Summer Research Job Offers Policy Insights, Some Travel

Northwestern undergraduates obtain resume-building experiences


IPR summer undergraduate research assistants Jennifer Lee and Shalin Shah label saliva samples in New Orleans.

When Shalin Shah, a senior communication sciences and disorders major at Northwestern, signed on to do research with IPR psychobiologist Emma Adam this summer, he knew that it was very likely that he would be cleaning up data and working in a lab. But he did not count on being sent to The Big Easy for six days to collect saliva samples from schoolchildren.

Emma Adam

“I never expected to get the opportunity to go to New Orleans for a research project,” Shah said in an email, describing his experiences. “The research I did this summer was valuable experience in understanding how health can be affected by social and economic conditions, as they all become intertwined through policy.” 

As one of 45 Northwestern undergraduates taking part in IPR’s Summer Undergraduate Research Assistants (SURA) program, Shah worked closely with Adam and her team members on this project to examine how cortisol—a hormone that regulates stress—is affected when elementary school children take standardized tests. The team collected saliva samples in order to measure participants’ cortisol levels. Shah also worked on another study, assessing how to improve teenagers’ sleep behavior.

According to Adam, Shah and his fellow undergraduate research assistants provided indispensible work. “The research we did this summer really would not have been possible without the help of the IPR undergrad RA program,” she said.

James Rosenbaum

Since IPR launched the program in 1997, hundreds of Northwestern undergraduates have designed, conducted, and analyzed research projects with IPR faculty members.

Giving students the opportunity to extend what they have learned in class to a research setting is part of what makes the SURA program unique, says IPR education researcher James Rosenbaum, who directs the program.

“People know a lot of things that they have gotten from their class, but they have no idea how to use it and where it comes from,” Rosenbaum said. “Research experience gives them that broader context.”

Senior T'Keyah Vaughan, who is studying biological sciences and science in human culture, got to work with two different faculty members in two different domains. With social demographer Quincy Thomas Stewart, Vaughn examined how sociologists were ranked and the role gender and race might play in shaping those rankings. For a project with political scientist and IPR associate Thomas Ogorzalek, she collected Chicago election data for a project investigating how the city’s different populations vote. 

“I never seriously considered research as a career until working with Professor Stewart,” Vaughan wrote in an email. “It really opened me to prospects I was not considering in the past.” 

But even for those RAs who decide not pursue graduate programs or research careers, the experience of seeing how research is conducted is instrumental.

“We all have political ideas and presumptions, and they are premised on beliefs that we rarely test,” Rosenbaum explained. “Involvement in research gives you an opportunity to question that, and think critically about that—no matter what you do later in life.” 

Emma Adam and James Rosenbaum are professors of human development and social policy and IPR fellows. Quincy Thomas Stewart is associate professor of sociology and an IPR fellow. Thomas Ogorzalek is assistant professor of political science and an IPR associate.

For more information about IPR’s Summer Undergraduate RA program, go to

Top photo credit: Emma Adam