Research

The primary goal of the SSRMC is to provide the infrastructure to develop and foster opportunities for interdisciplinary research and training. At the core of the SSRMC is collaboration between faculty and students, designed specifically to empower undergraduates to take the initiative to pursue independent inquiry.


Student Blog

You can find more information about research that students are doing over here at the SSRMC Blog!


GOVT 394

A core aspect of the SSRMC is teaching and training students in the methods they need to meaningfully engage with faculty on collaborative research projects. To support this process, the government department offers students an opportunity to participate in faculty research projects for course credit through GOVT 394 Directed Research. GOVT 394 is a course offering that involves research-based pedagogy. In these courses students and faculty will work together to create a plan of study that is specifically focused on a research skill that is difficult to obtain in a traditional classroom environment. Skills that are particularly well-suited for this type of learning include coding quantitative and qualitative data, writing grant proposals, conducting experiments, conducting field work, and elite interviewing. Students in GOVT 394 courses will work one-on-one or in a group directed by a faculty member.

This class may be repeated for credit, though only a total of six credits of independent work–including internships (GOVT 494), independent studies (GOVT 498) and directed research (GOVT 394)–may count toward the required hours for the major.   Also, no more than three credits total GOVT 394/494/498 may be counted for students also counting GOVT 495-496, Honors, to the major.


PPIR Lab

Professor Marcus Holmes Political Psychology and International Relations (PPIR) Lab uses a psychological, including social and neuroscientific, approach to address the security, economic, and environmental challenges that arise from global interconnectedness. The lab is a collaborative research group that includes undergraduates and faculty working closely together on a variety of different types of research projects. One of the major initiatives of the lab is the use of experiments, often conducted by W&M students, to tackle difficult questions in international politics, including better understanding the dynamics of diplomacy, international negotiations, and perceptions of security threats.

We encourage students who are interested in international politics and psychology to become involved. Stop by the lab in the basement of Blow Hall or email Dr. Holmes at mholmes@wm.edu for more information.


SNaPP Lab

The SNaPP Lab was founded in 2013 and is a collaborative research group, directed by Professor Jaime Settle but driven by the questions and ideas of the undergraduates involved in the group. We are motivated by puzzles that explore the biological, psychological, and social underpinnings of political behavior.  Each year, students simultaneously work on an independent portfolio or research project while contributing to an ongoing project in the lab related to Prof. Settle’s active research agenda. The goal of the SNaPP Lab experience is to enable students to develop the analytical, methodological and writing skills necessary to:

1) Successfully execute a high-quality independent research project before they graduate and

2) Plan for and attain post-graduation opportunities that utilize those skills.

View the SNaPP Lab Blog here.


Collaborative Research Groups

Marcus Holmes

Professor Holmes leads the PPIR lab group. His lab uses a psychological, including social and neuroscientific, approach to address the security, economic, and environmental challenges that arise from global interconnectedness. They use experiments and other methods to tackle difficult questions in international politics, including the dynamics of diplomacy, international negotiations, and perceptions of security threats.

Paul Manna

The research of Professor Manna and his team focuses on state government institutions and bureaucratic arrangements that are designed to adopt and then carry out elementary and secondary education policy in the nation’s public schools.  Scholars and practitioners alike refer to this broad area as “state education governance.”  Two particular research questions under study are: Is voter turnout in elections for state education chief associated with the quality of state policy and student outcomes?  How can state policies influence the supply of excellent principals in a state’s schools?

Jaime Settle

Jaime Settle leads the SNaPP Lab, a collaborative research group motivated by puzzles that explore the biological, psychological, and social underpinnings of political behavior.  Each year, students simultaneously work on an independent portfolio or research project while contributing to an ongoing project in the lab related to Prof. Settle’s active research agenda. The goal of the SNaPP Lab experience is to enable students to develop the analytical, methodological and writing skills necessary to successfully execute a high-quality independent research project before they graduate and plan for and attain post-graduation opportunities that utilize those skills.

