Past Spotlights

URCC Undergraduate Assistant Natasha Chaiyarat ‘22 interviewed two undergraduate students (Erin Magill and Ruth Rosenblum) on their research at Brandeis for the May 2021 issue of the URCC Newsletter. The interviews are provided below.
Erin Magill

Photo of Erin MagillChaiyarat: My name is Natasha and I'm a junior. I work with the Undergraduate Research and Creative Collaborations Office and this interview is to just get an understanding of your undergraduate research experience. What is your subject of research and what made you interested in research in the first place?

Magill: We [the research group] started with helping build a linguistic corpus, which is the DID recordings of children who speak Russian- growing up in Russian speaking households, but in the United States, Germany and in Russia- and then transcribing all of that speech, and then annotating it for linguistic information. So, anybody can then- once it's published- use this corpus to do research on Russian and language acquisition, bilingual language acquisition. The way I started with it was this summer by working as an annotator doing segmentation on the data where I was listening to the recordings and reading the transcripts and essentially breaking it up into sentences so that people can search the corpus when it's published and get the data in the right units. The segments that I was making are what you will end up searching for and getting a relevant amount of language.

Chaiyarat: How did you get interested in this topic?...Are you a major in Linguistics?

Magill: Yeah I love Linguistics and French and Francophone studies, but I've also taken Russian. I'm hoping to minor in that and so I ended up working for the project because I was asked by Professor Malamud, who's a Linguistics professor and Professor Dubinina, a Russian professor… I had both of them in class and they were looking for people who had a background in Linguistics and also spoke Russian.

The amount of Russian I spoke when I started working on the project was small. I had taken a year Russian classes, so I was quite a bit intimidated by the idea of working in a Russian-speaking environment, but I'm sure I was slower than other people doing segmentation; I was managing to at least understand.

Chaiyarat: That's awesome. If you could just talk a little bit more about your relationship with your mentors? You said that when you were dealing with the Russian it was kind of nerve wracking a little bit, so how did you maneuver your experience and how did your mentors help you?

Magill: First, I think they both were more confident about my ability to do the work in Russian then I was myself. So, I got the instructions about what I was supposed to do, and I was like, it was so far over my head in my opinion. I was overwhelmed and I was also thinking, if Professor Dubinina and Professor Malamud think I can do this, I must be able to.

Chaiyarat: I would like to talk more about- you mentioned that it's a group thing. Like you have two mentors, you have another person working, so how is that? What is the dynamic like working on a group research effort?

Magill: When we were building the corpus we're all doing the same annotation job. So, we would have a meeting once a week to meet and go through what questions we had, talked about it with Professor Malamud, and now we still have weekly meetings. But the three of us each have our own separate topic that we're learning about. I'm learning about the way that children make requests in different languages, and how requests are made in different languages, and then how children start learning to make requests- especially in Russian. I've been looking at the Russian equivalent of the word, “please”. And then Ruth [Rosenblum] is looking at passes, which I’m sure she'll talk more about, and Keren is looking at gender and case acquisition. So, the three of us are all doing really different areas of linguistics that have to do with Russian language acquisition.

Then once a week we get together and take turns presenting what we've learned about and then discussing it. So, we're all involved in each other's research projects in the way that- we're seeing the presentations and are there for the discussions, so we have some idea of what everybody else is working on.

Chaiyarat: Could you reflect on the research, like the process so far, what would you say has been the greatest advantage and the biggest challenge that you've experienced while working on this?

Magill: The biggest challenge is definitely not being fluent in Russian. So, one of the big things I've learned is how to operate in our Russian-speaking environment. Also, I have learned from the research part of it how to critically read studies that other people have done and think about, not just what can this teach me but also what other questions it raises that haven't been answered: How can it be improved upon? How can we use the data we now have to get a better answer to a question?

Chaiyarat: You've definitely developed more avenues of problem solving different perspectives and techniques. Did you receive any type of funding or grants for your project?

Magill: Yeah, I'm in the research experience for undergraduates, I know the corpus building project, and the two professors, got a grant to get undergraduates involved.

