UMass Amherst Department of Political Science

Undergraduate Research

The Department offers several opportunities for undergradutes to become involved in research. Our undergraduate Research Engagement Program pairs majors with faculty for one-on-one experience conducting research. Independent Studies offer students a opportunities to apply and extend knowledge from other classes as they explore areas of personal interest. Similarly, students in the Commonwealth College can conduct and write original research through Honors Theses and Capstones.

Librarians Peter Stern (Political Science) and Barbara Morgan (Legal Studies) are always available to students pursue particular research questions. Be sure to visit the online research guides for Political Science and Legal Studies for a list of resources. Want in-person help? Librarians offer "Librarian is in" sessions in Thompson Cafe each week. Check the Thompson Lobby for schedules each semester.


 Undergraduate Research Engagement Program (UREP)


This program provides approximately 10 to 20 students per year exciting opportunities to work along side a Faculty member on specific research projects. These fellowship positions are typically for one semester and carry class credit through POLISCI 398R (the number of credits depend on the number of hours worked). Students are expected to attend a group class session each week to discuss their projects and research in general. 

Current openings are posted here.

Read more about student experiences in the REP here.

Examples of projects from the REP include:

  • "International Environmental Governance" Peter Haas & Connor Sullivan '13
  • "Media Accounts of the Death Penalty, 1945-1965" Daniel LaChance & Giovanna Randazzo '13
  • "Property Rights in the Developing World" Regine Spector & Ben Secrist '13
  • "Do Campaign Finance Laws Matter?” Raymond La Raja & Daniel Halloran '13




Grant-Funded Research Assistant Positions

Students are frequently hired as research assistants on faculty research grants. These positions provide similar experiences as the REP positions, but they are funded by and coordinated by individual faculty members, not the department. The number of positions available each semester varies according to which projects may be funded at the time. Again, let your instructors know you are interested in research opportunities, and they will keep you in mind. Openings are typically announced in class or via an email from the faculty member. Occassionally, the positions are posted on the Student Employment Website

Examples of research assistant projects include:






Several Political Science and Legal Studies classes offer hands-on research training. Hone your skills developing surveys, collecting and analyzing data, or coding and conducting interviews under the guidance of one of our expert instructors. Try out these courses:

  • POLISCI 253: International Environmental Politics and Policy
    Learn research skills including how to define a researchable topic, conduct library work, and analyze text and other data.
  • POLISCI 305: Congress and the Legislative Process
    Learn how to gather data, develop theory and test hypotheses regarding the behavior of members of the US Congress.
  • POLISCI 359: International Political Economy
    Learn how to develop and execute a research plan on the politics of international economic relations using primary and secondary sources.
  • POLISCI 391BH: Political Polling and Survey Research
    Learn how to develop, conduct, and analyze an exit poll survey
  • POLISCI 391GH: Investigating Interest Group Power in the US
    Learn how to analyze documents; conduct elite interviews; and collect, code and analyze data
  • POLSCI 397CL: Corporate Lobbying in the Global Economy
    Learn how to analyze various dimensions of global lobbying efforts, learn structured comparative analysis, and conduct original research on lobbying under different circumstances.
  • POLISCI 397D: Argumentation and Debate
    Learn research, writing, organization, response, and cross-examination skills
  • POLISCI 397M : Is Democracy Possible Everywhere?
    Learn how to develop and execute your own research project
  • POLISCI 397RH: International Regimes in Theory and Practice
    Learn how to engage primary and secondary sources and conduct evaluations of programs
  • POLISCI 499E: Research Methodology
    Find and refine a topic, finalize a scope, and create a viable research plan.

  • LEGAL 394SI: Law, Societies, and Global Justice
    Learn Information Literacy: how to find and evaluate information on-line using the Internet and library database resources.  
  • LEGAL 450: Legal Research and Writing
    Learn how to design a research project, conduct the research, write a scholarly paper, and prepare an oral presentation.
  • LEGAL 485: Death Penalty in America
    Learn how to identify a research topic, use primary and secondary sources, and write a scholarly paper describing your findings.


Independent Studies

Political Science credit may be obtained through independent study on topics of interest to students and faculty. Responsibility for such arrangements lies with the student, who should (a) identify a subject to pursue either through directed readings or research and (b) locate a member of the department faculty agreeable to supervise that work. The Independent Study numbers (POLSCI 296, 396, 496) should be used for this purpose. Ordinarily a student will receive no more than three semester hours credit for any such undertaking, although it is possible to receive up to six hours credit in a single semester. Credit earned through independent study may be used to satisfy one elective requirement in the department, provided that at least three credits are earned and a grade is given. No independent study course, however, may be used to satisfy an introductory or distribution requirement.

For a form to apply for Independent Study, click on the following link.


Honors Thesis & Capstones

Independent Capstones allow students the opportunity to focus on an issue or problem of special interest to them, arising out of their major study or across two or more disciplines. Students pursue independent research and scholarly, scientific, or creative work under the supervision of a faculty "guidance committee." Their efforts culminate in the production and presentation of the student's own substantial thesis or project. However, these projects need not end when a student submits their work. There are plently of examples of Honors Theses being expanded to help our alumni after they graduate. One example can be found here. It was written by a student as her Undergraduate Honors Thesis, and then changed into an article for that website.

For more information on an Honors Thesis, please visit Commonwealth College's Website.

Many students who complete independent research for a thesis or capstone choose to present their work at the Annual MA Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference.



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