I organize a regular undergraduate research team. Below I try to answer some frequently asked questions.
Do students get paid to participate?
I typically have the resources to pay for one EXCEL Scholar, who also serves as Project Manager, and, depending on the year, an additional research assistant. The RA funding is highly variable and depends on my success applying to outside grants in the prior academic year. Most students on the team are volunteers.
If I don’t get paid, why should I participate?
Honestly, I recommend you look for something that pays you or will directly lead to a job out of college. Try to snag a paid internship in your preferred line of work if you can swing it. My goal is to have students work as full co-authors and collaborators (conditional on the time they can commit to the project), but you should seriously consider what the best use of the summer would be at this point in your academic career.
Two types of students are typically a good fit. First, students that are interested in graduate school (particularly Ph.D. programs) or pursuing an honors thesis will benefit from getting some real research experience. Second, students might be interested in doing some research if they have a hard time lining up their preferred internship and want to build up their resume while they work another summer job.
We also spend a lot of time talking through professional development questions, and everyone on the Gov Lab team will have free access to a premium subscription to DataCamp for several months.
Wait, what is DataCamp?
DataCamp is an online platform for learning programming languages. We’ll focus on R, which is free and widely used in the data science communities. Whenever possible, I will try to secure a free DataCamp premium membership (which otherwise runs about $29/month) for a six-month period. You are welcome, but not required, to develop this skill set with the rest of the group. Think of it as a reading group for data science skills.
Do I have to live in Easton over the summer if I do this?
Nope. With the exception of EXCEL Scholars, you can do all work remotely. We will have regular meetings/check-ins, but all can be done online or over the phone. In-person meetings are certainly welcome, and we’ll grab lunch as a team a few times over the summer.
What is the research topic?
In general, we will tackle a research question that I am already working on, as that tends to produce the quickest results. Most of my research is on American party factions and legislative politics. Right now we’re working on a new survey of American party leaders and a student-led project on candidate recruitment.
What kind of work would I actually do on a day-to-day basis?
We’ll work as a team to try to draft a publication-worthy scholarly article. Your tasks will reflect both the nature of the research question and your own skill set. Most students will help with data entry/cleaning as this tends to be a time-consuming part of any research project. Others will draft annotated bibliographies, interview relevant political actors, and analyze data in R. Advanced students can, under certain conditions, fully coordinate a research project.
Are there any requirements (skills, courses, etc.)?
Not at this time, although my EXCEL Scholars will need to have a basic understanding of quantitative methods and causal inference. In the future, I’ll likely recruit from my Political Analysis class whenever possible, and all members of the Gov Lab will need to commit at least a few hours per week to a project (which hours are up to you) and attend regular check-ins.
Anything else I should know?
We have a pretty robust logistical infrastructure to try to keep us on point. We will communicate primarily through a Discord channel, have mandatory weekly meetings, and a regular check-in system using Google Sheets.
I’ve read all of this. I think I want to join the team. What next?
First, I’d sleep on it. For most of you, this is unpaid labor outside what is likely to be your future profession. Make sure this is the best option available to you right now before you dive in, and really consider if you will consistently be able to contribute a few hours per week to a project.
Still interested? Drop me an email, and let’s set up a time to chat.