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Summer Social Science Research

Zoë explains the sociology research she's been involved in over summer break.

Zoë explains the sociology research she's been involved in over summer break.

Social science undergraduate research

This summer, I am splitting my time between being an Admissions Fellow and a Research Assistant. This means I’m working 20 hours in the admissions office and 20 hours doing sociology research. I’ve enjoyed the variety of tasks I’ve worked on over the last few months, as I continue a job that’s familiar to me (admissions) and one that’s completely new (research)!

While many people hear “undergraduate research” and think of STEM projects that involve work in a lab, social science research at Carleton is highly accessible and equally robust. A diverse array of projects is executed every year, jointly completed by faculty and students. Examples include contributing to a reading group to review books, traveling to another country for an archaeological dig, translating a piece of literature, and presenting a paper you completed for a class at a conference.

A room of student presenting their research posters in the Weitz commons
Carls have ample opportunities to share and present their research findings. Here, students stand by their poster presentations in the Weitz, for the annual research symposium.

What is my research group studying?

Under the supervision of sociology professor Wes Markofski, my research group is examining several dimensions of protest against the installation of Line 3, a pipeline running through Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) territory in northern Minnesota. The project is officially titled “Protecting Sacred Waters: Mobilizing Indigenous and Western Meanings of Science and Spirituality in the Battle over Line 3.” Analyzing indigenous perspectives and protest of Line 3, and the various arguments that are cited for and against the pipeline, has been enlightening and transformative. 

line 3
A snapshot of a Stop Line 3 protest. Photo from the Sierra Club.

Admittedly, before doing this research I knew very little about Line 3 and the depressing ramifications of its presence in the ground. Violating treaty rights, running through sacred wild rice beds, disturbing pristine bodies of water, and wreaking havoc on the local communities it travels through, Canadian oil company Enbridge’s Line 3 rightfully sparked a controversial sociopolitical debate.

Using a qualitative coding program

Throughout this process, I’ve learned how to use Dedoose, a qualitative coding tool that allows researchers to sift through media articles and organize chunks of text. Using Dedoose has taught me how to code methodically, pragmatically, and consistently.

A glimpse of the coding software we use.

Applying codes like “Science/Environment,” “Religion/Spirituality,” and “Indigenous Rights/Culture” to chunks of pertinent text in news articles is the bulk of our work. We also use context codes to apply as a general tag to a media item, such as “Activist/Grassroots,” “Political/Public,” and “Legal/Courts.” I’ve found that this work requires a lot of critical thinking and discrimination. It has also prompted me to ask a lot of sociological questions! Ultimately, this intermediate stage of the research process will support writing several academic papers and content analyses. I’m excited to see the final products when the project is completed.

How did I get the position?

As a Sociology/Anthropology (SoAn) major, I knew I wanted to try my hand at undergraduate research with a faculty member at Carleton. I discovered that Wes was in the midst of an ongoing research project that required the help of student assistants.

Wes was the professor for my Sociological Thought and Theory class that I’d taken during the fall term of my junior year. I enjoyed the class, so I sent him an email to ask if he would be willing to take me on as a research assistant for the summer. He replied in the affirmative, and the rest is history!

Who makes up the research team?

Our student research team consists of 5 students, 4 of whom are SoAn majors, and 1 of whom is a Psychology major. For many research positions, you do not have to be a major within the department in order to do research. 

Jeremy and I were already friends before working on the same research team. This shared collaborative effort has definitely brought us closer together!

So, if you find you have an interest in a field you don’t want to major or minor in, you can still reach out to a professor and see if you can help out with a project! Geology majors doing chemistry research, environmental studies majors doing political science research, and even art history majors doing biology research are far from unheard of.

Team community

One thing I appreciate about doing sociology research is that I’m not alone in the endeavor. Aside from having guidance from Wes, a faculty member, I also am surrounded by other students who are conducting research at the same time as me. We students are encouraged to collaborate, exchange ideas, and share tips with each other throughout the research process. We have weekly meetings where we review the work we’ve accomplished. 

Leighton Hall
The main entrance of Leighton Hall (the academic building home to the humanities/social sciences).

Every week throughout the summer, Wes opens the SoAn lounge in Leighton Hall. There, he hosts “coding sessions,” where students can convene and work together in solidarity. He jokingly designated this ritual as a Durkheimian act of “collective coding effervescence.” A couple of weeks ago, we had a summer campfire at Wes’s house. This summer research has become an avenue to get to know and become closer with my fellow researchers and professor.

Why it’s a rewarding experience

Working on a team and doing research within my field of study has been enriching for a myriad of reasons. Not only have I gained valuable experience with social science research and learned a ton, but I have also deepened my connections with my peers and faculty. Having the opportunity to strengthen these relationships while doing something I’m passionate about has been an amazing outcome.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to me that more than 75% of Carls get involved in undergraduate research outside of the senior comps project. It’s typically easy to become part of, facilitated by small class sizes and close professor-student relationships. I’m grateful for the opportunities available to me as a student at a small liberal arts college like Carleton.

Zoë (she/her) is a senior Sociology-Anthropology major from South Bend, Indiana who loves traveling and photography. Her sophomore year, she studied abroad in Denmark and started a personal travel blog. When she’s not giving tours and blogging for admissions, Zoë enjoys frequenting the coffee shops in downtown Northfield, luxuriating in long walks in the glorious Arb, playing the cello, participating in club soccer, doing research with her sociology professor, and scoping out delicious plant-based restaurants and recipes. Meet the other bloggers!