Social Sciences Spotlight: Research Compilation

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Morgan McMains, Sid Richardson College ‘24

“When I came to Rice, I wasn’t too sure of my future plans, so I decided to get involved in research experiences that interested me to see where they would take me.”

My name is Morgan McMains, and I’m a senior undergraduate student from Austin double-majoring in sociology and social policy analysis. When I came to Rice, I wasn’t too sure of my future plans, so I decided to get involved in research experiences that interested me to see where they would take me. Through these early experiences, I realized how much I love doing research, and since Rice professors are always happy to collaborate with undergraduates, I’ve been able to participate in several research projects. This research has focused on gender discrimination in hiring practices, the role of forgiveness in public reactions to racial bias in the criminal justice system, the impacts of state laws on racial inequality and segregation, and the geospatial overlap of the social determinants of health and firearm violence.

Currently, I’m working on a project with Dr. Brielle Bryan in the Department of Sociology. Our team is evaluating how individuals with felony convictions may be discriminated against in the rental housing market; to do so, we sent around 30 thousand emails inquiring about Craigslist ads across the country, and we’re qualitatively coding the responses to determine if felons versus non-felons receive significantly different responses from potential landlords. Some important variables include: what information the landlord provides in their response, whether they offer a tour, and the general tone of their email.

Morgan McMains, Sid Richardson College ‘24

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Leyah Mathew, Wiess College ‘24

“I was drawn to the Kinder Institute for its emphasis on community partnerships and its practice of engaging directly with local organizations in providing policy recommendations.”

Last fall, I had the opportunity to work as a research intern for the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. The Kinder Institute conducts policy research at the local level on issues such as education, economic development, housing, and health. I was drawn to the Kinder Institute for its emphasis on community partnerships and its practice of engaging directly with local organizations in providing policy recommendations. This is something I had the opportunity to do through our research project with United Way, a Houston-based organization that provides small businesses with entrepreneurial support services. Our task was to research relevant local, state, and federal policy that impacted these small businesses in Houston, such as identifying relevant permits or licenses.

Leyah Mathew, Wiess College ‘24

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Diego Palos Rodriguez, Will Rice College ‘25

“I wasn’t sure how to go about it or what the work would look like [...] I expressed my interest and he offered me a position as an undergraduate research assistant in the project.”

Prior to matriculating at Rice, I had no idea what Political Science research was or what it entailed. Although I heard that there were many research opportunities at Rice and with the Baker Institute of Public Policy, I wasn’t sure how to go about it or what the work would look like. While taking one of Dr. Mark P. Jones’ pre-requisite classes, he talked about the projects he was working on, including one measuring the impacts of COVID-19 on Texas Hispanic students attending public K-12 schools. Given that this applied to myself and the community I lived in before college, I expressed my interest and he offered me a position as an undergraduate research assistant in the project. 

From the work that I did on the project, I was able to learn so much about the process of research and the impacts that it can have on policy and public opinion. My tasks included gathering information about hundreds of school districts in Texas, editing survey instruments that were administered to parents all throughout Texas, and analyzing socioeconomic and educational factors from the respondents using census data. With this experience, I’ve become much more familiar with how and why research takes place, especially with how well it complements the research-oriented courses within the Political Science major. Thanks to the Baker Institute, I’ve been able to develop this knowledge and skills, as well as tune in on the areas and careers that I’m interested in for the future. 
 

Diego Palos Rodriguez, Will Rice College ‘25

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Morike Ayodeji, McMurtry ‘24

“Social science research such as mine is crucial in understanding how our behavior changes based on societal structures and circumstances.”

During the summer after my freshman year, I worked as a research assistant at the Translational Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (T-SCAN) Lab located in Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative. The T-SCAN lab, led by Principal Investigator Dr. Bryan Denny, aims to understand how humans experience and regulate emotions. The lab employs several behavioral and physiological methods in their projects. My project with T-SCAN studied the effect of cognitive reappraisal of COVID-19 related stress. Cognitive reappraisal is a method used in cognitive science to reframe the meaning of an emotionally provoking stimulus. One notable effect of the pandemic was psychological distress; thus, we were interested in people’s ability to change how they feel. We conducted live reappraisal sessions with study participants and collected demographic data for analysis. I thoroughly enjoyed the project and gained significant insight in the psychological repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social science research such as mine is crucial in understanding how our behavior changes based on societal structures and circumstances. With the pandemic came increased stressors ranging from social distancing, illness, financial instability, and uncertainty. We hope our findings can assist with formatting individualized ways to help people navigate and manage the various stressors.

Morike Ayodeji, McMurtry ‘24

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