US Centre staff members at an event

Undergraduate Research Assistantships

Encouraging interdisciplinary research collaborations between academics and undergraduate students

In Michaelmas 2017, the Centre launched the US Centre Undergraduate Research Assistantship programme as a means of encouraging US-related interdisciplinary research collaborations between academics and undergraduate students at LSE. After resounding success and generous donations from alumni, the Centre is running the programme once again in 2020 for a fourth cohort of students.

The Research Assistantship program was one of the highlights of my LSE experience and has given me a myriad of personal, academic and professional skills.

Eileen Gbagbo, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019-20

The program gave a real-world application to the theoretical knowledge I built in the classroom. It gave me a sense of how the topics I'm studying can be taken and applied to creating new knowledge.

Katherine Bennett, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019-20

This year the US Centre has selected six undergraduate students to involve themselves directly in internationally-oriented scholarship on America’s changing role in the world. 

Collaborating over the course of an academic year, undergraduate students are paired with academics who require assistance in collecting or processing new data, gathering archival resources, writing-up a blog article, or conducting library searches. 

The applications for this year's projects have now been closed. If you are interested in applying next year, please subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media, and we will let you know when the applications open for the 2021-22 program.  

Read the donor report of the successes of the 2020-21 program. For more information on the previous years' research projects click here

 2020-21 Research Projects

1. Charismatic infrastructure for climate change adaptation in the US

Faculty: Rebecca Elliott, Department of Sociology                                              Research Assistant: Emily Douglas, Department of Geography and Environment

In the absence of national leadership, some American towns and cities have begun to marshal immense resources – financial, political, and intellectual – to confront and prepare for the worst effects of climate change. This adaptation often takes the form of major investments in new infrastructure projects meant to defend existing landscapes of people and property from the encroachment of rising seas, extremes of heat and cold, and more intense natural disasters. This project will assess what makes such projects a compelling or ‘charismatic’ strategy when compared to, for instance, forms of climate change adaptation that unbuild, retreat, or maintain existing structures rather than building new ones.We will reflect on how particular infrastructure solutions to climate change, and not others, come to be understood as precisely that: solutions.The research will follow the social lifecycle of this infrastructure in order to examine how what ultimately gets built – the form a project takes, where it is sited, who pays for it, and who or what it protects – reflects local configurations of political power, authoritative knowledge practices and expertise, and cultural ideas about human-environment relations. 

Read the report.

2. The acceleration of prison reform in the age of COVID-19

Faculty: Johann Koehler, Department of Social Policy                   
Research Assistant: Hawa Patel, Department of International History

Prisons and jails rank among the world’s densest and most transmissive hotbeds of viral contagion. This insight worried the penal reformers of the 18th century who were concerned with typhus and ‘miasma’ just as acutely as it does the policymakers of the 21st century who worry about COVID-19’s spread. Yet while the suppression of disease spurred the prison’s invention and proliferation three centuries ago, today it prompts serious discussion about whether the institution has outlived its purpose. The management of COVID-19 has forced states across the US and beyond to consider the mass release of people held behind bars. Such measures are far more drastic than the preferred solutions of first resort in progressive criminal justice, which typically are modest, piecemeal, and incremental. This research project looks at how might we make sense of the spontaneous shift toward taking seriously penal reforms—such as the mass release of people from prisons—that were considered unthinkable shortly before. 

Read the report.

3. The disasters of the international financial system after World War I

Faculty: James Morrison, Department of International Relations                Research Assistant: Johann Power, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

This project will examine the attempts to restore a cooperative international financial system following World War I, the failure of those attempts, and the disasters that followed.  By analysing the documents surrounding the political-economic collaboration between the USA and the UK in this period, this project will consider the interaction between political economy and security, particularly as they came together in the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles. It will also explore the longer-run role played by JM Keynes in re-shaping the Anglo-American alliance across the first half of the 20th Century. 

Read the report.

4. Examining the legacy of Henry Kissinger

Faculty: Roham AlvandiDepartment of International History                        
Research Assistan: Sajjad-Ali Mohajerani-Irvani, Department of International History

2023 will mark 100 years since the birth of former diplomat, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. This project will consider the scholarship on Henry Kissinger, and address the questions: why does Henry Kissinger matter, and to what extent are we living in a world of Kissinger’s making? It will examine the legacy of Kissinger’s decisions during his time in office, as well as the debates and controversies surrounding those decisions today, especially the accusation that he is a 'war criminal'. Why do we still talk about Kissinger more than 40 years after he left office? The project will include Kissinger's legacy as an architect of superpower détente and the opening to China, and the legacy of his decisions in various theatres, such as his 1973-74 Arab-Israel shuttle diplomacy, the 1973 coup in Chile, the civil war in Angola, and the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. 

Read the report.

5. How using Zoom has changed Congressional hearings on economic policy

Faculty: Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey, Department of Government                  
Research Assistant: Matthew Bradbury, Department of Economics

Legislative committees in the US Congress play an important role in holding policymakers to account in oversight hearings. While most empirical studies to date which look at how these committees deliberate have focused on the words and arguments spoken, very little work has been done on the effect of nonverbal communication in accountability hearings. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of Zoom and other visually remote ways of communicating have made the importance of nonverbal communication even more important. This project will examine the hearings on economic policy by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee, both immediately prior to the lockdown conditions brought about from COVID-19 and then those conducted remotely in the months following these restrictions. It will also examine whether the nonverbal challenges that have been raised by remote sessions have significantly diminished (or enhanced) deliberative quality. 

Read the report.

6. How US state institutions seek to control socially marginalised women

Faculty: Amanda Sheely, Department of Social Policy                  

Research Assistant: Sarah Ang, Department of Social Policy

This project will examine the relationship between socially marginalised women and state institutions in the United States. There has been increasing recognition among scholars that governance in the US has shifted dramatically, with criminal justice and welfare systems increasingly working together to control the behavior of socially marginalized people through punishment and supervision. However, there is important variation among states in both the provision of welfare, as well as the reach of the criminal justice system. Research has found that states with Republican lawmakers, as well as with more African American residents have higher incarceration rates and more stringent welfare policies. This project will build on the existing literature in three important ways. First, rather than focusing on understanding state punitiveness, this project will instead seek to understand how states are seeking to regulate and control behaviour instead. Second, it brings in an explicit focus on gender by examining state supervision of women under three systems: the criminal justice, welfare, and child welfare systems. Third, the research will be designed to look for divergences, as well as coordination between these systems.

Read the report.


The programme has been generously funded by LSE Alumni. Read more about the programme at Supporting LSE.

To stay informed on our future student outreach activities, follow us on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to our termly newsletter. 



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