Month: May 2014

The Beginning: Students Discuss Their Research Projects

In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.

For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit

What I’m doing over the summer – Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

Minnar Xie

As the semester winds down I am more and more excited about summer starting. My thesis began last semester (though I didn’t know it then) as a final paper for a class I took with Judith Schachter entitled “Trafficking Persons.” I wrote this really long 30-page paper and by the end of it I still somehow felt like I had only just begun to scratch the surface of what I wanted to know. I have since been itching to delve back into the literature as well as continue spending time talking and asking questions to Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh.

My first plan of order after finals are over is to read Michael Hutt’s wonderful book Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood, and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. I have it currently checked out on interlibrary loan and I hope to be getting a copy soon with the help of the fellowship’s research funds. I have been waiting to read this book since I started to really look into the history of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees last semester. Honestly, when I’ve been too exhausted to think about or work on my classwork this semester, I’ll sit in bed a read a couple page of Michael Hutt’s book and it makes me invigorated again. He is, from my understanding right now, the only researcher to have published a book about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee situation and probably the most extensive researcher about Bhutanese/Nepali refugees. From my preliminary research, the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees are really not written about or researched as much as other refugee populations (ie: the Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, etc). Part of that owes to Bhutan’s opaqueness when it comes to research and public records (Michael Hutt wasn’t ever able to visit Bhutan himself, and had his visa denied twice!), and part of it is probably international attention drawn to more war-torn and devastating refugee crises.

I have also been really looking forward to reconnecting to Bhim and Yadhu, two Bhutanese/Nepali refugees who are students at the University of Pittsburgh. They have been so instrumental in inspiring my research, providing direction both in terms of feedback as well as just conversing with me about their lives. They are both excited for me to be doing research about their community and that is incredibly encouraging. It has been difficult for me to overcome the awkwardness of doing research about a community that I care so much for on a personal level, especially since this project forces me to bridge my relationships from that of a volunteer teacher to someone who has some kind of other motive as a researcher. I’ve talked about this with my project advisor and professor Judith Schachter, and it seems to be that this is a dilemma that all cultural anthropologists encounter and never fully get over. But, nothing is more reassuring than hearing positive feedback from members of the community like Bhim and Yadhu. My hope in the first 4 weeks is to meet with them at least twice for extensive conversations, and to set up lunch or coffee meetings with as many of their friends as possible. In my head I can probably prattle off at least 10 Bhutanese/Nepali refugee youth I hope to speak to as soon as I get the chance.

In my head I am constantly orchestrating possibilities and thinking about contacts I have in Pittsburgh to gather another perspective in my fieldwork. I hope to eventually meet with people from a number of Pittsburgh area organizations that work directly to benefit Bhutanese/Nepali refugees (ie: Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which offers free ESL classes to refugees in Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Heath Center, the primary health clinic for refugee clients in Pittsburgh; and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the largest resettlement agency for Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh). At this stage of research however, I hope to focus mostly on the way that history and international organizations has written about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees, as well as conversations with Bhutanese/Nepali refugees themselves.

I am so excited and ready for summer to begin! As a Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student with an additional major in Human-Computer Interaction, my experiences over the summer have been really diverse and different from what I envision this one to be. I spent the summer after my freshman year doing two part-time internships, one at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the other as a visual display intern at the Anthropologie store near my house. Both experiences taught me a lot about the world of what it means to be a working artist, but in two very different contexts: a non-profit, experimental gallery and a retail setting. Last summer I took a Chinese language course at a community college and had a part-time internship at UCLA in their Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP) Center. I was working on their Google glass team, prototyping a non-linear, audio-based storytelling experience for Google glass. What excites me more than anything else this summer is the chance to really focus on understanding and contributing to other people’s understanding of a group of people in Pittsburgh who have truly changed my life. There are pockets of people in Pittsburgh who really know a lot about the refugee population here, but on the whole they aren’t known about or are misunderstood in some way. Ultimately I hope that my research this summer and through the next year contributes meaningfully to bring awareness to both the humanity and the complexity of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee population here in Pittsburgh.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects

What I’m doing this summer – Christophe Combemale

combemale image

The poster I used to present my research project at the Heart of the Matter event on Monday April 21.

Christophe Combemale

Christophe Combemale

I undertake this summer phase of my Senior Honors thesis with great enthusiasm (and an appropriate measure of trepidation) at the prospect of work largely novel to my undergraduate experience. While I have already conducted historical research and presented my results in an academic forum, the interdisciplinary reach of this project demands an altogether different appreciation for scale.

My anticipated work will combine a thorough analysis of historiography, assembled this semester in preparation for the more dedicated nature of the formal project. I will combine this segment with direct historical analysis supplemented by the statistical excavation of empirical trends in my period of study, oriented toward the theoretical formulation of the relationship between state and society in achieving practical legitimacy. The ambition of the project gives me great cause consider the value of this early summer start.

In order to achieve the intended features of my thesis, I will divide the overarching process into distinct but by no means independent stages. Though I will characterize them by a certain preliminary ordering, the elements of this progression are not necessarily linear, and they may develop in parallel rather than in strict sequence.

As an immediate continuation of the preparatory work I began upon receiving this Fellowship, I will refine my understanding of modern academic perspectives on the reign of Francis I to best situate the historical dimension of my thesis in identifying its most substantive implications for current understanding of the period. My research to date reveals a strongly biographical tendency in the historiography, entirely expected given the intensely personal nature of governance in Early Modern France.

