The 2015-16 ISS Dissertation Improvement Awards helped students to advance projects on subjects ranging from scrap metal trade in contemporary Delhi to the use of fertilizers in Cold War-era Chile.

Anthropology | CommunicationEconomics | History | Linguistics | PhilosophyPolitical Science | Psychology | Sociology


Ishani Saraf

The grant has helped further my project titled “Scrap-scape”: Waste, Trade, and Urban Ecologies in Contemporary Delhi.

My research includes conducting fieldwork in a metal scrap market, exploring the tasks, routines, materials, and rules that make up the functioning of the market. Along with this, the imagination and governance of scrap as waste in public discourses will be sought by studying documents around waste management rules and reports.

My project seeks to explore the city of Delhi through the lens of scrap. In doing so, it seeks out a partial account of the city that is made up of concentrations, conduits, and practices that engage with scrap metal and the ecologies that these engagements and experiences give rise to.



Ke Jiang

Ke’s dissertation investigates the dynamic evolution and co-evolution of cultural frames embedded in the news coverage of “peace” in the United States, China and Hong Kong using data from 1995 to 2014. It employs semantic network analysis methods to operationalize the concept of frame from a cultural perspective. In the process of conducting this research, a new theory of framing and operationalization of the construct of “frame,” which employs the newly developed tool of social and communication networks, has been developed.

Support from the Institute for Social Sciences allowed Ke to travel to the Daegu Gyeongbuk International Social Network Conference, the Asian Hub conference on big-data and socio-innovation networks in South Korea, to present her research on the semantic network analysis of international news frames. Receiving feedback from the diverse audience at this conference significantly strengthened her research.

Subuhi Khan

My dissertation entails the study of message features accompanying mental health applications for mobile phones. I am studying how specific features in these message prompts affect people's intention to use mental health apps. In my dissertation, I am working on manipulating and testing message prompts that can enhance the use of apps that could help people cope with depression. Moreover, I am exploring how technological features, such as screen size, would interact with message features.

I am using the ISS award to get professional software developers develop mental health apps for android phones. These apps have message features with them that I am specifically looking into for enhancing the use of such apps.

JooYoung Jang

My study will examine how polite support-seeking messages influence the elicitation of higher person-centered supportive messages (i.e., emotion-focused supportiveness and action-focused supportiveness). Culture will be taken into consideration as a moderator, and the support provider’s perception of regard for face and normativeness will be examined as mediators. An experiment will be conducted in which participants respond to a support-seeking message in an online forum. The presence or absence of politeness strategies will be manipulated in each support-seeking message. Participants’ responses to the support-seeking message will be analyzed.


A 2015-16 Dissertation Improvement Award was also presented to Catherine Huh.



Chloe East

Chloe's dissertation examines the effects of the social safety net on individual's and families' outcomes. She is studying the effects of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) on children's health outcomes and adults' employment. Her research documents that children who have access to Food Stamps early in life have improved health outcomes in later childhood and that one potential mechanism is that the Food Stamp program allows parents to work less. Her other work documented how Unemployment Insurance helps unemployed individuals maintain their consumption near its pre-unemployment levels. 

The generous support from the Institute for Social Sciences allowed Chloe to travel to an interdisciplinary conference to present her research on Food Stamps to academics as well as policy-makers. Receiving feedback from this diverse audience greatly strengthened her research. Chloe graduated in June of 2016 and is headed to the University of Colorado Denver next year to be an Assistant Professor of Economics.

Qi Han

My dissertation is about development and transformation of China’s banking system during the Great Depression. The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award has enabled me to gain direct access to original data sources and documents and thus has greatly improved the potential of my studies.

During the Great Depression, China experienced a severe depression and saw, in the meantime, a dramatic transformation of its banking system. The traditional native banks, the long-time dominant power in banking, were not able to handle the deflation and the resulted economic downturn. In Shanghai and other cities, up to one half of native banks were liquidated or closed with the rest contracting their business severely. The modern banks, which were both competitors and collaborators of native banks, experienced dramatic expansion in its number and sizes and became the dominant banking institutions.

With the ISS Dissertation Improvement Award, I was able to travel to Shanghai to utilize bank archives in Shanghai Municipal Archive. The bank archives provides invaluable data on performance and characteristics of both native banks and modern banks in Shanghai. My study shows that the low capital cost, branch network, and use of marketable collaterals enabled modern banks to endure the shock of depression and thus take over the market share left by the liquidating native banks.

