Student Spotlight – Aleeza West

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Aleeza West!

Aleeza majors in Psychology and is a recipient of the UCLA/Keck Humanistic Inquiry Undergraduate Research Award. Her project is titled “The Effect of Fear Generalization on Social Fear, Social Avoidance, Experiential Avoidance, and Functional Impairment Amongst Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder.” Aleeza’s work aims to discover better ways to diagnose and treat individuals with anxiety. Her best advice is to always look for opportunities, even if you have to ask.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I became interested in pursuing an independent research project upon joining Dr. Michelle Craske’s Anxiety and Depression Center. Through my experience as a research assistant and moving on to coordinating multiple studies, I became curious about leading my own project. After developing my idea with my mentors, I applied and was accepted to both the UCLA departmental honors program in Psychology and the UCLA/Keck Humanistic Inquiry Undergraduate Research Awards program.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting aspect has been designing my project. I am passionate about discovering better ways to diagnose and treat individuals with anxiety, and being able to create a project surrounding my research interests has been an amazing experience.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

What surprised me about the research process is how much I have learned throughout it. I have grown so much thanks to my mentors, Nora and Brooke, about data management, statistics, and overall research processes.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

I advise other UCLA students to always look for opportunities, even if you have to ask! The worst thing that a possible mentor could say is no.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope my research journey inspires others to be confident enough to pursue their own independent experiences. Furthermore, I hope that my research can inform diagnostic and treatment options of those living with social anxiety.

Student Spotlight – Sara Wang

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Sara Wang!

Sara Wang majors in Political Science and participates in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program! The title of her project is “Majoritarian Interests and Non-majoritarian Institutions: A Case Study of the Supreme Court and Public Opinion on Abortion.” Her work explores the extent to which Supreme Court decisions are responsive to public opinion on abortion. Her best piece of advice is to find a topic that speaks to your interests!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Out of personal and academic interest, I closely followed Supreme Court cases for years. Concurrently, I studied the subsequent public reactions to rulings on salient issues. By the time I considered pursuing a thesis, one landmark case skyrocketed to the center of public attention. Roe v. Wade (1973) faced its greatest potential, in decades, of being overturned by the Court. I watched as a leaked draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision sparked outrage, from social media to the streets. It seemed that a strong majority of the public opposed the Dobbs decision. However, the books and polls that I studied told a slightly different tale. These sources claim that the public has historically bulked in the middle, disagreeing with an outright ban on abortion but agreeing that some restrictions can be placed. There was also the issue of the Court: whether justices tend to vote along ideological lines or if they may be influenced by the public to vote counter to their own ideology. A myriad of explanations, and contradictions, exist for why justices behave the way they do. I was determined to resolve these questions. And so, I spoke with my now-advisor, who studies political theories, about beginning my research.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

Given the topical nature of my research, it has been both exciting and fulfilling to incorporate current events. For instance, the 2022 midterm elections, including votes on whether to protect or ban abortion in certain state constitutions, happened during the first half of my research process. Political Science studies often focus heavily on historical data, events, and/or figures. An immediate example that I can think of would be the Founding Fathers. While drawing on history is important, I have benefited from being able to modernize research on my topic. From the methodology to actual writing, I have appreciated the opportunity to mold my study with both the past and present in mind.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

One aspect of research that surprised me was how much time it can take to complete the various components. Research is an iterative process of writing and collecting data. This reality has meant that I may collect data for weeks before I return to writing and vice versa. For example, the data collection alone involved studying multiple databases and sources, a process that began this past summer but resumes when I encounter another roadblock. However, this long-term project has improved my ability to manage time and meet my own deadlines.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Find a topic that speaks to your interests! Through URSP, you will be committing yourself to at least a year of research, so choose a subject that you are truly invested in. When pursuing a topic that actually interests you, you may be surprised at how quickly your ideas can flow!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

The question of the extent to which the Supreme Court responds to public opinion has been hotly contested. There is even disagreement over whether responsiveness varies by case salience. In these debates, scholars consider multiple cases and courts, which can span over a century. I seek to contribute to this discussion through a specific analysis of one salient issue, abortion, in a narrower timeframe: 1973 to 2022. Disputes were also reignited in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Some members of the public accused the Court of extreme partisanship. Through my study, I hope to contextualize the ideological direction of Court decisions in the broader climate. Beyond that, I also aim to demystify the research process for interested students. As the first person in my family to engage in research, this journey has been incredibly rewarding. I can only hope that others experience the same growth in arguably the most intensive process of one’s undergraduate career.