Chaiyarat: Is there anything else you want to say about your experience, if you have any advice for students?

Magill: I didn't realize I was doing this when I started college, but I took a lot of classes in my linguistics major in freshman and sophomore year and that I realized later that it allowed me to do things like research as an upperclassman. I already quickly got that background, instead of waiting until I was an upperclassman to take classes, that you would need to do research for.


Ruth Rosenblum

Chaiyarat: My name is Natasha and I'm a junior. I work with the Undergraduate Research and Creative Collaborations Office and this interview is to just get an understanding of your undergraduate research experience. Could you give me information about what your academic project is and the research or creative questions that you're exploring?

Rosenblum: The project is a linguistics project and it has sort of two parts. So first we're just building a corpus of speech…The goal is to build a one-million word corpus and annotate with different linguistic information. We were doing morphological imitation and syntactic annotation, things like that. And then, once that corpus is built, it can basically be used to do different sorts of research on the Internet. Like anyone interested in Russian child speech or like Russian acquisition or things like that or comparing modeling will to bilingual acquisition could use it to do that research on it. Now that the corpus- parts of it-are built in, parts of it are very close to being finished, we're starting to do our own research on it. My group has undergrads that are working on this project, each person is doing their own research. Specifically, I’m doing research about the acquisition of passive constructions in Russian. And the goal is to compare how multilingual kids that grow up only speaking Russian acquire assets to help them speak Russian and German, and in English, like kids that grow up in English-speaking, German-speaking countries.

Chaiyarat: What sparked your interest in linguistics research?

Rosenblum: I took a couple of classes in Linguistics and thought it was really cool. I didn't think I was going to do Linguistics before college. I thought I was going to do Math and Computer Science and then I took a Linguistics class, and it was really interesting. I started exploring Linguistics and General Intro core classes. Also, just because the project requires knowledge of Russian- or at least the part I'm doing requires knowledge of Russian- when I took a Russian class at Brandeis the professor, who is also working on the projects, asked me if I would like to participate and that seemed really interesting.

Chaiyarat: This wasn't something that you actively pursued? It was an opportunity that came to you?

Rosenblum: Yeah, I knew both professors; one is the Linguistics professor and one is the Russian professor and can you believe it, I have some experience in Linguistics and some experience in Russian, and that's why they asked.

Chaiyarat: How did you find out about opportunities for undergraduates to do research? I know you mentioned they scouted you, but how did you get started with the whole research process?

Rosenblum: I think in the very beginning, I was just doing annotation and so I didn't even know that I was going to work on it for a long time. It was just kind of like; we need people to do annotations that know Russian basically. Then I think, so the grant for specifically undergraduate research, which is when we started doing our own research on projects and that was this year. I think that's pretty much it…

Chaiyarat: That makes total sense. Were you always interested in research, apart from linguistics? Was that something that kind of interested you?

Rosenblum: Yeah, I started working on this and the middle of freshman year, I think. So, I think I was definitely interested in it, but wasn't thinking specifically about opportunities yet. Definitely when they told me about it, I thought it was really cool, in part because they wanted to do research that's cool.

Chaiyarat: [How is] your relationship with your mentor and how are the dynamic is between you guys.

Rosenblum: I really liked my mentor. I really enjoy working on the projects with her; I took two classes, I think three. I'm taking one class with her now so three in total. I think part of the reason that I agreed to the project and I'm enjoying the project is because I really liked her as a professor, and I'd known her before that. That helped…The dynamic, I think, is pretty casual, like a lot of the meetings we have. All the people that are working on the project and some of them are not Brandeis students…so it's a very diverse group of people, I guess, because English-speaking people and Russian-speaking people and people in the Ukraine and students in the US and all these people working together and, yeah, I think it makes the dynamic a lot less formal, I feel like, then if it was just a professor and student.

Chaiyarat: What were some challenges or obstacles that you face during the process and, if you could talk about how you overcame them, that'd be really cool.

