Undergraduate Research Assistantships

Encouraging interdisciplinary research collaborations between academics and undergraduate students

In 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 2023 for a seventh cohort of students.

I enjoyed meeting the other RAs at the mid-way session. This gave a sense of being part of a wider programme, as the research itself is independent.

Kasia Micklem, Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2021-22

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

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

To read about the successes of the 2022-23 programme, check out our donor report.

For more information on the previous years' research projects, click here.  

 2023-24 Research Projects

1. The gender and racial dynamics of night and micro work in the UK and US

Faculty: Paul Apostolidis, Department of Government
Research Assistant: Cármen Pegas, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

What structural features of contemporary capitalism can we find when we view society through the lens of night work? How might a focus on night work reveal the gender and racial dynamics of an employment economy increasingly based on data-analytics, supply-chain logistics, and platformised care-work and other gig jobs? What possibilities for working-class organising do nighttime-spaces in today's world encourage? This book project addresses these questions through a series of theoretical and empirical pairings that consider 'microwork' (online tasking) in connection with Karl Marx's analysis of the 'working day,' childcare work in dialogue with Marxist-feminist writers, warehouse labour (for Amazon) as an aspect of racial capitalism, and night-time political education projects in conversation with democratic theorist Jacques Rancière.   

The RA (Research Assistant) will be responsible for several key tasks to move the project forward: (1) The RA will supplement data from government agencies, NGOs and academic researchers that has been gathered so far to establish the main empirical trends in night work globally over the past two to three decades: the extent night work has increased, which countries and world regions have seen relatively greater increases, which occupations and industries involve proportionately more and faster-growing night work, and what general tendencies regarding working conditions are associated with night work. (2) The RA will explore the recent action-agendas of major labour unions and migrant NGOs in the UK and the US to assess the degree to which these organisations may have sought to make night workers' rights an issue. (3) The RA will conduct a thorough review of academic publications, public policy reports and journalistic articles to explore the degree and ways in which climate change may be related to the growth of certain kinds of night work, especially in the areas of farm labour, construction, and disaster response. This research, and a written literature review that the RA will provide on its basis, will help determine whether the book should include an additional chapter on night work and climate change. (4) The RA will edit and anonymise interviews with night-shift warehouse (mostly Amazon, mainly Latino) workers in California that the researcher will have completed and assist with the identification of relevant and important themes in the interviews.  

2. Incumbency and Infrastructure for Climate Change Adaptation in the Coastal United States  

Faculty: Rebecca Elliott, Department of Social Policy
Research Assistant: Freya Blackmore, Department of Government

From massive sea walls, to living breakwaters, to fire-resistant design: climate change adaptation is underway across the United States. In a context of uneven local funds and federal support, some American towns and cities have begun to marshal immense financial, political, and intellectual resources 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 explore these efforts to ‘stay put’ in the face of climate change to develop what can be termed a sociology of incumbency. Incumbency captures often-implicit commitments to preserving present arrangements of people and property as is, and to reproducing the familiar land uses, skylines, nebulous character of a place, routines of life, and identities those arrangements generate. This project will examine the following: how, where, and why incumbency matters; who or what stays put; what accounts for the uneven resonance of claims to incumbency or incumbent status; and how the physical and social conditions favouring incumbency are (re)produced.  

The RA (Research Assistant) will focus on climate change adaptation infrastructure that is intended to protect against the effects of sea level rise and intensifying storms. Coastal US municipalities are in some ways the liveliest empirical contexts to see developments in infrastructure for climate change adaptation unfold. Floods are already the costliest natural disaster in the US and, with over $13 trillion in property at risk in coastal areas, as well as large and dense populations, there is much at stake. These cities are the locations of billion-dollar design competitions, engineering collaborations with water experts from around the world, and new partnerships between public agencies and private firms – all oriented towards armouring the coast.   

The RA’s goals for the year will be to a) empirically characterize the range of infrastructure projects underway, to b) support the development of the sociological dimensions of incumbency, and c) contribute to research design and early interview data collection for the next phase of the project.

3. From Engagement to Strategic Competition: US-China Relations, 1972-2023

Faculty: Elizabeth Ingleson, Department of International History
Research Assistant: Tali-Aisha Bourhis, LSE Law School

This project will explore the evolution of the United States’ China policies since 1972. It will require the RA (Research Assistant) to gather and analyse the public speeches and documents made by US presidents about the United States’ China policy as well as primary source material previously collected by Dr. Ingleson. The project will pay particular attention to the meanings and definitions of “engagement” that US policymakers used at different points in time to trace the multiple meanings it had and the changes in emphasis within different presidential administrations. By analysing US policymakers’ approaches to China policy in their own context, and tracing the changes and continuities over time, the RA will help produce crucial research into the last fifty years of the United States’ China policy.  