Student Spotlight – Abeeha Hussain

Meet UCLA undergraduate researcher Abeeha Hussain!

Abeeha Hussain majors in Political Science and Labor Studies, and participates in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program! The title of her project is “Measuring Impacts of Immigration on Levels of Observed Linked-Fate: Immigrant Communities Los Angeles After 2016 (ILOL: Los Angeles).” Her work explores how critical race theory applications of Linked Fate and Group Consciousness can be reflected in a non-racial identity like being an immigrant. Her best advice is if you notice a particular subject constantly excites you to find out more, speak to someone at URC, your professors, TAs, or peers because someone is bound to be curious about the same topic!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Going back home to Pakistan used to be my favorite time of the year. I would anxiously wait the entire 26 hours of flights and travel to get hit with the warm (120-degree) smell of cigarettes and gasoline upon my exit from the airport. For a good amount of time, I couldn’t understand why my parents would ever want to leave the food, the culture, and the family of home for the United States, where they didn’t have the support system I could tell energized them to be proud Pakistanis. As I moved back and forth between the two disparate countries, I began my journey toward the appreciation of the immigrant experience. It struck oddly to me that I was learning about the American Dream and the wide variety of opportunities up for grabs in the U.S. but politics had convinced me that being non-American (as defined by citizenship status) ultimately meant your experience was going to be underscored with the idea that you simply aren’t from here. My parents and their friends always joked about how they lived in America longer than their kids (myself included), but would never be truly American like them. I wanted to know how this outlook on immigration in society affected immigrant communities both large and small, together and separate, historic and recent. This is how I became interested in my current research topics, looking into how critical race theory applications of Linked Fate and Group Consciousness can be reflected in a non-racial identity like being an immigrant. Immigration has been significantly racialized since the turn of the century, and as we begin to become increasingly conscious of identity-based impacts, I want my research to prove how our systems deliberately and disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable in American society and culture.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

What probably excites me the most is that I feel like I’m serving a community that has really gifted me the ability to live with the benefits of their hard work and sacrifices. Like many of my peers, my parents made the move to the States with the understanding that they wouldn’t be able to go to k-12 or university in America the way I could, having English be my first language or the tons of other privileges of being born in America. I feel like my research can one day bring justice back to them, proving their disparate treatment based on their identity as momentum for change and deviating away from the xenophobia raging in public opinion.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I have likely been the most shocked by the amount of support I have from UCLA! When I transferred to this school, I was a little nervous to pursue research because I wasn’t sure if anyone would be as curious about my topic as much as I would be. Not even a couple weeks into being here, I already had found people who wanted to help me reach my goals and desire to do original research. My faculty mentor, Dr. Natalie Masuoka, pushed me to apply to my major’s Honors Thesis program, and Dr. Jackie Ardam is constantly looking for additional resources and funding to help me out, not to mention my friends who were also going through a similar situation as me and pushed me on. It means a lot to me to have others believe in me, and I think a research institution like UCLA really provides the perfect infrastructure for curiosity to thrive. Furthermore, being here and doing my research has coincidentally given me a better view into the career of research, and empowers me to pursue a future in which original research is something in that I’m actively participating.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

A lot of us have heard the “if you have a question, there are probably a dozen others who have the same one” but it is so true. Research and its public access is the source of the answers to the questions we have about the world we live in. If you are curious about something, or you notice a certain subject just constantly gets you excited to find out more, speak to someone at URC! Talk to your professors, TAs, peers, or anyone, someone is bound to be curious about the same topic. You are in the birthplace of such groundbreaking and life-changing knowledge that it cannot hurt to at least try to find the answer at UCLA while you have access to resources like your department, URC, the UC Library, etc!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I poked at this earlier, but I want my research to bring eventual justice to the immigrant community in America. The millions of folks who are active members of communities and society deserve to not have their immigrant status used against them in labor practices, policies, or just everyday living. They should not feel burdened because of the media and political portrayals of immigrants. They should be able to thrive and cultivate their culture even when away from home, not fear their deportation, or take the hit for world events out of their hands. If I can help prove the existence of group consciousness and linked fate in immigrant communities in Los Angeles, it can be used to influence corrective civil rights legislation to increase protections for immigrants from these fears.