This feature of the period influenced my own decision to use the reign of Francis I as the focus of my analysis of the mechanisms of state legitimacy, using the lengthy continuity of the personality (Francis ruled for 32 years) presiding over the Kingdom of France to properly account for the variations of character which naturally affect the direction and functionality of the state. In a sense, I will both internalize the characteristics of Francis and other dominant domestic and foreign figures affecting his Kingdom as providing the motives which drive high-level state policy (either proactively or in response to pressure on these personal interests) and “reduce” them to more closely analyze the general mechanisms of state operation in evidence.

The advantages of my chosen period bring me to the next facet of my summer tasks. The increasingly sophisticated and centralized state of Francis’s France provides ample primary sources in the form of official records, some available by order from the French Bibliothèque Nationale and others directly online from academic databases. A record of the royal treasury during the period and a collection of every royal edict issued by Francis I are among the most promising examples; in the first weeks of my summer thesis work, I intend to conduct a statistical analysis of the data provided by these sources to evaluate the relationship between the quantitative dimensions of treasury income and allocation and the categorical incidence of royal edicts.

The statistical component of the project will provide a dimension of empirical rigor with which to enrich the conclusions enabled by other primary sources, such as Francis’s prolific letters (with which I intend to construct an evolving image of his motives as a ruler) and the valuable chronicles of the diplomatic meetings which profoundly marked the monarch’s foreign policy. These materials will provide the core of the historical stage of my thesis, and the last essential part of the first weeks of my summer work. I will begin research under the Honors Fellowship shortly after the end of my final exams, and my anticipation grows each day.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects

What I’m doing over the summer – One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

One Hyuk (John) Ra

Over the summer, I will continue to recruit and interview participants until 50 older adults have been interviewed in total. Then, I will run preliminary analyses on the data acquired from this first set of interviews. I will also develop and implement a procedure to code the volunteer responses in preparation for in-depth analyses (e.g., categorizing the responses). All of this will contribute to the design of the second interviews. Toward the end of the summer, I will begin the second set of interviews (of the same people from the first interviews) and write the introduction to my Honors Thesis; to accomplish this, I will further research the existing literature pertaining to the effects of volunteering and social participation/interactions on health outcomes, specifically cognitive functioning.

Since the first four weeks of the summer will be primarily spent finishing up the interviews and running preliminary analyses on the data, the only physical resource I will work with is the interview room. In terms of personnel, the participants could be considered a resource, as well as my advisor, Dr. Vicki Helgeson.

Regarding the summer work, I am most excited about being able to focus on my research without having to balance it with the stresses of academic coursework.

As I get started, I am somewhat anxious about the preliminary data findings. I know it will only be correlational data, but I’m afraid to see no positive correlation between time spent volunteering and greater health outcomes (cognitive functioning, specifically).

This summer’s work will be different than any of my previous experiences at Carnegie Mellon University. This is the first major independent research project I have undertaken as an undergraduate. Again, I have not been able to focus completely on research without having to worry about academics, so this summer fellowship is most different in this regard.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects

What I’m doing this summer – Jaclyn Ross

Jaclyn Ross

Jaclyn Ross

I am so honored and ecstatic to be developing my research in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship program. I am very excited to see my project come to life this summer. Thus far, it has only been an idea that I formulated based on my past experience within the Relationships Lab as well as my examination of the past literature regarding romantic conflict and power dynamics. I am looking forward to viewing the conflict interactions and systematically coding the couple member’s behaviors. I am thrilled that I will soon be able to see people’s tendencies and behaviors during these conflict discussions.

Throughout this summer, I plan to run my experiment using roughly 50 couples in order to complete the data collection phase of my research project. I am also planning to use this summer to code the videotaped conflict discussions. Finally, I will be completing the simple data entry for the systematic coding of conflict behaviors. If I am able to run all 50 couples in a reasonable amount of time, I will also begin my statistical analyses of the data. I will be using the facilities and technological resources of the CMU Relationships Lab in order to run the experiment and perform the subsequent coding.

Despite my enthusiasm, I do have a few anxieties as well. I am nervous that some participants may not take the conflict discussion seriously, and therefore, not participate fully, which would compromise my data. I am contemplating adjusting the protocol of the experiment in order to emphasize the significance of fully participating in the conflict discussion. I am also a bit anxious about performing the statistical analyses of my data, assuming there is time this summer to begin doing so. I definitely need to refine my skills while working with SPSS. However, I think performing the statistical analyses for my research will provide me with a wonderful opportunity for growth. Working so intensely with SPSS will make me a stronger and more skillful researcher.

I am so excited to take on a very hands-on, managerial role this summer. During my past experiences at CMU, I have completed tasks I was assigned without a very deep knowledge of the research. For instance, in the Relationships Lab, coders can only know certain details about the research in order to remain unbiased while coding. During my research project, I will be completely knowledgeable and informed throughout the whole process, which will allow me to have a greater appreciation for the procedure and results. It will be very exciting to have a research project that is entirely my own. I am so excited to be the expert on my research, who can direct and lead others in helping me carry out my research goals. This will be the most hands-on research experience I have ever had, and I could not be more excited. Finally, it will be an invaluable experience to see a research project through from start to finish. I am so excited to be involved the data collection phase all the way to the results analyses phase.

Click here to support these and future Dietrich Honors Research Projects.