Rosenblum: Yeah, I think one thing that could be difficult for not even just me specifically, but the group in general, would be communication and organization. Because as I said, a lot of people are in different countries and speak different languages. Just the fact that we need to meet with 15 people every week can be hard because it could be hard to find a time for everyone to meet…I guess another thing is, people are just willing to meet at difficult times, too. For example, people in California meet at six in the morning and other people meet at midnight and make accommodations for the time…

Chaiyarat: Can you talk about who you got guidance or inspiration from?

Rosenblum: Yeah, the professors- both the professors that lead that were guiding and helping me know what to do and where the project is going and what they might be doing in the future. But yeah that was helpful.

Chaiyarat: I was just wondering if you received any type of funding for this project? That can include grants or fellowships or paid research assistant positions, anything.

Rosenblum: This was a paid research assistant position. So, I specifically didn't get a grant but the professor got a grant that she used for undergraduate research…it was an NSF grant I think…Then they got a grant or supplements to the grants that were specifically for undergraduate research and so that was used.

Chaiyarat: As we start to close, I was just wondering if you maybe had any advice for other undergraduates who don't know if research is something that they want to pursue, or what advice would you have for them?

Rosenblum: I guess talk to professors that you like, and chances are they're doing research that is interesting and especially if it's in the subject that you're studying in your major…They're definitely always really happy to talk about what they do so, it could just be like: hey, are there any positions in your lab and what would that involve? I think that that has worked for a few people in different departments, I think that would be something to do.

Chaiyarat: [Is there] anything else that you kind of want to highlight that I didn't mention from your experience?

Rosenblum: There's a lot of directions to go in, even if you're working on just one project, which was something that was interesting and surprising to me because I thought- when I started working on this project- I thought I would basically be doing the same thing I'm doing until I'm done working on it, which hasn't been the case at all. I switched three times between doing pretty different things, from just annotation to coding computer programs to actual research and reading literature about it. It depends on the project, but often there are very different parts of the project that you could be working on depending on what experience you have. That was really cool and something I really liked about the experience.


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

Derron Wallace has been involved in a very exciting research project with the Boston Public Schools that included a number of undergraduate and graduate research assistants.  I quote him in his discussion of the project and its outcomes: “With a team of eight students, (including 3 graduate students and 5 undergraduates--most of whom were first-generation college students), we analyzed survey responses from 17,000 BPS families. We coded and analyzed all the survey responses, produced a policy report and made a formal presentation of our findings to BPS, which the Superintendent and her senior cabinet (including the Assistant Superintendent for Equity) reviewed and incorporated in their final plans. By all the reports, the project assisted BPS in sharpening its focus on racial equity as part of the planning process for school reopening efforts. We are delighted that this project was impactful for BPS. I am also pleased that the research proved meaningful for our students...the doctoral, master's and undergraduate students on the project appreciated this research opportunity a great deal. The project was also beneficial for other students at Brandeis, as the research team made presentations about schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic in my Sociology of Education and Critical Perspectives in Urban Education courses this semester. This helped more students to learn about Boston Public Schools, the challenges school districts across the country are contending with, and the relationship between educational policies and public health policies.”

Jewish Education Research Lab

Ziva Hassenfeld’s new Jewish Education Research Lab, housed at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, is currently employing four undergraduates and plans to hire two to three more next semester with awarded Norman Funds. These students are conducting qualitative social scientific research related to a number of Professor Hassenfeld’s ongoing projects, including “Children and Text Study During Emergency Remote Learning” and “Children Reading Biblical Joseph.

Education Program Research Assistance

Program affiliate Jonathan Krasner has involved four undergraduate students and one graduate student from the Hornstein Program in his historical research projects on Jewish Day School history and research connected to his recent publication Hebrew Infusion.  

Joseph Reimer also employed an undergraduate research assistant in his research on Jewish summer camps.

Leah Gordon employed one Brandeis undergraduate student last summer to conduct historical research for her book project Imagining Opportunity: Education and Equality in Modern America and will use Norman funds to employ two more in the coming year.

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.