The Security and Political Economy (SPEC) Lab at the University of Southern California is welcoming
applications from current undergraduate students for an 8-week intensive summer research and training
program in summer 2021. The program includes training in research methods and work as a research
assistant on faculty-led projects related to the political economy of security. The program is funded by the
National Science Foundation and all participants will receive free housing on the USC campus, travel
reimbursement, and a stipend. If the COVID-19 situation prevents in-person programming, we will
conduct the program remotely.
The SPEC Lab SRE runs from June 7-August 6, 2021. Students will be expected to work 30 hours per
week in the lab, inclusive of hours spent in formal trainings.
An unprecedented level of economic interdependence complicates development of any U.S. strategy for
competition with rivals like China or Russia. This heightened economic interdependence between allies
and competitors alike both shapes the costs of military conflict and makes available new tools of
economic statecraft and coercion. Equipping future scholars to both understand the economic dynamics
that drive conflict and propose solutions is critical for pursuing US national interests in an era of
economic interdependence. The SPEC Lab will provide ten undergraduates per year with an 8-week
summer research experience (SRE), where they will engage in graduate-level research on the political
economy of international security and attend weekly workshops in research design, data science, and
Each SRE participant will contribute to one of several ongoing research projects. Among the projects
expected to be ongoing in Summer 2021: 1) The creation and analysis of disaggregated, network-based
measures of economic interdependence and the identification of exploitable asymmetries in dependence;
2) An analysis of states’ ability to employ military coercion for economic gain, including by means short
of outright conquest; and 3) analysis linking the local effects of climate change and environmental
degradation to societal conflict including protests, riots, and war. Other projects are likely to be added to
this list and REU students may also have the opportunity to contribute to our “Consulting for Social
Change” team, which provides pro-bono, research-focused consulting services to NGOs, including the
National Foster Youth Institute and the Law Enforcement Work Inquiry System (LEWIS registry).
In addition to their research work, SRE participants will complete formal trainings in research design and
applied data science. They will also participate in professional development programming aiming to
prepare students for doctoral programs in the social sciences and careers as social scientists more broadly.
Students will be expected to work 30 hours per week in the lab, inclusive of hours spent in formal trainings.
Qualifications and Application Procedures
Prior research experience is not required for participation. However, we hope to prioritize participation by
students who intend to pursue research careers in the social sciences. We expect that most participants
will be rising juniors or rising seniors. We also particularly welcome applications from first-generation
college students, minority students, and other students from under-represented groups. Due to constraints on NSF funding, participation is limited to US citizens and legal permanent residents.
Application Due Date: February 21, 2021