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UMass Lowell a Training Ground for Political Scientists

UML Assoc. Prof. Joshua Dyck looks at a political map of the U.S. Photo by Meghan Moore
Political Science Associate Professor Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion, studies an electoral map of the U.S.

07/06/2020
Lowell Sun
By Aaron Curtis

LOWELL — Polls written and conducted by UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion this spring gauged the public’s views about COVID-19, the Democratic primary races in key states, and beliefs on a range of political and pop culture topics.

But, according to the center’s Director Joshua Dyck, the most important work done by the center — launched in 2011 — is training future survey researchers and supporting projects proposed by UMass Lowell faculty.

“One of the unique things is that we are a university survey research center run by faculty committed to making student engagement a core part of our mission,” said Dyck, in a press release recently issued by UMass Lowell.

Student Lindsey Kilpatrick, of Manlius, N.Y., learned about the center — part of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative — as a member of the university’s Honors College through its Emerging Scholars Program. This year she contributed to a project that combined sports and politics.

Kilpatrick analyzed a subset of data from a survey that explored respondents’ attitudes about football, concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head impacts.

According to the university press release, Kilpatrick wrote about her findings in “Friday Night Politics: Football Bans and American Polarization,” a research paper so accomplished, professors are submitting it to academic journals for publication.

The experience helped Kilpatrick land a paid internship this summer with a professional polling firm that conducts survey research for political candidates, businesses and nonprofits.

“I liked this project because it started off where I was most comfortable: the data analysis, the math,” Kilpatrick said. “Then I eased into the writing of a formal research paper. Now, I’m at a job and I know what I’m doing.”

Dyck, and the center’s Associate Director John Cluverius discuss the center’s work in classes they teach, from Introduction to American Politics to Quantitative Research Methods. It helps students understand that research “is a living, breathing thing,” Cluverius said in the release.

“We have more and more students every year who are interested in polling and in being part of the work we’re doing,” Cluverius said. “And every time we bring students into the process, we create a better survey.”