Jae Wook Jung

My project is an extension of my dissertation research of firms’ pricing behavior and advertising. Most of the structural approaches to estimating consumer learning based on Nielsen data construct a dynamic optimization model. Dynamic optimization models give us insight into how individuals learn through re-optimization over time. However, previous work has not addressed how the effect of advertising will vary based on consumer heterogeneity.

To the best of my knowledge, no research has been done to investigate how heterogeneous consumers respond differently to advertising ceteris paribus. For instance, a teenager might be affected more by an advertisement than a senior citizen. This can be explained in that seniors have enough experience of detergents that they rarely change their choices as a result of exposure to advertising, while younger people may change their behavior due to advertisement since they lack experience doing their own laundry. Or, it can be explained by prestige effects. Suppose the market introduced new jeans and after some period of the time they aired a commercial showing Britney Spears wearing these jeans. In this case, teenagers are more likely to be influenced by prestige effects. If such prestige effect exists, the time trend after the advertisement exposure must be different from that of the period beginning after the product was introduced but before it was advertised. In addition, the estimates enable us to do welfare analysis by running simulations. For instance, by computing compensation variation using the estimates, we will be able to see whether advertisement negatively affects consumer welfare or, instead, has positive effects.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award allowed me to buy and access the data (from Information Resources Inc.) for the project: firm level pricing and advertising data.



Logan Clendening

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Grant is currently supporting my final, three-month research trip to Germany that spans a total of six archives and three libraries in five cities. By covering the costs of copying extensive archival material and published primary sources, ISS funds have enabled me to maximize my time abroad and collect far more documents than a typical research trip of this length would allow.

My project traces the competing conceptions of the body, gender, and race that public places to swim and bathe generated across twentieth-century Germany. I approach the topic through a series of case studies that include: the conflicts between Christian morality groups and nudists in the first third of the twentieth century; the municipal efforts to ban Jews from public swimming pools under the Third Reich; the reemergence of conservative efforts to combat perceived moral problems around recreational bathing areas in the postwar Federal Republic; and the debates and court cases in recent decades involving Muslim parents seeking to withdraw their schoolchildren from mandatory, co-ed swimming lessons on religious grounds. Recreational bathing areas, I argue, channeled politically and confessionally diverse responses because they raised important questions: about the ideas and practices of the body that would improve the nation (or race); about the moral dangers or benefits of lightly-clad men and women in close, public proximity; and about the broader political meaning of covered or uncovered bodies. This approach offers a uniquely expansive chronological scope with which to explore the evolving understandings of the body and "Germanness" throughout the twentieth century.

William San Martin

William San Martin is a PhD Candidate in Latin American History with a minor in World History. William is interested in the nexus of science, environmental change and public policy from a historical perspective. His dissertation examines the political and scientific debate on the use of nitrogen fertilizers and the effects on human health and the environment in Chile within the sociopolitical context of the Cold War and the Green Revolution. 

Since the 1950s, fertilizer industries, scientists, and agro-development programs in Latin America portrayed fertilizer access as a mandatory strategy for the development of the region. In doing so, they provoked a massive revolution in agricultural production and shaped standards for the volume of fertilizers and their use that have dramatically affected humans and ecosystems. Today, increasing nitrogen use efficiency to meet food production demands and ensure environmental protection is a major concern among scientists and policymakers around the world. 

In Chile, national and international efforts pursuing agricultural modernization produced dramatic transformations in its agricultural economy since the late 1950s. The Chile-California cooperation agreements and the “Davis Boys,” Chilean scientists pursuing graduate studies in agricultural sciences at UC Davis, were central in this modernization process. As result, Chile displayed the most constant increase of nitrogen fertilizer consumption per hectare (t/ha) in the Americas since the 1960s. However, debates about the environmental effects of intensive nitrogen use and the need for scientific, technical, and political procedures enhancing nitrogen use efficiency have still remained limited in the public debate.

This project reveals the historical connections and miscommunications between local and international scientists, government institutions and transnational agricultural development programs that could inform policymakers and scientists working on sustainable agriculture and environmental protection today.

Anne Perez

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Grant has allowed me to progress my project on Zionist attitudes and policies surrounding religious conversion (both to and from Judaism) between the 1880s and the early 1960s in Palestine/Israel.  These attitudes and policies will allow us to better understand how Zionists in the first decades of the movement defined "who is a Jew" and the parameters of the Jewish state they sought to establish.  After three months of source collection at archives in Jerusalem and Oxford, I look forward to excavating these sources, and to receiving feedback from my field at the upcoming annual meeting of the Association of Jewish Studies in Boston.

