Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Man in front of research poster

Every semester our faculty offer opportunities for undergraduate students to work in their labs and participate in research or practical experiences. These are perfect opportunities for students to learn useful skills that will prepare them for graduate school and jobs.

Below are descriptions of projects available in Summer and Fall 2021 and/or Spring 2022.* (updated 4/1/21)

  • Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab
  • Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence
  • Food Equity and Dignity (FED) Lab
  • Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) Lab
  • How Professionals Support Children with Disabilities
  • Humans in Nature Project
  • Minority Capacity in Rural Communities Project
  • Prevention Science and Family Health in a Digital Age
  • Stress and Coping in Farm Families
  • STRONG Kids Program
  • The Autism Program (TAP)
  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Latinx Work and Family Outcomes

*This list may not be exhaustive. If you are interested in working with a specific faculty member/project not listed here, contact the individual faculty member to discuss any opportunities.

Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab

The Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab is seeking undergraduate research assistants. Students have opportunities to gain valuable research experience in the areas of adolescent stress, parent-adolescent communication, and adolescent sleep. Students will participate in lab meetings and may assist with any of the following: data collection; data management and coding (e.g., entry, cleaning, analysis) of survey, interview, and observational data; literature reviews; translating research findings for families. Students will have opportunities to work on any of the following projects: the Middle School Transition Project (examining mother-adolescent problem-solving discussions), the Adolescents’ Everyday Experiences Study (focusing on adolescent coping with daily interpersonal stressors), and/or the Adolescent Sleep and Well-being Study (examining the link between sleep and youth adjustment). Current priorities include the coding of mother-adolescent problem-solving discussions and data collection for the sleep and well-being study (all online). We are seeking highly motivated students who are interested in adolescent stress (e.g., interpersonal stress, academic challenges), parent-adolescent communication (with particular interest and/or experience in data transcribing and coding), and/or adolescent sleep. Commitment to the lab for one academic year or two consecutive semesters is strongly preferred (e.g., Fall-Spring, Summer-Fall). Students will register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work a week per 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. Due to COVID-19, we will continue to work remotely in Summer 2021 and revisit how work will look in Fall 2021 (which will include a remote option). To apply, please complete an application, which can be found at the ADAPT Lab website (please note application deadlines) and submit to Dr. Kelly Tu. (available Summer and Fall 2021).

Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence

We are seeking undergraduate research assistants (RAs) for a project on divorce and intimate partner violence (IPV). The project broadly focuses on how decisions about custody and visitation are made in family courts when divorcing parents have a history of IPV. We are especially interested in how decisions may differ between parents with and without a history of IPV. The project involves collecting data from public administrative records (e.g., divorce, protective order, criminal) for over 600 divorce cases.

We are seeking highly motivated, responsible, and dependable undergraduate students to join our research team. Minimum 3.4 GPA. RAs will be trained in the coding of administrative records and must be willing to collect data off campus at the Champaign County courthouse (transportation from other student RAs can be provided). RAs will gain valuable research skills and experience working in a collaborative team environment. Commitment to the RA position for more than one semester is strongly preferred. Students who remain on the project for at least two semesters will have the opportunity to prepare posters and presentations. For James Scholars, opportunities are available to fulfill the independent research project/presentation requirement. Students will register for HDFS 294 for 2 credit hours (6 hours of work per week). To apply, contact Dr. Jennifer Hardesty or Dr. Brian Ogolsky. (available Summer and Fall 2021)

Food Equity and Dignity (FED) Lab

The Food Equity & Dignity (FED) Lab is seeking undergraduate research assistants to work on a project on Cooking for One. The Cooking for One project has four goals: 1) to explore the impact of living alone on household food meanings and practices, 2) to examine their implications for both physical and mental health, 3) to assess what role life course stages and social inequalities play in these relationships, and 4) to better understand the role food plays in social relationships and connectedness.

