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.
NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates
For each of the next three summers, the SPEC Lab will be hosting an 8-week intensive research training program for non-USC undergraduates. 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.
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 interest 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 professional development.
Each SRE participant will contribute to one of four interrelated research projects: 1) the use of human-guided machine learning to produce a granular new dataset of global power projection actions; 2) the creation and analysis of disaggregated, network-based measures of economic interdependence and the identification of exploitable asymmetries in dependence; 3) analysis of states’ ability to employ military coercion for economic gain, including by means short of outright conquest; and 4) analysis linking the local effects of climate change and environmental degradation to societal conflict including protests, riots, and war.
The SPEC Lab SRE runs from June 1-July 24 2020. 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.
Review of applications is rolling with a final deadline of February 22, 2020. Please download our application here.
The SPEC Lab is hiring students interested in the following projects for Summer 2020 to complement our REU program. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until April 15th.
RESOURCE CURSE TEAM works with Professor Markowitz and Professor Becker on a qualitative replication study of Michael Ross’ seminal paper assessing the connection between natural resources and civil war. Their paper uses information from thirteen cases to uncover the mechanisms that connect natural resource wealth to the onset, severity, and duration of civil wars. The Resource Curse Team is engaged in the extension of their initial investigation. They are finding additional cases and determining the prevalence of various mechanisms connecting natural resources and conflict.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY DATA RESOURCE works with Professor Graham on the update and extension of an existing dataset which has merged together variables from 89 IPE data sources into a single dataset, increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of data management errors.
EDUCATION, CONFLICT & AID ALLOCATION TEAM works with SPEC Lab Director & PhD Student Alix Ziff on the preliminary phases of data collection for a project assessing access to education in conflict-affected areas. The emergent field of Education in Emergencies (EiE) sits at the intersection of development aid and humanitarian aid. These EiE interventions carry in location, scale, collaboration and purpose. Therefore, it is difficult to determine where, when and with whom EiE actors work. This project aims to map out the sector in order to determine where there are concentrations of aid, where there are gaps, and in what conflict-affected areas children are being left behind.
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).
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!)