Spring 2014 Research Assistantships

********The deadline to apply for Spring 2014 is Friday, October 4th 2013.*********

All research assistantships for the upcoming semester can be found on this page.  Please scroll through to find one that’s interesting to you.  If you find one, apply!

Students can find the online application here.

Applications are due by Friday, October 4th, 2013 for Spring 2014 research assistantship opportunities. For more information or questions about undergraduate research through the University Honors Program, please go here or contact Catherine Chandler at cbrady@gwu.edu.


Integrate Systems Biology

Engineer aspartate transcarbamylase to glutamate transcarbamylase 

Professor Dashuang Shi

The Project: Carbamylglutamate is a drug to treat N-acetylglutmate synthase deficiency and other conditions to cause hyperammonemia. Carbamylglutamate is not a natural metabolite and is made chemically. We would like to engineer aspartate transcarbamylase to become glutamate transcarbamylase to be able to produce carbamylglutamate biochemically.

Research Assistant Tasks:

1. Clone ATCase gene from E. coli.

2. Mutate ATCase gene.

3. To test the catalytic activity for production of carbamylglutamate.

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 4-6 hours per week/ 2 credit hours

Contact E-mail: dshi@cnmcresearch.org


Political Science

The Politics of Managing Diasporas

Professor Harris Mylonas

The Project:  In The Politics of Managing Diasporas, my second book project, I focus on state policies toward diasporas (co-ethnics abroad). Diaspora management is a term I have coined to describe both the policies that states follow in order to build links with their diaspora abroad and the policies designed to help with the incorporation and integration of diaspora communities when they “return” home. Israel is of course a paradigmatic case in the camp of countries with extensive diaspora management policies, but there are many countries in Europe that have extensive polices as well.

Some states have extensive policies on this front while others neglect their diasporic communities. The first research question I address in my book project is, under what conditions does a state have a diaspora management policy? I argue that countries that have a clear definition of a “national type”; a population outside of their borders—recent or not—that can fit the criteria of this definition; the capacity to design and implement such a policy; and face security threats and/or workforce shortages are more likely to develop diaspora management policies than countries that lack one or more of this factors.
The second part of my book project looks within countries that have such policies. In particular, I study the conditions under which a government treats some of its diasporic communities more favorably—e.g. providing them with incentives to “return” back to the homeland—than others. In my work I am exploring various explanations for this variation: ethnic hierarchy; the timing and reasons behind the repatriation of each group; the skills that each community has; the degree of organization abroad; and, finally, the nature of interstate relations and balance of power between the sending state and the respective host state

Research Assistant Tasks: 

  1. Assist in Data Collection
  2. Assist in Data Analysis

Requirements: N/A

Additional Requirements:

  1. Knowledge of European Languages is a plus
  2. Knowledge of statistics may be required but is not necessary.

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 7-9 hours/week, Variable credit

Contact Email: mylonas@gwu.edu


Interest Group Lobbying and the Making of Obamacare Regulations

Professor Steven J. Balla

The Project: Interest group opposition has always been seen as one of the major obstacles to health care reform.  With the Affordable Care Act becoming law (and withstanding a court challenge), one might argue that opposing interest groups were unsuccessful this time around.  But the passage of the legislation is only one stage in the policymaking process.  The ACA requires the issuing of many regulations, a reality that is not lost on interest groups.  Which interest groups are active in lobbying the government agencies that are writing ACA regulations?  How successful have these groups been, whether supporting or opposing ACA regulations?  This project will require collecting information about interest group activities during the making of ACA regulations.  It will also involve interviewing interest group personnel who have been active in lobbying on ACA regulations

Research Assistant Tasks: 

  1. Gather information about the politics of the ACA
  2. Use online databases to track interest group lobbying on ACA regulations
  3. Interview individuals who have lobbied the government on ACA regulations

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: Variable

Contact Email: stevenjballa@gmail.com


Pharmacology and Physiology

Visual System Circuit Formation

Professor Jason W. Triplett

The Project: The human brain is comprised of ~100 billion neurons, each of which can make synaptic connections with thousands of other neurons. In order to comprehend the world around us and make appropriate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, synaptic connections must be precise. A central focus of my lab is to understand the molecular and cellular forces by which precise connectivity is established between neurons in the visual system. Neurons in the eye project to the brain and wire up such that the neighbor-neighbor relationships of cell bodies in the retina are maintained in their terminations, a process called topographic mapping. In addition, retinal neurons that process distinct aspects of the visual scene, e.g. color vs. motion, project to distinct places in the target, a process known as laminar targeting. While some of the cues that guide each of these individual processes are known, it is unclear if there is any cross-talk between topographic mapping and laminar targeting events.