Through their involvement in this project, students will have the opportunity to develop research experience in the areas of food, health and inequality as well as in later life course stages such as emerging adulthood, middle age and/or older adulthood. This year, students may be involved in assisting with some of the following: conducting, transcribing and/or coding qualitative interview data; gathering, coding, and/or analyzing discourse data (e.g., newsmedia, food blogs, cookbooks, SNAP ED & Extension materials); literature reviews; translating research findings for individuals. Students will be expected to register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work/ week is equal to 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. Commitment to the RA position for more than one semester is strongly preferred. To apply, please contact Dr. Merin Oleschuk. (available Summer and Fall 2021 and Spring 2022)

Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) Lab

Why do some relationships succeed when others fail? How do dating couples transition in and out of relationships? How do couples manage conflict, and other relationship threats? The Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) lab is looking for undergraduate research assistants to help answer questions like these. Qualified students will take part in various activities including, but not limited to, data management, coding, analysis, literature review, and lab meetings. We are accepting undergraduates with any level of research experience. Interested students should send an email to Dr. Brian Ogolsky, briefly explaining their background and interest in the project. (available Fall 2021)  

How Professionals Support Children With Disabilities

James Scholars have the opportunity to participate in one of the research projects offered below with Dr. Cheryl Light Shriner. Dr. Light Shriner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She teaches HDFS 398, an undergraduate seminar focused on preparing students to become Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). 

Opportunity 1: 1) Conduct a literature review and summarize articles to identify evidence-based strategies and interventions that parents, educators, and other professionals use to prevent challenging behavior. 2) Assist in the development of a survey to be sent to parents, educators, and other professionals to find out what strategies they currently use and to find out if they are aware of evidence-based strategies and interventions. 3) Survey parents, educators, and other professionals. 4) Summarize the results of the survey and generate resources to disseminate.

Opportunity 2: 1) Will become familiar with collaboration practices through reviewing and summarizing research articles. 2) Assist in identifying and defining collaboration practices and skills. 3) Assist in creating a survey to give to professionals about collaboration practices.

Contact Dr. Light Shriner if you are interested in participating on one of these projects. (available Fall 2021 and Spring 2022)

Humans in Nature Project

The Humans in Nature project uses technology and social media to encourage individuals and families to spend time in nature as a way of: (a) maintaining physical health, (b) managing stress and restoring the ability to focus on important life tasks, and (c) fostering positive social interactions and satisfying relationships. Students will be part of a team that will develop research-based multimedia products that will include (a) visually rich web-based articles, (b) video interviews and documentary style short films, (c) audio interviews and podcast style “micro documentaries”. Students will gain experience in research by writing for lay audiences, illustrating articles with artwork or digital photography, developing short audio and video productions, using online tools for communication, and developing and implementing social media strategies. Students can volunteer or earn 2 or 3 hours of HDFS 294 course credit (6 – 9 hours of work per week; with a flexible schedule). To apply, contact Dr. Aaron Ebata. (available Summer and Fall 2021)

Minority Capacity in Rural Communities: Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Individuals and Families Experiences of Housing Instability

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations are uniquely vulnerable to housing instability in the U.S. as only 21 states and DC have laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and only 18 states and DC prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity (Movement Advancement Project, 2019). Without state or federal protections, SGM populations are increasingly reliant on municipal-level protections. Given that housing instability and poverty are highly correlated and that same-sex couple families are significantly more likely to be in poverty than different-sex married couple families (Badgett et al., 2013), it is likely that impoverished SGM individuals and families face heightened levels of housing instability, and those rural SGM populations may be more vulnerable.

This study explores how rural community characteristics (e.g., legal, political) impact the lived experiences of unstably housed SGM individuals and families and how these experiences vary by social location (e.g., race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, class).  By focusing on the presence or absence of a local nondiscrimination policy in two rural Kentucky communities, the study addresses the a) needs and barriers of this population b) social organizational processes (e.g., informal and formal networks, social capital, community capacity c) physical and mental health outcomes and d) ways to advocate for change to for the betterment of the lives of SGM populations.

We are seeking highly motivated and dependable undergraduate students to serve as undergraduate research assistants (RAs) for this dissertation project. Qualified students will take part in various activities including, but not limited to, interview transcription, online survey development, data management, coding, analysis, and lab meetings. Interested students should email Jasmine Routon about their interest in the project and any relevant background information. If selected, undergraduate students will register for credits with Dr. Ramona Faith Oswald (available Summer 2021).

Prevention Science and Family Health in a Digital Age

The Prevention Science and Family Health lab is seeking motivated undergraduate research assistants. The research and outreach projects sponsored by our lab are grounded primarily in the fields of family science and prevention science. For 2021-2022 (Summer, Fall, and/or Spring), students will have the opportunity to participate in projects involving Behavioral Intervention Technologies (BITs) that apply behavioral and psychological intervention strategies using one or more digital communications media. Current projects are focused on promoting couples’ relationship stability and safety as well as reducing individuals’ tobacco use.