Grace Chieh

Jia Lin (Grace) Chieh’s area of specialization is in 20th Century U.S. History with focus on Asian American History. Her current research project examines the impacts of U.S. foreign policies and transnational politics in Asia on Chinese American identity and citizenship status.

Tyson Reeder

Tyson Reeder’s research interests include Luso-Atlantic commercial networks, early modern Atlantic colonialism, and race and revolution in the Atlantic.  His dissertation integrates Portuguese, Brazilian, and U.S. history by examining the commercial networks of mid-Atlantic merchants with business ties in the Portuguese Atlantic during Brazil’s early nineteenth-century independence movements.




Renee Kemp

Renee Kemp’s primary research focus is on the acquisition of sound patterns by second language learners of English.  Her dissertation is entitled Lexical effects on second language production and perception and is focused on how the relative difficulty of certain words affects their pronunciation by speakers and perception by listeners.  A key component of this study is comparing how native speakers produce lexically difficult words when instructed to act as though they are speaking to a native speaker opposed to a second language learner, as well as investigating the listening strategies of native versus non-native speakers.

Results from this product will inform our understanding of how language learners access lexical items in their second language, which has implications for the language classroom and course design.  Furthermore, this study can increase our understanding of the ways in which native speakers alter their speech in order to accommodate second language learners based on lexical difficulty.  The generous dissertation improvement grant from the Institute for Social Sciences makes this research possible by assisting with financial compensation for participants in this study and computer equipment for data storage and analysis.

Dan Villarreal

Dan Villarreal’s dissertation project, The Construction of Social Meaning: A Matched-Guise Investigation of the California Vowel Shift, used innovative methods to investigate the social meanings of California English: in short, what attributes do Californians attach to California English when they hear it? In particular, his dissertation focused on the California Vowel Shift (CVS), an ongoing change whereby California English vowels are pronounced differently from other varieties of American English.

In the main study, Californian listeners heard Californian speakers from across the state, attempted to identify speakers’ region of origin, and rated speakers on affective scales (e.g., young–old, confident–not confident, Californian–not Californian). Unbeknownst to listeners, each stimulus was modified so that speakers either used California-shifted vowels or non-California-shifted vowels, which facilitated a comparison of listeners’ reactions to the CVS. California-shifted stimuli were less likely to be identified as from outside California and were rated higher on the scales Californian, sounds like a Valley girl, and confident. This research contributes to the sociolinguistic theory of social meaning, which links language variation to the wider social world, as it demonstrates that social meaning is created in both production (by speakers) and perception (by listeners).

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award facilitated travel to research sites across California, as well as listener recruitment.

Daniel Moglen

Daniel is a PhD candidate in Linguistics, specializing in Second Language acquisition.  In his dissertation, he is investigating the writing development of first year international graduate students at UC Davis.  Writing development involves sociocognitive processes that go beyond merely learning how to construct sentences.  Both the internal (cognitive) learning process and the external (social) environment must be considered to understand learning outcomes. Specifically, this study examines how social networks and access to writing support resources contribute to a student's writing development.  Through this research, Daniel aims to gain a better understanding of international graduate students' language learning needs in order to provide more resources to these students.

The dissertation improvement award from ISS has helped in several ways. With the funding, I was able to purchase much needed qualitative and quantitative software that has allowed me to perform various analyses. Additionally, I was able to receive help with interview transcription. It is with deep appreciation that I receive this award.

Katie Evans

Katie Evans’ dissertation project is on motivation and second language writing pedagogy. The study investigates multilingual writers’ motivational profiles and the motivational dynamics of the second language composition classroom using a complex dynamic systems theory framework. It asks: what personal, classroom, and extracurricular factors converged to create particular motivated behaviors, and what patterns in those behaviors can we see? The investigation involves a mixed-methods data collection and analysis approach that triangulated survey data from two classes of students (36 in total), interview data from 12 focal students, as well as writing samples, journals, and other class artifacts.

The results have interesting pedagogical and theoretical implications. By better understanding the internal and external forces that motivate or demotivate multilingual writers, instructors and program administrators can make informed curricular decisions that could enhance students’ attitudes, behaviors, and ultimately, performance in their classes. Further, results are also discussed with respect to how complex dynamic systems theory is a useful and appropriate framework for understanding the nexus of two complex and ever-changing phenomenon, motivation and second language writing development. 