Research Assistant Tasks: The proposed research project would begin to address this issue by examining the expression patterns of known and candidate molecules in the brains of normal animals and those in which lamination is disrupted. Specific research techniques used will include: in situ hybridization, immunohistochemical staining, brightfield and fluorescent microscopy, and molecular cloning. Based on our preliminary findings and our ability to perform these experiments with high success rate, the project promises to yield exciting and perhaps publishable results.

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 10-15 hrs/week, 3 Credits

Contact Email


Studying Genes Responsible for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Professor Chiara Manzini

The Project: Our lab starts from human genetics to identify genes mutated in disorders affecting brain development and function such as brain malformations, intellectual disability and autism. Once we identify the disease genes we use animal models (zebrafish and mouse) to replicate the disease-causing mutation and explore the mechanisms responsible.

We focus on two primary lines of research:
1) Exploring the little-known role of the extracellular matrix in brain, eye and muscle development by studying a group of severe human diseases causing brain malformations and muscular dystrophy. For this we use both state-of-the-art next-generation sequencing technologies and the rapid development of the zebrafish, Danio rerio, to model and understand disease.
2) Explaining how specific autism mutations cause the disease by a multifaceted approach using biochemistry, cell biology and animal behavior

Research Assistant Tasks: Specific independent projects can be carved out in both lines of research in the lab and the type of experiment will be designed depending on time availability.

1) Wet-lab work: Basic molecular biology and biochemistry (cloning, PCR, sequencing and Western blotting), may be accompanied by cell culture, histology, immunohistochemistry and microscopy. Because we work on development, most of the work we do follows either cells or a whole organism differentiating over multiple days.
2) Large dataset analysis: our human genetic analysis is performed on large dataset of next-generation sequencing, we could also use help in data analysis.

requirements: for dataset analysis

  1. Knowledge of SQL or R
  2. Ability to manipulate large dataset
  3. ability to develop new database queries

Time Commitment/Credit Hours:2 hours/day over 4 days a week, or 2-3 full afternoons. (Wet labs), 1 day a week (Large dataset analysis)

Contact Email: cmanzini@gwu.edu


Department of Accountancy

Technology in Internal Markets; assigning diplomats to foreign embassies in the U.S. State Department

Professor Korok Ray

The Project: Organizations of all kinds such as government, corporations, and non-profits need to assign workers to jobs. Traditionally this has been done manually, however advances in technology and economic research are opening the door to using more sophisticated methods to match employees to employers within organizations, in internal labor markets.

This research seeks to explore how to best match U.S. diplomats to embassies around the world through the U.S. state department. The government matches hundreds of Foreign Service officers to embassies every year and they seek better and more precise ways to do this. The project has both technical/mathematical as well as relationship/rhetorical/marketing

Research Assistant Tasks: I seek a research assistant to help me implement this program.  I have already designed the mathematical algorithm and the basic technology to help with the assignment.  However, I require a bright undergraduate with a general background in economics, mathematics, statistics, computer science or business.  The best applicant will have a strong curiosity of how to apply cutting edge economic research to solve the latest problems in the real world.  This project is as concrete as it gets

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 7-9 hours per week, Varies

Contact Email: raykorok9@gmail.com


Value Investing and Technology

Professor Korok Ray

The Project: Value investing is the principle of fundamental, long-term investing, embraced by Graham, Dodd, and Buffett.  These principles have laid the foundation for fundamental based analysis of stocks and bonds for 50 years.  However, value investing does not embrace technology as a core part of its mission.  My research project seeks to understand how to improve on the fundamental principles of value investing using modern technology, i.e. the digital revolution.  Technology enables faster processing of data, better connection between people, and more corporate transparency, all of which can improve the work of a modern value investor.  The research will require a wide mix of skills and a strong interest in equity investing, financial statement analysis accounting and finance and new developments in technology.  The best undergraduate research will be self-motivated, self-directed, curious and have some desire to improve as an investor.  Any additional skills or knowledge of technology is a plus, including knowledge of Microsoft Excel.  Any computer programming languages are added benefits, but not required

Research Assistant Tasks: I seek a smart undergraduate in business or economics to help crack the problem.  Strong skills in Microsoft Office are required especially Microsoft Excel and some skills in statistical programs would be helpful.  The more coursework you have in finance and accounting the better


  1. Strong Skills in Microsoft Office
  2. Self motivated
  3. have some desire to improve as an investor
  4. Strong interest in equity investing or financial statement analysis accounting

