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Political Science Pilot Program Fosters Collaborative Research

The College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science was chosen by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation to pilot a new program designed to foster collaborative research between PhD students and faculty.

The department received $25,000 to offer fellowships to six first- and second-year PhD students to undertake joint research with a faculty member this summer. According to Ronald B. Rapoport, chairman of the Rapoport Foundation, Stony Brook’s Department of Political Science was selected to pilot the program based on its reputation as a very successful PhD training ground housed within a public university.

“For the past several years, I have been struck by the large gap in political science PhD graduate student funding between public and private institutions, even when these institutions were of equivalent quality and ranking,” said Rapoport, who is also an emeritus professor at the College of William and Mary. “Having gotten my PhD at Michigan, which is a public institution, and having taught at another public institution for more than 40 years, I have broad commitment to public colleges and universities, and I realize that many strong public university programs lack resources.”

Joe vitriol
Joe Vitriol

With this grant, Rapoport hopes to help graduate students produce papers and publications with faculty, something he says is critical for PhD students to get job offers after graduation. He referred to a University of California-Davis program in which political science graduate students could apply together with a faculty member for summer funding for a collaborative project. “Papers and publications are jointly authored,” he said. “That program had been very successful, and I thought it could provide a basic blueprint for other universities.”

Reflecting his own research interests, Rapoport prioritized research involving political behavior and American politics for the grant. Rapoport said Stony Brook was among the schools selected for the pilot program because of its excellence as a public university and its strong political science faculty, as well as its history of collaboration between students and faculty.

The award is funding six summer projects. One project is addressing one of the most pressing issues of the moment: What are the psychological and behavioral consequences of infectious disease?

“This question has been studied frequently in psychology and anthropology, but researchers have only recently begun to appreciate its relevance for political science,” said PhD student Adam Panish. “Thanks to the support provided by my Rapaport Fellowship, I have been able to dedicate my time to constructing and validating a county-level measure of infectious disease incidence throughout the United States. With this dataset, our team will be able to conduct the most fine-grained analysis to date of how geographic variation in infectious disease affects people’s political behavior.”

Adam panish
Adam Panish

Senior researcher Joe Vitriol, Panish’s faculty mentor, said it is a timely topic in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Existing research indicates that objective levels of infectious disease are associated with increased levels of in-group preferences, out-group distrust, conformity to traditionalist social norms, authoritarianism and political conservatism,” he said, noting that prior work has only examined these relationships at the state or national level. “This is a major limitation, as it precludes more detailed and precise analysis of the political implications of disease threat for things political scientists care about, like voting behavior. Adam and I seek to address this issue by compiling and integrating county-level infectious disease case records from the states for which this data is available.”

Other summer research explores negative politics and online campaigning in the United Kingdom, the effect of stereotyping on opinions regarding immigration, political parenthood, the impact of genetic attributions on political and racial perceptions, and the impact of prosocial concerns on insurance preferences. Rapoport said the program is exclusively summer funding because that is what is most lacking. If successful, he hopes to expand it and evolve based on feedback from the pilot institutions.

“We are honored to have been chosen by the Rapoport Foundation to pilot the summer fellowship program,” said Leonie Huddy, professor and chair, Department of Political Science. “PhD student success is one of our department’s major priorities, and the program provides an opportunity for PhD students to engage in a productive research collaboration early in their graduate career. This program is an excellent investment, and we look forward to documenting its success.”

Established in 1986, the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation has dedicated nearly $80 million in grants to improve the social fabric of life. The Foundation concentrates on five primary areas including: arts and culture, community building and social service, democracy and civic participation, education, and health.

Robert Emproto


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