Maurits van der Veen

Maurits van der Veen leads the STAIR Lab that uses text mining and machine learning tools to analyze and address political issues, with a particular focus on international relations. Students work on ongoing projects in the lab and also contribute their own ideas for new questions or issues to explore on their own or collaboratively. The goal of the lab is to advance the state of knowledge in the field, while simultaneously providing students with the training and skills to pursue their own independent research and preparing them for post-graduate opportunities.


Independent Research Opportunities

Ideally, a student’s experience in the core of the SSRMC provides the training and mentorship necessary to embark on a meaningful, independent capstone research project, in the form of an independent study, a summer research project, or an honors thesis. Because of the early exposure to the process of research, students are equipped to design research that will make a contribution to their field of inquiry. If you are confused about where to start or how to proceed, read our guide to undergraduate research: Learning Outside the Classroom. To find out more about financial support on campus for independent research projects, see the Charles Center page.


Data Availability

Subscription and Publicly Available Data

The College maintains subscriptions with a variety of sources (https://swem.wm.edu/databases/by-subject/26) to permit students access to data. The links below will take you directly to some of the more popular resources available at Swem:

Government Data Sources

Collecting your own data

One of the most exciting parts of research is the opportunity to collect your own data. Use the links below to learn how:


Recommended Courses and Course Sequences

To view recommended courses in Research Design and Data Analytics, click here.


Human Subjects Training

To learn how to complete human subjects training for W&M, click here.


Data Science Blogs


Funding Your Research

Funding Opportunities for Conferences

If you are interested in attending a research conference, there are many funding opportunities available at the College to support you. The most important thing is to plan early. In the past few years, W&M students in the social sciences have attended the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual meetingthe International Studies Association annual meeting, and the Political Networks Conference annual meeting. First, coordinate with other students who are interested in attending. Arranging to room and travel together can keep costs down significantly. Additionally, in past years, students have reported that it is a much better experience to attend with fellow W&M folks. Between funds provided by the Government Department, the Charles Center, and the Student Conference Fund, there are many resources available on campus to assist with the cost of conferences.

  • Charles Center: Attached is a link to an example document form used in past requests to the Charles Center for conference funding. You should work with your faculty member to request funds on your behalf.
  • Government Department: Attached is a link to a sample proposal a former student wrote to request money from the department. Again, coordinate with your faculty mentor.
  • Faculty Mentor: Sometimes, the faculty member with whom you are working may have some money to help support your attendance. Remember that if you apply for a Charles Center Honors Fellowship and receive it, both you and your mentor receive a stipend that can be used to support travel for research purposes.
  • Student Conference Fund: Below is a link to apply for funds from the Office of Student Leadership: http://www.wm.edu/offices/studentleadershipdevelopment/funding/conferences/index.php

Here are two sample proposals:

Here are some additional links


Graduate School

Assessing Graduate Programs

Advice on picking a grad school from SSRMC faculty and alumni

This guide is meant as a resource once you’ve applied and been accepted to a Ph.D. program in the social sciences. Please email ssrmc@wm.edu if you have additional ideas for helpful information to include. This guide was last updated in March 2018.

Quality of faculty

  • Avoid going to a program if there is only one faculty mentor you can anticipate wanting to work with. Ask enough questions to assess the overall mentoring structure. People retire, move, go through mid-life crises, aren’t the advisors you’d hoped they’d be, etc. It’s best to be in a place where you think you’ll be surrounded by people you think will push you to get better and better.
  • Ensure that you can get the best methods training possible since the substantive content is much easier to teach yourself.

