PSTC Launches New Undergraduate Fellows Program

August 15, 2022

This summer, the Population Studies and Training Center (PSTC) launched a new undergraduate research initiative. This eight-week, paid summer fellowship aims to prepare current Brown undergraduates to engage in rigorous empirical research in population studies, public policy, and related fields. In so doing, the program also seeks to build and diversify the pipeline of population researchers through expanding access to research training, mentoring, and professional development.

The inaugural cohort included five Fellows selected through a competitive application process. The Fellows spent the first several weeks participating in a “boot camp” co-taught by economist Jesse Bruhn and sociologist Margot Jackson which focused on developing skills in statistics, data management, and data analysis. The boot camp brought together Undergraduate Fellows from PSTC and the Annenberg Institute. At the conclusion of their training, the PSTC Fellows were paired with PSTC faculty to gain firsthand experience doing population research related to inequality, health, and well-being, while the Annenberg Fellows worked with Annenberg postdocs on education research.

The PSTC Undergraduate Fellows Program provides a team-based approach that emphasizes mentoring, peer learning, and a high level of faculty-student interaction. “For decades, the PSTC has been home to a highly regarded graduate and postdoctoral training program in the population sciences. We look forward to drawing on these experiences as we expand opportunities for Brown’s outstanding undergraduates. We couldn’t be more excited,” said PSTC Director Susan Short. Although this program is new, undergraduates have participated in research at PSTC for years. The PSTC has been an active participant in the Leadership Alliance Summer Program, which matches students from outside Brown with Brown faculty researchers, for over 25 years. They have also regularly hosted Brown Undergraduate Research Training Awardees and hire several dozen RAs annually.

Population science and the specialty of demographic research is an interdisciplinary field. At Brown, the PSTC spans more than ten departments and specializes in five areas: children, families, and health; migration and urbanization; population, environment, and economic development; reproductive health and HIV/AIDS; and the social foundations of health disparities.

Our inaugural cohort of Fellows learned to identify and understand key questions related to population studies and how a social science approach informs understanding of health and well-being, as well as gain fluency in using statistical software to conduct quantitative analysis and practice communication skills including data displays, visualization, and academic presentations.

The Fellows engaged in a variety of projects, including visualizing and preparing data related to interethnic and interracial marriage patterns for later model building, examining death certificates and census microdata from the 1918 influenza pandemic to analyze the disparities of vulnerability at the level of individuals and neighborhoods, and conducting literature reviews on the topic of Latino segregation and residential patterns from 1900-1970.

“This project really deepened my interest and experiences in doing population research by allowing me to work with large datasets, which is something I hadn’t done in my previous undergrad courses,” says Fellow Xiru Wei. “It made the concept of endogamy come to life.” Angelina Rios-Galindo adds, “Before this experience, I knew I was somewhat interested in demography and broader sociological research, but working in the PSTC and connecting with faculty has definitely solidified that interest. I am excited to start again in the fall with my research endeavors and pick up where I left off.”

Fellow Chloe Zilkha says, “My experience in the Undergraduate Fellows program was incredible. I worked with Professor Margot Jackson on her project studying how state spending on social programs has changed over time and the effects those investments have on class-based inequality. I really enjoyed working on this project and getting first-hand exposure to how research evolves. Because of this summer experience, I intend to pursue further opportunities to engage with population research in the future!”

We were thrilled to welcome this talented group of undergraduates to the PSTC this summer. Meet them here.