With the ISS Dissertation Improvement Award, Katie was able to off-set time- and financial-costs associated with transcribing over 2,000 minutes of interview protocol data that allowed for more rapid analysis of qualitative data and expedited the dissertation writing process.



Kyle Adams

My dissertation defends the controversial view that one can be morally lucky: one can be morally justified in acting in a certain way by the lucky outcomes of that act. To defend this view against objections, I develop a distinction between two kinds of moral justification. One kind justification is connected to notions of individual moral assessment; such as, blameworthiness, permission, and culpability. Another kind of justification is more strictly concerned with the choiceworthiness of actions. This latter kind of justification allows for lucky outcomes to justify action—thus, moral luck. I argue that the latter kind of justification is relevant to range of choices at the ‘policy’-level. These are choices about generalized guidelines for behavior in, for example, a large institution, but can also be choices an individual makes about what is important in their life and about what sort of projects they will pursue. In this way, I can show how the theoretical questions about moral luck have real-world application. 

A 2015-16 Dissertation Improvement Award was also presented to Elizabeth Rard.


Political Science

Christine Cahill

Christine Cahill (emphasizing in Comparative Politics) received an award for her dissertation, The Electoral Consequences of Ambiguity for European Political Parties. She plans to spend her award on collecting data through a mechanical turk which she would not otherwise have been able to gather.  

"My research focuses on the electoral consequences of the strategies that European political parties take to communicate their policy positions to voters. In particular, I examine how the clarity of parties’ issue positions affects (1) voters’ evaluations of the honesty, integrity, and competence of political parties and (2) the probability of a party winning an election. I specifically focus on three dimensions of issues: social welfare, economic policies, and levels of support for integration with the European Union. I primarily use quantitative analyses of national election surveys in European Union countries, but with the support of the ISS fellowship I am able to enhance my dissertation with both experimental and qualitative analyses. Thanks to the ISS fellowship, I am able to travel to Europe in the summer of 2016 to conduct interviews with political elites in England, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany. I hope to gain a better understanding of the expected utility of using different communication strategies in varying electoral contexts as a result of the interviews."

Joel Landis

Joel Landis is a Political Theorist who received an award for expanding upon his dissertation titled: Opposing Sympathies: Hume and the Psychology of Party. He purchased several books to help him with his research that he would not otherwise have been able to purchase.

Chris Donnelly

Chris Donnelly (emphasizing in American Politics) is using a mechanical turk to gather data pertaining to his dissertation titled: Balancing Act? Testing a Theory of Split-Party U.S. Senate Delegations.





Jonas Miller

Generosity, empathy, and concern for others are some of the most admirable qualities of human nature.  In the last 15 years, researchers have been increasingly interested in understanding how we are wired for these kinds of emotions and behaviors.  The majority of research thus far has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain activity in response to emotion inductions.  This provides correlational evidence for different regions of the brain being linked to psychological processes.  However, we lack experimental, or causal, evidence for understanding how the nervous system produces these experiences.  One of our main aims is to use a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to provide this kind of causal evidence.  TMS uses electromagnetic fields to noninvasively stimulate and temporarily disrupt normal functioning of localized regions of the brain.  We are applying TMS to different parts of the brain thought to be important for understanding and sharing the emotions of others, and observing the effects of TMS on people’s emotional experiences, behaviors, and physiology.  This research will better our understanding of how kindness arises from processes in our brains and bodies, and has implications for treatment of disorders marked by social-emotional deficits.  With the help of the Advanced Graduate Student Research Award provided by the Institute of Social Science/Psychology, we are able to pay people to participate in this study. 

Nick DiQuattro

I'm studying how the brain accounts for distracting information in the visual environment. Specifically, when in a context where there is a lot of distraction, what does the brain do differently than in a context without as much distraction to maintain performance. The equipment I bought helps run non-linear regression models on participant reaction time and accuracy to assess the effect of distractors on performance.




Brian Halpin 

From Precarity to Employability: Third Wave Marketization and the Commodification of Labor

My dissertation analyzes how workers in the secondary labor market confront precarious employment relations, how they manage risk, uncertainty and employment precarity while pursuing economic and social mobility. I use interview and ethnographic data from three theoretically relevant case studies (first-generation immigrants; unemployed workers utilizing One-Stop Job Centers) in Northern California, and engage in a cross-class comparative analysis with literature on the strategies of middle-class and professional workers.