Tuesday, May 21

Experimental lab advocates diverse research for political science students


(Courtesy of Efrén Pérez)

(Courtesy of Efrén Pérez)


A new lab aims to engage students in political research using experimentation and data analysis.

Efrén Pérez, director of UCLA’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy and a political science professor, established the Race, Ethnicity, Politics and Society Experimental Lab in August 2018 to provide funding and guidance for student research projects, according to the center’s website. Since then, the lab has expanded to recruit more graduate and undergraduate students.

The lab aims to produce more research about racial identity in the United States, provide more accessible data to student researchers and educate students, Pérez said.

The lab guides students through the research process and will provide small grants for student research proposals throughout the year. Students also meet on a weekly basis to propose their research ideas and provide feedback to one another.

Bianca Vicuña, a member of the lab and a first-year graduate student in political science, said the lab has helped her collect data for her research.

“Getting data is difficult (even) for graduate students and now we can easily get data (through the lab),” she said.

Vicuña added the lab’s focus on conducting experimental research regarding ethnic minorities is not common in the field of political science.

“It is rare to see an experiment (in political science), and there are not a lot of researchers focusing on minority groups,” Vicuña said.

Current research projects include exploring how racial identity influences political decisions, how black women vote and why members within racial groups may support political positions that could harm them.

Rodolfo Solis, a member of the lab and a first-year graduate student in political science, said he thinks the lab helps students develop research skills such as running experiments and gathering subject pools under the guidance of more experienced graduate students or professors.

“I can take a (research) idea, and they will help me to mold the idea,” Solis said. “You will get a lot of help and be comfortable at the same time.”

The REPS Lab features a computer lab that gives students access to specialized software for data manipulation and analysis, Vicuña said.

Pérez said he thinks the lab gives students the research experience they need to get into graduate schools.

“When you apply to graduate schools, it is risky for graduate school admissions to accept a student since they don’t know if students are actually capable of researching,” Pérez said. “Having a research experience like this limits some of the uncertainty and makes students way more competitive.”

Solis added he believes the REPS Lab’s focus on race and ethnicity research will help attract students who care about these issues to UCLA.

“(The REPS Lab) is going to help a lot of students,” Solis said. “It will motivate a lot of students to come to UCLA to pursue their ideas.”

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