The research duties for the project will include library research, creation of a searchable text database, and close text analysis. The project will not require more than 10 hours per week. Bi-monthly office meetings will likely be the main mechanism for checking in with the RA and ensuring they have the support and guidance needed to complete the project. Ultimately, the project will contribute to the RA’s professional development by strengthening their research skills, analytical skills, and time management skills. They will moreover gain an historical understanding of key aspects of the United States China policy since 1972. 

4. Imagining 'Progress' in the Chicago Police Department, 1865-2023

Faculty: Johann Koehler, Department of Social Policy
Research Assistant: Maryam Auwalu, Department of Geography & Environment

Claims to have made ‘progress’ are a mainstay of organisational reputation management. The object of this study is to historicise those claims, as they appear in the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) efforts to project competence and to shore up its legitimacy. Drawing chiefly on over 150 years of annual reports from the Chicago Police Department (1865-2023), this study grapples with how the CPD positions itself during and after moments of scandal and reform by gesturing toward the progress it either promises to make, or that it claims it has already delivered. Through a critical interrogation of those claims throughout the CPD’s history, this study sets the stage for a theory of police culture and organisational legitimacy.  
The Research Assistant’s chief responsibilities will be to: (1) code CPD annual reports from 1862-2023 based on codes provided by the faculty; (2) code newspaper sources quoting CPD representatives across the same period; and (3) assist in identifying and coding supplementary sources relevant to the CPD’s organizational legitimacy, especially ones that have been self-published by the CPD.    

5. The Nuclear Revolution and Great Power Competition

Faculty: Jeff Legro, LSE Phelan US Centre
Research Assistant: Ayush Das, Department of International Relations
Research Assistant: Evelyne Ong, Department of Statistics

This project explores the impact of the nuclear revolution on national and international politics. The classic literature (Robert Jervis, Bernard Brodie) has argued that nuclear weapons and mutual assured destruction (MAD) have fundamentally changed international politics – and led to an unprecedented period of peace among major powers (John Lewis Gaddis). A recent revisionist account (Keir Lieber and Daryl Press) has argued in line with many realists (John Mearsheimer) that there is no nuclear revolution, and that great power competition continues as it always has. Both schools have ignored important political and economic effects of nuclear weapons.   

The condition of mutual assured destruction has altered the risk profile of state decision making allowing states to engage in cooperation with other states that in other eras would have been prohibited by the vulnerabilities that such cooperation entailed. Specifically, underpinning this project is the contention that nuclear weapons have been a primary facilitating condition of modern globalization, multinational production, and the rapid economic modernization of significant countries such as China and India. Likewise, MAD has affected the surprising growth of international organizations.  Finally, the altered risk curve due to MAD has affected both the decentralization of political authority and the rise of democracy in key nations. The nuclear revolution has been significant, and in important aspects, uncharted with important consequences for US foreign policy.   
The (Research Assistant) for this project will be responsible for two different kinds of tasks and related reports:  

  • Collect and analyze large-n data related to the dependent variables (economic interdependence, globalization, multinational production, political liberalization) that has been generated in other studies in those areas.  
  • Develop case briefs of a few specific decisions and episodes of the United States and key countries that with which the US has cut deals to examine the plausibility and causal logic of the argument versus the null hypothesis. 

6. Anglo-American Financial Cooperation in the 20th Century

Faculty: James Morrison, Department of International Relations
Research Assistant: Marta Grzana, Department of Management

This project further extends Dr. Morrison’s broader research agenda, specifically on Anglo-American financial cooperation and the “passing of the torch” from the UK to the USA in the 20th Century. 

Dr. Morrison has collected tens of thousands of pages of materials from numerous archives and collections over the years, and now has tens of thousands of pages of materials more, which several PhD students have collected themselves. 

The prospective Research Assistant will work to help organise, review, and process these many documents. This will include the collections from the US (especially the HD White papers) and the UK collections (especially papers of Walter Runciman and the Board of Trade). The Research Assistant will read these documents for their content, take a first pass, and deliver some semblance of organisation according to rubrics that have been developed over the years. They will enjoy getting a much richer sense of these fascinating trans-Atlantic interchanges and negotiations.  

7. Democratic Difference, Decline, and Authoritarianism

Faculty: Rohan Mukherjee,  Department of International Relations
Research Assistant: Pranjali Goradia, Department of International History and Department of International Relations (joint honours)

This project aims to break new ground by studying the impact of democratic decline on international relations. Although a good deal of scholarship has examined the so-called democratic difference in the propensity of states to fight and to win wars, very little attention has been paid to how democratic states behave within alliances with each other. To this end, the project asks: What happens to an alliance between two democracies when one member experiences a crisis of democracy or an outright slide into authoritarianism? Realpolitik reasoning would suggest that national interests trump values in such situations. However, scholars of ‘democratic peace’ argue that domestic institutions and values do make a difference in external relations, implying that achange of this nature would cause problems for bilateral relations. The project will investigate these contending hypotheses in the United States’ response to the suspension of democracy in two Asian countries in the mid-1970s: the Philippines, an ally, and India, a non-ally. A better understanding of this phenomenon can help make sense of how current trends in global democracy might impact relations between democratic countries as well as the international order built and sustained by democratic great powers such as the United States, Britain, and France.

