korea and Japan. Aseem found that after a new call for projects is launched in the United States by DARPA, patents on those specific topics spring up in these Asian countries. Together with Debarshi Nandy, Rosenberg Professor of Global Finance at IBS, they are working with Aria Pradhan ‘22, to understand how the background of project managers at DARPA affect the types of innovations this agency finances.   

Researching Urban Agriculture Organizations

Sara Shostak (Associate Professor of Sociology & HSSP) and Tamar Harrison (HSSP ‘20) have been collaborating on a project that aims to to support urban agriculture organizations by providing tools and resources for evaluation that reflect their missions of advancing community resilience, equity, social justice, and environmental stewardship.  As a research assistant on this Merck Family Fund supported project, Tamar has been gathering data on the social determinants of health, food access, and health outcomes in neighborhoods of Boston and Springfield, MA, as well as coding data from in-depth interviews that Sara conducted last summer.  In the coming month, in response to a request from one of our community partners, the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, Tamar will be conducting interviews with elders who participate in an exercise and nutrition program at the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm in Mattapan. We plan to co-author a paper based on our collaborative work.

Gender and Early Political Socialization Project

Jill Greenlee (Associate Professor, Politics and WGS) worked with Joanne Carminucci (’19), Daniella (Dani) Michanie (’19), Matthew Schattner (’18), Julianna Scionti (’19), and Linda Wang (’19) on the Gender and Early Political Socialization Project, a multi-university collaboration that examined the political attitudes of children. Greenlee and her colleagues collected original data to investigate how young children come to understand politics as a masculine domain, with the hope of uncovering some of the roots of gender differences among adults that scholars have long observed with regard to levels of political interest, political ambition, and political knowledge. Greenlee and her team of undergraduate research assistants collected data from children in three Boston area elementary and middle schools, built a database from the surveys, and conducted a content analysis of drawings produced by the children. This data collection effort was time intensive and attention to detail was critical. Joanne, Dani, Matthew, Julianna, and Linda were essential for the success of the Boston-based data collection and helped to build the largest (to-date) database ofchildren’s political attitudes in the U.S. (with more than 1,600 respondents).

Successful Aging’s Global Moment: Visions and Dilemmas of Aging Well
Sarah Lamb (Professor of Anthropology and WGS) has been working this Spring 2020 semester with five undergraduates on her Carnegie-funded anthropology research project on “Successful Aging’s Global Moment: Visions and Dilemmas of Aging Well.” Lamb and her students are engaging in interviews and some participant observation research with Boston-area older people, while the students are also gaining skills in transcribing and qualitative data analysis. Emanating from North America and spreading around the globe, successful aging envisions postponing or even eliminating the negatives of old age by medical intervention and individual effort. On the face of it, this is an appealing notion. At the same time, the successful aging movement exports a deeply American cultural discomfort with oldness and human conditions of frailty, (inter)dependence, vulnerability, and transience—in ways that both undermine other cultural paradigms of aging and obscure social inequalities. Lamb and her students are talking with a range of older people to gain their own experiences and perspectives on aging, while concentrating this semester on both whether people believe they can control their own health, and the roles religion and beliefs about life after death (or their absence) play in people’s aging experiences. The students working on the project are: Ji Chen, Izzy Hochman, Xinbei Lin, Gabriela Mendoza, and Tirtza Schram. The students are each enrolled in a two-credit ANTH 95 Anthropology Research Lab class, and some are also doing additional work as paid Research Assistants.