Holtz Center allocates $15,000 to support STS undergraduate researchers

The Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies (STS) offered a unique opportunity to its members and their undergraduate researchers during these challenging times, with many unknowns still existing over the summer months. After hearing that students’ summer positions and internships were being cancelled due to COVID-19, the Holtz Center released a call for proposals earlier this spring to support undergraduate student researchers conducting STS-related research. In May, eight Holtz Center members received a combined total of $15,000 in funding, allocated to pay their undergraduate research assistants. Awards ranged from $1000 per student to $3000 for hiring multiple students to work together in one research area.

Faculty with an interest in science and technology studies were invited to draft short proposals explaining what research their students would conduct. Projects supported included those in the social sciences, arts and humanities and worked on research that interests with science, technology, medicine and society. Research supported ranged from mental health and alcohol use on social media during the pandemic to researching speculative narratives, imaginings, and anxieties surrounding emergent technologies in nineteenth-century France.

Holtz Center member, Nicole Nelson (Medical History and Bioethics) teaches a large undergraduate lecture class in the Spring semester. She noticed that many of her undergraduate students had summer internships and shadowing experiences that were being cancelled as a result of COVID-19.

“With funds from the Holtz (Center), I was able to hire two of those students to work remotely with my team this summer. As an added bonus, I’ll now be able to collect twice as much data for my study on reproducibility and grad student mental health!”, she enthusiastically shared.

Nelson’s team, including the two undergraduate students, will examine student and mentor responses to instances of irreproducibility, with the aim of identifying patterns of response that may contribute to delays in correcting the research record, to poor student mental health, and to a lack of diversity in STEM.

As COVID-19 has shut down many museums and libraries, museum and library professionals have developed and/or curated online learning resources to continue their educational programming for families. As COVID-19 has disproportionately affected families with limited or intermittent internet connectivity, Peter Wardrip’s (Curriculum and Instruction) project seeks to help museums and libraries be more responsive to meet the needs of all families. Professor Wardrip was thrilled to help fund a student to work on this project over the summer. The student will be working with him on research virtually for 10-15 hours per week.

“Holtz Center funding will help us analyze what kinds of content currently exists, and also talk to practitioners and families to better understand what has been learned in the development of the resources and how families experience the resources”, Wardrip acknowledged.

Professor Kaiping Chen (Life Sciences Communication) also received funding for her two undergraduate research assistants who work with her for approximately eight hours per week over the summer. Both are female researchers from the STEM field, who will work with Chen on her research project, “Money, Politics, and Science Communication: How Campaign Contributions Influence What Legislators Say”. The students will apply data science as well as theories on science and political communication to study how current congressional members in the United States communicate science policies to the general public and to their subscribers through analyzing official websites, emails, and campaign donations.

Chen states that funding of “this project will bring new knowledge to STS on understanding the political economy of science public policy making”.

The Holtz Center is thrilled that these members and their undergraduate students have been able to continue their research over the summer months and is happy to support each of these projects across the UW-Madison.

“COVID-19 cancelled a lot of summer internship plans!” Holtz Center Director, Professor Noah Weeth Feinstein expressed in response to the pandemic. “As so many of us know from personal experience, summer research work can transform a student’s career, so these losses are real and serious. One way the Holtz Center is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is by boosting our support for undergraduate research experiences. We are deeply invested in fostering the careers of emerging STS scholars, and are proud to be able to connect great STS scholars with superb UW-Madison undergraduate researchers this summer.”.