The project requires one research assistant to undertake a thorough review of the theoretical literature on the democratic difference in international relations—the notion that democracies systematically do certain things differently in their foreign policies compared to other states—as well as the secondary historical literature on US-Philippines and US-India relations during the ColdWar, especially the 1970s. The main deliverable will be an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other materials relevant to this question and period

8. How US political and economic geography shapes US foreign policy

Faculty: Peter Trubowitz, Department of International Relations and Phelan US Centre
Research Assistant: Ahmed Zeerak Rana, Department of Government

This project will help Professor Trubowitz with the background work for an article-length manuscript on the role of regionalism in US foreign policy. In 1998, Professor Trubowitz published an award-winning book on the topic: Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy (Chicago 1998). The book’s empirical analysis spans the 1890s to the1990s. This project will bring the analysis up to date by considering how America’s shifting political and economic geography has shaped and influenced US foreign policy since the 1990s in the areas of trade policy, defense policy, and multilateral cooperation. The working hypothesis is that while debates over how best to promote the nation’s international interests continue to be structured along North-South lines, today the battle lines are more fluid and uncertain than they were thirty years ago, due to the combined pressures of globalization, partisan polarization, and demographic change.

This position requires a Research Assistant with strong library research and writing skills. The RA will be responsible for generating and compiling an annotated bibliography of research publications over the past thirty years in the areas of US foreign policy, political and economic geography, and party politics. The main deliverable will be individual summaries of these publications.

9. Nuclear guarantees and US alliance politics

Faculty: Lauren Sukin, Department of International Relations
Research Assistant: Khushi Vajpeyi, Department of Government
Research Assistant: Georgia Rose McKerracher, Department of International Relations

This research project involves investigating the role of nuclear weapons in US alliance politics. First, this project will explore how US allies evaluate the credibility of the US nuclear security guarantee, using archival research and survey experiments to analyse how states assess various US signals of resolve. Second, this project assesses the conditions under which US nuclear security guarantees may backfire. Credible nuclear security guarantees are generally understood as providing critical reassurance to allies and, in doing so, dissuading them from seeking independent nuclear arsenals. Using survey experiments and historical case studies, this component of the project argues that, instead, credible nuclear guarantees can undercut alliance reassurance. Strong signals of resolve can create fears of reliance on the nuclear capabilities of the United States, leading to support within US allies for stronger and more independent military capabilities.

Research assistants will conduct library and archival research, assist with the design and analysis of survey experiments, and contribute to project management tasks. Research assistants will work with Dr. Sukin to assess their career goals and any portable skills they could learn from this position that will help advance those goals. Their tasks will then by modified to reflect those learning goals, and Dr. Sukin and the research assistants will re-assess their progress on those goals throughoutthe year.

Both research assistants will primarily contribute to literature reviews through library and archival research. Research assistants will also perform project management tasks. One research assistant will specialize in qualitative research skills. This assistant will aid in the design and analysis of surveyexperiments through translation, qualitative data analysis, and survey coding in Qualtrics. A second research assistant will specialize in quantitative research skills. This research assistant will be asked to contribute to data entry tasks and may also assist with limited statistical data analysis and data visualization tasks.

10. The State of the States

Faculty: Peter Trubowitz and Chris Gilson, LSE Phelan US Centre
Research Assistant: Jason Clark, Department of International History

In 2018 the Phelan US Centre launched The State of the States, a map-based interactive online resource bringing together US state-level information all in one place. This resource went on to win a Guardian Universities Award for Digital Innovation in April 2019. The State of the States is now being developed into a new subscriber-based online platform to help those working for US state and local government to make better decisions about policy and implementation through a database with important and useful state-level facts and figures, and a repository of best practice case studies on policy implementation and effectiveness. The research assistant will assist in the further development of The State of the States by providing support, including researching, and writing state policy case studies, creating literature reviews onstate policy learning and policy diffusion, and sourcing organisations and individuals to contact tofurther validate the platform.The Research Assistant will have the following main tasks and responsibilities in this project:

1. To research and/or write short policy case studies to support the State of the States platform in policy areas including homelessness, unemployment, and COVID-19.

2. To identify, via desk research, organisations and individuals and other potential stakeholders to contact to assist with the further validation of the project.

3. To expand on existing literature reviews covering recent research into state policy learningand best practice sharing and state policy diffusion.

4. To monitor and update data sources related to state policy and political information relevant to The State of the States platform.


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

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