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Get Involved

The University of Southern California, Dornsife College, and the School of International Relations recognize the importance of opportunities for students to work closely with faculty. Partnerships between faculty and students are a hallmark of the USC undergraduate experience and the opportunities for undergraduate research experience at USC are unrivaled at other large research universities. It is through these partnerships that students learn the nuts and bolts of how knowledge is created. They learn by failing. They learn by eventual success. Participating first-hand in producing knowledge, rather than just consuming it, better equips students for success in a competitive job market where innovation and knowledge production are highly prized.

The SPEC Lab conducts interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research on issues at the intersection of climate change, security, and economic development. These research projects provide opportunities for undergraduate students to develop data science and other research skills and apply them directly to the policy challenges facing national governments and international institutions.

Applications for the Fall 2022 Semester 

Applications for the Fall Semester are closed

The Lab will be Not be accepting new applicants for the spring 2022 semester

Check out the Research page to learn more about the projects that are currently hiring Research Assistants!

Qualifications & Expectations:

If you are interested in the substance of the lab and the training we provide, please do not hesitate to apply, regardless of your technical toolkit (or current lack thereof). If you are in your first or second year and are considering waiting to apply until you have taken more classes and are more qualified, don't wait! We'll train you.

If you want to increase your chances of being hired by the lab, especially if you weren't accepted the first time you applied, click here to see how you can develop skills for the SPEC lab (or any research group!) 


  • We like to see students work on a project from conception to completion, therefore, we like to recruit first and second year students who will integrate the SPEC Lab into the duration of their USC undergraduate career. 

  • The most important traits we look for in hiring are professionalism, reliability, ability to set and meet deadlines independently, and attention to detail.

  • The lab focuses on providing students with applied data science training, but no stats knowledge is required of entering members.

  • We welcome applicants from a range of different majors. Skills and interests other than social and data science that are particularly useful include computer science and programming, web design, video production, journalism (writing), and online marketing. 

  • SPEC Lab is committed to recruiting and developing the best talent. Toward that end we put particular emphasis on recruiting an intellectually diverse team that includes students from a range of backgrounds including first-generation college students and members of underrepresented minorities.

  • We also value recruiting first and second-year students who may remain in the lab for multiple years (though we still welcome applications from more senior students).


  • Summer REU program hours are full-time 30 hours per week M-F for 8 weeks

    • Students attend daily team meetings​

    • Students attend weekly trainings, workshops, and professional speaker series

  • Regular academic year schedule requires 80 hours per semester (average 5-8 hrs per week)

    • Students attend weekly team meetings ​

    • Students attend occasional all-lab meetings

The collaborative lab format has students working in teams generally comprised of 3-9 undergraduates, a faculty or doctoral candidate Principal Investigator (the person whose project it is), and an undergraduate team lead. More details on the summer REU program can be found here.

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