Students may support various aspects of digital program delivery and evaluation, including participant recruitment, website development, project communications, data management, data analyses, and report/manuscript writing. Interested students should send an email to Dr. Allen Barton, briefly explaining their background and interest in this content area. (available Summer and Fall 2021 and Spring 2022)

Stress and Coping in Farm Families

Alcohol use, substance use, and suicide are three causes of premature death referred to as diseases of despair, a framework indicating these causes of death are indicators of an underlying sense of hopelessness. This research project is to investigate the prevalence and meaning of diseases of despair among farming populations in Illinois. Psychological distress and depressive symptoms are higher among farmers than the general population, and there is some evidence that farmers have higher rates of suicide as well. However, there is not much data about mental health or substance use among farming populations, and existing studies are based on limited data. The scope of the prevalence of mental health and substance use issues as well as the meaning of those issues to farmers is unclear. 

This research opportunity is to assist in mixed methods (i.e., quantitative and qualitative) projects about farm stress among Illinois farmers. The project includes surveys and interviews to explore the prevalence of mental health and substance use issues to farmers, as well as their meanings and impacts on farm families, barriers to accessing help, and ideas for programmatic solutions. Project findings will be used to inform development and implementation of programs through Illinois Extension.

We are seeking highly motivated, responsible, dependable undergraduate students to join the project. Students will learn hands-on research skills in quantitative and qualitative methods. RAs will be trained in research processes such as literature reviews, data management, and analysis. RAs may enter survey data, transcribe interviews, code interviews, and attend regular research meetings. Students will register for 1-3 credits of HDFS 294. RAs who commit to two or more semesters of working with the project will be eligible and may be invited to present findings, co-author publications, and/or work with Illinois Extension educators on subsequent program development, implementation, and evaluation. Interested students should submit a letter to Dr. Courtney Cuthbertson describing their interest and past research experience (if applicable). (rolling availablity)

STRONG Kids Program

The STRONG Kids Program is a comprehensive and transdisciplinary approach to the study of the connections between food and family and how these relationships can contribute to child and family health. STRONG Kids accepts a team of undergraduate research assistants each spring for the following academic year (year-long commitment). Applications typically open in April and rising Sophomore-Senior students are welcome to apply. Detailed information can be found at: http://familyresiliency.illinois.edu/education/undergraduate-students.

The Autism Program (TAP)

This course will provide students with experience in working at The Autism Program by staffing the information and outreach center on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for families and professionals who work with families, and to participate in programs that provide supports or services related to ASD to families and professionals. Coursework will enable students to qualify for certification as a Registered Behavioral Technician. Requirements: The internship is open to students in the social and behavioral sciences, with priority given to students in HDFS, SPED, or SHS. This opportunity is limited to Second Semester Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors, and Grad Students. Students are required to complete an application and interview with The Autism Program staff. Additional information and the application form can be found at the TAP website. For additional information contact Anne Hall, The Autism Program, 904 W Nevada, 217-244-1395. (available Fall and Spring semesters)

The Impact of COVID-19 on Latinx Work and Family Outcomes

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many families in US into a turmoil. Families are affected not only by the virus itself and the resulting social isolation and stress, but also by the loss of job security or actual job loss. Black and Latinx families and individuals are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of COVID-19 on work and family. This is due to systemic racial and ethnic inequalities and because the US provides a minimal social safety net for low-income families. For example, the US is the only developed country with no paid family leave and paid sick days for working people; and, the US is ranked 38 out of 41 developed countries in the adequacy of income to jobless families. I focus this study on Black and Latinx families because initial data shows that they were more negatively impacted by the pandemic, possibly because many are working in industries that were severely impacted by the pandemic, many live in a multigenerational family arrangement, and some receive even lower or no benefits at all because of their immigration status. In this study I explore the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on family and work outcomes among Black and Latinx families. The study includes data being collected in the US and will potentially include data collected in the Champaign-Urbana community. As a result of taking part in this research opportunity, you will: (1) Develop an understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods; (2) Become familiar with the topic; (3) Gain knowledge in family, sociology, and economics theories; and (4) Gain experience in writing a review paper. 

Expectations: Students and I will collaboratively develop a research question related to a joint area of interest that relate to the broad research topic (2-3 weeks). Following the development of the research question students will identify 20 (4 credits) or 10 research papers (2 credits) and will write a review of the current literature, identify gaps and limitations of the current research, and identify future research directions. Students will meet with me regularly and will send a draft of their paper as it progresses every two weeks. Alternatively, students will work on data collection in the Champaign-Urbana area. Prerequisites: Students must be juniors, seniors or graduate students who completed a research methods class. Interested students should email Dr. Karen Kramer. (available Fall 2021 and Spring 2022)