Additional Requirements

  1. Knowledge of Microsoft Excel is a plus
  2. Computer Programming languages are added benefits
  3. Some skills in statistical programs would be helpful
  4. Coursework in finance and accounting

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 7-9 Hrs/week, Varies

Contact Email: raykorok9@gmail.com


American Studies

American Religion, American Politics

Professor Joseph Kip Kosek

The Project: This project is a textbook of primary sources on religion in American politics and public life from the founding to the present. Entitled American Religion, American Politics: Essential Texts, the book is under contract to be published by Yale University Press. It will cover a variety of important themes, including: religious and secular visions of the nation; religion’s role in promoting or preventing bigotry, conflict, and violence; the separation of church and state; religious factors in racial and gender politics; the use of religious resources in reform movements; and the relationship of religion and democracy. The book itself will not espouse any particular theological or political stance, but rather present a series of debates stretching across the nation’s history. Hopefully it will be used for undergraduate courses in history, religious studies, political science, and allied fields.

Research Assistant Tasks:

  1.  researching the lives of the authors represented in the book
  2. creating and assembling a timeline of major events in the history of American religion and politics
  3. finding authoritative original editions of the primary source readings themselves
  4. determining which sources are protected by copyright.


  1. an ability to use library databases and resources
  2. interest in those subjects

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 4-6 Hrs/Week, Not Sure

Contact Email: kosek@gwu.edu


Trachtenburg School of Public Policy

The Composition of Program Responsibilities in Government Agencies and the Resulting Effectiveness of Program Administration

Professor Stuart Kasadin

The Project: 

This paper examines whether the structure and organization of government agencies affects the effectiveness of management and the resulting program impacts.

The design of government agencies is generally a gradual process in which new programs are added over time, even as others drop off. This study asks whether we see differences in program performance as a result of the structure of the agency.

If an agency is composed of programs with purposes that are poorly correlated, do we see that performance is compromised? Conversely, does greater correlation among program goals leads to improved program accomplishments? For example, agencies that have a variety of service and grant making program responsibilities have been accused of being less effective regulators than single purpose agencies.

Research Assistant Tasks: 

This project will analyze the degree to which federal agencies’ performance measures are correlated with each other. Performance measures are designed to indicate the annual progress that government programs make toward accomplishing program goals. I have collected documents and emails for different government agencies that includes their annual performance measures from 2000-2010. The student would create a data set that shows each agency’s performance measures and their annual results.

Depending on the hours worked, the student also could create some case studies comparing contrasting agencies.

Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 4-6 Hrs/week, Variable Credit

Contact Email: skasdin@gwu.edu


Photography and Digital Imaging

Professor Kessmann’s creative research addresses issues of representation and abstraction through the lens of photography and digital imaging. He has utilized as source material everything from pages of the Bible and art magazines and a seminal art history textbook to blank sheets of standard, letter-sized paper. His interests have ranged from the necessity of taking personal responsibility for the interpretation of a holy text to issues that revolve around the circulation of information about the art world and it’s relationship to the market place. In each of these projects the source material was transformed—systematically copied, reproduced, and re-presented—yet to some extent, these alterations merely held a mirror to the thing itself, as many photographs do. However, by carefully utilizing the strategy of appropriation these reflections are subtly distorted. This approach focuses the viewers’ attention in ways that allow for multiple interpretations and the construction of new meaning through the act of critical contemplation.

Professor Kessmann seeks an undergraduate student interested in working closely with him on the realization of an art project that references the nature of photographic production and confronts the history of monochromatic and color field painting. The primary subject of this new project is the vocabulary of commercial photography: medium gray and graduated color studio backgrounds, basic lighting studio equipment, and color calibration charts. While the resulting photographs will, on the one hand, resemble test shots regularly done prior to commercial still-life photography shoots to ensure proper lighting and color balance, the commercial products will be suspiciously absent. The colors in the images will not be selected based on subjective criteria, beyond the choice of purchasing the products from a major photographic retailer, yet particular colors will, nonetheless, have specific associations for individual viewers. The connections between fine art and consumerism addressed in this work will relate to a number of Professor Kessmann’s earlier projects; therefore, this new work will further develop a larger body of work that examines the intersection of high and low art within a consumer-driven society. Finally, in addition to the project described above, the student would assist Professor Kessmann in generating proof prints and final prints for a number of other projects.

Students should expect to work approximately six to nine hours a week. Duties may include: capturing digital files using a digital SLR camera and studio lighting, editing and retouching files using Photoshop, printing inkjet prints on large-format Epson printers, and conducting research on historical and contemporary works of art related to the various projects. Working knowledge of Photoshop, digital photography, and an interest in Modern and Contemporary art would be helpful, but not required.


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