Mentoring/advising

  • Ask students who have worked with the faculty you think you want to work with.
    • What kind of feedback do they get? Is it hard to get a meeting with them, what those meetings are usually like, etc.?
  • Professors vary a lot and it can take time to find someone who fits your style.
    • From Taylor Carlson ‘14: “My advisor is very hands-off. I have to initiate everything — but when I do (e.g. could we meet to talk about my prospectus? Could I get some feedback on this paper? I got these reviews back from a journal, can you help me figure out what to do next?) I get instant responses and meetings typically scheduled within a week. In contrast, my very close friend’s advisor is much more hands on and they have a meeting every other week (sometimes every week), this summer they did a weekly data bootcamp sort of thing where they worked through the methods of papers they were working on to get them ready for submission to a journal, etc. Some faculty like to be sent a memo ahead of time with what you’d like to talk about, etc. All styles can work well, but I think it’s important to get a sense for these types of things before heading in so you can find someone (or two or three) who fit your styles.”
  • Ask faculty what their hiring priorities are over the next few years and/or any changes they foresee in the department.
    • Sometimes, they’re applying for big grants for capital improvements (e.g. new lab equipment), sometimes they are working on hiring new folks in your field, etc., which can be exciting. These aren’t necessarily “deal breakers,” but they can be icing on the cake when you’re choosing between programs.
  • Are there research working groups that meet with some frequency? What kind of pedagogical model does the program use (lab or otherwise)? What happens when mentors/advisors go on leave?

Student body

  • Consider what the students are like. Are they collegial? Do the upper-level students seem to get along?
  • It’s also important to feel like your colleagues are smarter than you! If you get the opportunity to go to graduate school with faculty and graduate students who are smarter than you are, then you’re just going to get better and better and better.
  • Look into how the offices and workspaces are organized. Will there be areas for students to work in proximity to each other or will you not really see people outside of classes? This can really affect the kind of atmosphere a place has.

Conducting research

  • Pay attention to the resources available to student researchers by asking faculty and students about them. Questions to ask might include:
    • If you’re interested in any research that requires special equipment, does the program have it? How does one gain access to the equipment and the lab?
    • Ask grad students about their experiences—have they noticed any restrictions? (e.g. it’s mostly faculty, it’s hard to get space, you only get a few minutes for your protocols, IRB is a nightmare, etc.).
    • Ask sample pools—do they run students through the lab? How big is the pool? Is it only political science students? How many participants come through their labs a semester?
    • What opportunities are there for grants to pay participants, buy equipment, etc.?
  • What kind of guardrails are offered to help you complete your dissertation on time?
    • Meg Schwenzfeier ‘14: “Some departments are very hands on with this and have timelines where they check in with students or where faculty take an active role, others won’t notice if you haven’t made any progress by like your fifth year in the program. You just want to make sure whatever style they have will work for you or that you’re prepared to make it work.”
  • Does the department encourage students to take classes in other departments on campus to enrich their methods training? Do they fund travel to summer training programs like the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models Institute (EITM) or the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR)?

Fellowship and teaching opportunities

  • If you’re interested, ask about these and see if you might have the chance to teach your own classes.
  • Teaching is a worthwhile goal, but be aware that teaching responsibilities are a huge time commitment and may take time away from your research.
  • To what extent can you can get a semester or a year of fellowship? Inquire about university-wide fellowships for which you can apply. This may be something you can negotiate with your funding package as you decide between schools, if you have more than one admission offer.

Funding

  • Ask about summer funding and funding for after year 5 (or whenever funding is up). Ask other grad students how easy it is to get funding for a 6th, 7th, etc. year and what students have done for money in the summer and during extra years.
  • How does the program support students who want to collect novel data?
  • Inquire about funding for conference travel too.
  • Ask students about quality of life on their stipend/funding packages. Consider whether you’d be able to realistically live semi-comfortably with the funding available. You can ask about subsidized housing, too.

Career resources

  • What’s the department’s take on professionalization? Do they take an active role by providing workshops on preparing for comprehensive exams, giving a conference talk, writing the dissertation prospectus, preparing for the job market, etc? Or is it ad hoc, if at all?

Thanks to Taylor Carlson ‘14, Drew Engelhardt ‘13, Meg Schwenzfeier ‘14—all alumni of the SNaPP Lab—and SNaPP Lab director Jaime Settle for the advice in this guide. Taylor, Drew, and Meg are all Ph.D candidates in political science. Taylor is at the University of California-San Diego, Drew is at Vanderbilt University, and Meg is at Harvard.