Student social scientists tackle issues of inequality, discrimination

By Linda Nguyen
A&E Editor

At first thought, some people may associate research with mad scientists in a lab with test tubes and chemicals. Plano senior Olivia Ho does research every week, but she doesn’t work with test tubes or chemicals.

Social science research, which includes fields like sociology and psychology, involves the study of people and their interactions with one another.

“Social science research provides scientific methods to answer questions such as how much inequality there is in society, is it growing greater or declining, the nature of prejudice and discrimination, and how do you motivate people to care about the environment,” said Dr. Larry Lyon, professor of sociology, dean of the Graduate School and director of Baylor’s Center for Community Research and Development.

“I can’t imagine anything more interesting than those questions and anything more important than trying to answer those questions,” he said.

Ho does social science research, along with about 12 other students, in Dr. Wade Rowatt’s social and personality psychology research lab. Ho said their lab meetings run like small classes and there’s not a single beaker in sight.

“We all gather around and Dr. Rowatt starts off the meeting by addressing different things going on in the lab,” Ho said.

“He lets other people talk like the graduate students, or honors thesis students talk about their ongoing projects,” she said.

Ho also said researcher roles are different between hard science and social science research.

“In our type of social science research, you’re given a script and you memorize it, read it and follow the instructions,” Ho said. “You do a practice run on the person in charge of the study and once they approve you, you’re cleared to run participants.”

Ho said conversely, in a hard science lab there isn’t a script that you learn and read.

“It’s more procedural,” Ho said. “There isn’t a test where you get cleared to run. You do it over and over until you feel comfortable and then you do it yourself.”

Ho said there are definite benefits and ‘pros’ to working in a social science lab.

“Pros would be it’s more relatable and you do get to work with people a lot,” Ho said. “I feel like it’s fairly easy. It’s not complex.”

Ho said there are also cons to working in a social science lab compared to a hard science research lab.

“You don’t really get to work with science-y equipment,” Ho said. “You don’t feel like you’re making a huge impact whereas in hard sciences, I feel like you deal with much bigger topics.”

Hong Kong senior Evan Choi has worked in Rowatt’s lab for three years and is currently working on his honors thesis project with Dr. Matthew Stanford’s lab in the department of psychology and neuroscience.

Choi said he enjoys how applicable the research is to his daily life.

“I like research because it helps us to understand human behavior and the world in general,” Choi said. “It helps us gain knowledge into the world we’re living in and it’s fun to do research, looking at statistics and data.”

Choi said when he first began doing social science research, it was not what he had envisioned research being.

“I thought research was this environment of high technology, high ideas, people reading a lot, but when I started, it was really simple,” Choi said.

“You have hypotheses and you start testing,” he said. “It’s not as complicated as people think. You need to be very organized and take it one by one. You just need to be methodologically and logically sound.”

Choi said he enjoys social science research because of its applicability and accessibility to people.

“I guess one major difference between social science research and hard science research is that we deal with people and what we find, we can apply to normal life,” Choi said.