New College Political Behavior Lab
The New College of Florida Political Behavior Lab (PBL) is a team of undergraduate students, with and under the direction of Professor Reilly, conducting research on elections, public opinion, and political behavior. We especially work on questions regarding social context and influence in politics, social and political networks, and political geography using statistics and data science techniques. We have a particular interest in Florida politics, and conduct our work in a open, reproducible fashion.
You can find out more about us, who we are, and what we do, at our website: ncfpbl.github.io.
Interested in joining the lab? We’d love to have you! If you’d like to join, but aren’t sure what you’d like to do, let Professor Reilly know or talk to a current lab member. There are a number of existing projects you could contribute to, depending on your skill set and interest.
The lab is directed by Prof Reilly, but is a collaborative endeavor between him and the students in the lab. The topics we study and research we conduct are driven by both his interests and the interests of students working in the lab. You can get a good feel for the kinds of things we work on by browsing our website, but there are also a few other things in progress that we haven’t made public yet.
Ways to Join
- In general, there are three ways you can contribute to the lab:
- Work as an RA for Professor Reilly directly on one of his projects. This can be a good introduction to quantitative work in social science, but with a clear goal and lots of structure and guidance.
- Join an existing lab project. This option allows for more latitude and self-direction, but still under the guise of fitting into an overall collaborative project directed by Prof Reilly, you, and your fellow students.
- Propose a new project to work on in the lab. This can be a project you’re expanding on from a class, a new facet of an existing lab project, or a new project all together. This option is typically reserved for those who have been in the lab for a while, as you need some experience before you’re ready to manage your own project. You’ll still work directly with Prof. Reilly (and possibly other lab members), but this time, it will be you on the steering wheel, so to speak.
- As you’ll discover, the lines between (1), (2), and (3) may not always be as well defined as they initially appear, and students in lab will frequently find themselves doing more than one thing a semester. Each semester you continue in lab, however, you’ll be expected to define your goals and projects at the beginning of the semester, and formally report on your progress on those goals and projects at the end (as well as, of course, in meetings throughout the semester itself.)
- While there aren’t formal pre-requisites for working in the lab, you do need to come in with a familiarity for working with quantitative data in social science contexts. Typically, this means a class or two in quantitative social science, statistics, and/or computer science, along with substantive coursework in social science. Critical thinking, reading, and writing are essential skills, as well (as in any college-level endeavor.)
- Most commonly, students take Quantitative Political Analysis II during or before their first semester in the lab.
- In your first semester working in the lab, you will take a “boot camp” tutorial to (re-)introduce you to the practice of reproducible research as well as the tools and techniques we use in the lab.
- If you are interested in working in the lab, and thus, this kind of work in general, you should check out the new undergraduate programs in Quantitative Social Science and/or Data Science at New College. While enrolling in these programs and courses is not required for lab work, you will find they help your work in lab significantly - not to mention your career or education after New College in this area as well.
Time Commitments and Expectations
- Most work in the lab is for tutorial credit at New College, but occasionally there is space for paid work over the summers or regular school year for established lab members.
- During the school year, there are regular, weekly lab meetings (typically, Friday afternoons at 2:30 or 4). Summer schedules are more fluid, but those working in the lab over summer meet regularly as well.
- Most lab work is individual or in small groups. Depending on the amount of hours you are able to put into the lab in a given semester, you will register for different amounts of academic credit, but you should imagine, at minimum, putting five hours of work into lab a week outside of lab meetings, with commitments increasing from there depending on your goals and projects (and amount of academic credit you wish to register for).
Why Join the Lab?
- Primarily, you should join the lab because you want to gain experience working together with other interested students in quantitative social science (in general) and political behavior, broadly construed (in particular)! If you think working with political data is interesting, like working as a part of team, and want to gain skills for your future, this is a great place to do that.
- As you move through the lab, you’ll move from primarily contributing to ongoing projects to taking more ownership over those projects, to finally proposing and working on individual projects yourself (up through your thesis, which, should you desire, can be integrated into your lab work as well), gaining experience in contributing to and managing a variety of different kinds of work at different levels of ownership.
- Lab members have access to use the physical lab itself, a collaborative work space with computers, statistical software, and other tools and resources for your work. You’ll also find other lab members, the lab manager, and Professor Reilly working in the lab frequently, all of whom can be a source of support on your projects.
- Although every project has a different path, lab members frequently bring their papers and projects to conferences, write reports that appear on our website, and more. The most successful projects go on to be published with Professor Reilly in professional scholarly journals.
- One of the lab’s primary goals is to provide a place to build skills for your future. This includes, especially, the analytical, methodological, and communication skills necessary to find success in graduate programs and quantitatively oriented jobs in politics and industry. Past lab members have found success in a variety of contexts, with lab alumni gaining admittance to doctoral programs such as Duke University, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan as well as finding careers in data analytics at a variety of campaigns, media and consulting firms, and more.
What does it take to be successful in the lab?
- Most importantly, interest and motivation! Resourcefulness and reliability come in close seconds. The bar for entry here is intentionally not high - we will bring you along and help you learn, and in return, we only expect you to contribute your time and effort and to do the same for others. Like many opportunities at New College (and life, generally), the value of the lab is fundamentally a function of what you put into it - if you have the interest, you’ll do well here.
- There are a variety of useful skillsets in lab - each student brings something different. Most of our work is quantitative, so quantitative literacy and familiarity with the basics of research design, along with reading and writing skills, are necessities. After that, though, a variety of other skills can all contribute - we have people who, at different times, focus on reviewing literature, on writing, on managing projects, on qualitative research, on programming, on research design, and on analysis. All these things are necessary for lab, so if you have any of these skills, and want to join, talk to us!
- Doing quantitative social science work in general has a significant “teach yourself” component - there may not always be a professor, teacher, or lab manager to explain the details of what you want to do - and even if there is, you may be trying to figure out how to do something that they themselves don’t know how to do for sure yet. You often need to roll your metaphorical sleeves up, dig in, and read through stackoverflow (and if you don't know what stackoverflow is yet, you will soon!). Comfort with the initiative to do this always helps.
- As you discover your interests, adding to your technical skills with outside coursework can be very valuable (and is recommended!) New College offers lots of courses that relate to skills you might use in lab, including social network analysis, GIS, visualization, programming, linear models, and more.
- Although lab can be a shorter commitment - just one year or possibly just a single semester - most students, once they join the lab, continue being a part of it throughout their time at New College. (Which is encouraged - once you join our little group, we hope you’ll stay!)
- Still interested? If so, fill out this application form here.
- In your application, we’re most interested in:
- Why are you interested in joining the lab? What do you hope to gain from the experience?
- What research projects - or project areas - that we’re working on are most interesting to you?
- What particular kinds of skills do you hope to learn as part of your time working in the lab?
- What particular kinds of skills will you bring to the lab?
- Finally, what really makes you tick when it comes to studying politics? Are you an election nut, and just love analyzing election returns? Do you love computer programming and statistical work, and really get a kick out of using it to analyze politics? Do you dig research, and are looking for an opportunity to do more of it? Are there particular readings from classes that have interested you? Are you trying to get to a certain place after graduation that you think lab will serve you well for? Or is it something else entirely? You don’t need a perfect answer here, or a fully formed research question - just something to give us a feel for what motivates you.