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 Spring, Summer, and/or Fall 2019.* (updated 10/23/18)

  • Abriendo Caminos: Clearing the Path to Hispanic Health Lab
  • Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab
  • African American Family (AAFam) Stress and Resiliency Lab
  • Culture and Family Life Lab
  • Family Court Decisions About Child Custody in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence
  • Healthy Experiences Across Relationship Transitions (HEART) Lab
  • Humans in Nature Project
  • Infant Development Project
  • Parental Leave and Family and Work Outcomes
  • School Readiness: Connecting African American and Latino Families and Schools
  • STRONG Kids Program
  • The Autism Program (TAP)

*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!

Abriendo Caminos: Clearing the Path to Hispanic Health Lab

Research has shown that people of Hispanic heritage living in the U.S. are at a heightened risk of obesity and obesity-related health threats. Therefore, a need for affordable, practical interventions exists. This project, seeks to develop an effective, low-cost obesity prevention program (available in both Spanish and English) that can be disseminated by educators and community agencies across the U.S. Ultimately, the project’s six-week community-based program will significantly increase basic knowledge of nutrition and dietary health with the immediate beneficiaries being Hispanic-heritage children ages 6- to 18-years-old.

The Abriendo Caminos Project seeks undergraduate research assistants (RAs) that are motivated and excited to serve Hispanic families and are interested in health promotion. Students will learn hands-on research skills in both qualitative and quantitative methods. Students will learn how to manage large data sets, run analyses, be committed to promoting health among Hispanic families, and collect data. RAs must be at least sophomore standing. Commitment to the RA position for two semesters is strongly preferred. This is an opportunity to learn valuable research methods and prepare posters and presentations. Students will register for 1-3 credit hours of HDFS 294. Spanish is not necessary. To apply, please contact Dr. Margarita Teran. (available Spring 2019).

Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab

The Adolescent Development and Parenting during Transitions (ADAPT) Lab is seeking undergraduate research assistants (sophomore or junior standing). Students will participate in lab meetings, assist with data collection for the Middle School Transition Project or the Adolescents’ Everyday Experiences Project, be involved in data management and coding (e.g., entry, cleaning, analysis) of survey, interview, and observational data, and assist with literature reviews and presentations. We are seeking highly motivated students who are interested in parenting, adolescent stress (e.g., interpersonal stress, school challenges), and/or physiology (e.g., stress response system, heart rate). Commitment to the lab for one academic year is strongly preferred (e.g., Fall-Spring, Summer-Fall). Students have opportunities to gain valuable research experience. Students will register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work a week per 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. To apply, please complete an application, which can be found at the Lab website and contact Dr. Kelly Tu. (available Spring 2019, Summer 2019, and Fall 2019)

African American Family (AAFam) Stress and Resiliency Lab

The African American Family Stress and Resiliency Lab is looking for undergraduate research assistants interested in understanding the connections between race-related stress, mental health, and social support within African American families. Students will have the opportunity to gain experience with multiple research-related activities including, but not limited to, literature reviews, participant recruitment, data management, data analysis, and writing. Lab members must attend biweekly lab meetings and register for 2-3 credits (3 hours of work a week per 1 credit hour) of HDFS 294. It is expected that lab members are motivated, reliable, and able to work both independently and collaboratively. Additional information can be found at the AAFam lab website. To apply to be a research assistant, please contact Dr. Shardé Smith. Limited opportunities available. (rolling availability)

Culture and Family Life Lab

Sophomores or juniors interested in culture, globalization, and the well-being of youth/families across countries are invited to apply to join our international research lab as a Research Assistant (RA). RAs in the CFL lab need to be energetic, self-organized and reliable, with the ability to follow detailed instructions. No prior research experience is required, but a willingness to learn and work hard is crucial. A commitment to the RA position for a full academic year is preferred. RAs can choose to volunteer or register for HDFS 294 initially (Research Internship), with the possibility of HDFS 295 (Independent Study or Research) in the second semester.

Responsibilities and Benefits: RAs are assigned to one main research project in the lab. They participate in lab meetings and events; conduct literature reviews/annotations; enter/code data; prepare handouts, posters, and presentations from study findings; maintain lab website; and possibly assist in developing and executing a new research study. RAs gain research skills and experience needed for graduate school applications; learn more about globalization and families; develop a strong mentorship relationship with Dr. Ferguson and PhD students; have a self-directed and flexible work schedule; and present a research poster at the UIUC Undergrad Research Symposium (for those with HDFS 295 option). To apply, browse the Lab website then email Dr. Gail Ferguson your resume to schedule an interview. (rolling availability)

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 2019 and Fall 2019)

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 2019)   

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. (rolling availability)

Infant Development Project

The Infant Development Project seeks undergraduate research assistants. Students will participate in weekly team meetings, assist with mother-infant research visits at the Beckman Institute, and participate in coding maternal and infant behaviors during a variety of observational tasks. We seek motivated students who are interested in learning about early social and emotional development while gaining valuable research experience. To apply, please contact Dr. Nancy McElwain. (available Spring 2019, Summer 2019, and/or Fall 2019; 2-semester commitment required)

Parental Leave and Family and Work Outcomes

United States is one of four countries around the globe that do not offer paid maternity leave (the others are Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea), and the only developed country that do not offer paid paternal leave. Still, some employees in the United States and recently workers at California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are entitled to paid parental leave. In this study I explore the outcomes of paid parental leave, when offered, on children, couple, family, and work and career outcomes. 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 of paid parental leave in the United States and other countries; (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 weekly and will send a draft of their paper as it progresses every week. Prerequisites: Students must be juniors, seniors or graduate students who completed a research methods class. Interested students should email Dr. Karen Kramer. (available Spring 2019, Summer 2019, and Fall 2019)

School Readiness: Connecting African American and Latino Families and Schools

This project explores how preschools, elementary schools, and families facilitate low-income, African American and Latino preschoolers’ transition to kindergarten. Families who have children with disabilities (cognitive, behavioral, and/or physical) are included. The project is based on qualitative interviews with preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and parents, neighborhood observations, and photographs from African American and Latino parents on daily family life. Students will work in our ethnographic research lab with data that have already been collected. Students will have an opportunity to become familiar with the literatures on family resilience, parenting practices and schooling, and family-school collaborations, and developmental disabilities in early childhoodand to learn qualitative data analysis skills. Developing data analysis skills will entail coding interviews and photo documents. As part of the project activities, we will work on developing a parenting curriculum that facilitates greater parental engagement with schools and communities for all children. The project provides an excellent opportunity to work as part of a research team with other undergraduate and graduate students. Students will register for 1-3 hours of HDFS 294. Interested students should contact Dr. Robin Jarrett. (available Spring 2019, Summer 2019, Fall 2019)

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:

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 ASDs 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 Spring 2019)