Exploring the realm of undergraduate research at NYU

CAS senior Sophia Jordan and Tandon junior Tanishi Mishra shared their unique research experiences at NYU with WSN.

Under the Arch

Exploring the realm of undergraduate research at NYU

CAS senior Sophia Jordan and Tandon junior Tanishi Mishra shared their unique research experiences at NYU with WSN.

Two photos arranged side by side. On the left side, there is a woman with brown hair is holding a white iPad wearing a black blazer. On the right side, a woman with glasses is holding a blue iPad wearing a brown jacket.

Krish Dev, Multimedia Editor | Feb. 11, 2024

In a 2008 draft of NYU Framework 2031 — a quarter-century “long-term strategy for growth” created under former university president John Sexton anticipating NYU’s 200th anniversary — the university stated that it is, at its core, “a great research university.” Sixteen years later, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested and some of the world’s most cited faculty for research under its belt, the university has clearly demonstrated its commitment to fostering an academic space dedicated to groundbreaking research, which extends to its tens of thousands of undergraduate students.

One of the many student researchers at NYU is senior Sophia Jordan, whose work primarily focuses on the influence of law practitioner and law professor campaign contributions on state Supreme Court elections. Jordan became interested in her research topic after reading a paper that highlighted the ideological differences between law practitioners and law professors, despite the shared legal nature of their work.

A woman with brown hair is holding a white iPad wearing a black blazer.
CAS senior Sophia Jordan. (Qianshan Weng for WSN)

Coming from Peru — where judicial races are uncommon and judges are typically appointed — Jordan said she found it interesting that in the United States, different states have different laws in how they appoint or how they choose justices for their state Supreme Courts. Intrigued by the limited research on judicial races and their rising costs, Jordan chose to tackle an understudied yet important topic last October. 

“Judicial races are hugely important,” Jordan said in an interview with WSN. “ It’s so interesting to pay attention because most cases don’t get to the U.S. Supreme Court, they get to a state Supreme Court. That’s normally the last chance for most cases, and I think it is really important to pay attention to who is ultimately making that decision.”

Jordan said that one of the most difficult aspects of the research process was navigating the vast amount of information available on the internet. However, she was able to overcome this challenge by using the advanced search filters in Google Scholar and the NYU Libraries website

As part of the Politics and IR Honors program, Jordan works directly with faculty on an independent research project during her senior year. Through the program, Jordan along with her fellow students could learn with the guidance of experienced faculty researchers, helping her with the overwhelming nature of the beginning stages of research.

A woman is sitting on an orange chair and typing on her white iPad in a cafe next to a window.
(Qianshan Weng for WSN)

Contrary to Jordan’s experience, Tandon junior Tanishi Mishra embarked on her research journey without the convenience of a structured program. After being discouraged by a rejection from a summer research program last year, Mishra initially felt disheartened and was convinced research was not for her. However, after cold-emailing over 20 professors, she managed to get a few replies and is currently working on research projects that she is interested in. 

“I thought that that was the end of it, I just could not do research,” Mishra told WSN. “But then I got some advice from someone and they made me look at it from a different perspective: ‘Why don’t you just at least try to email professors you never know what could happen?’ So even if one door closes, you should always know that when it comes to research, there are so many opportunities available.”

A woman with glasses is holding a blue iPad wearing a brown jacket.
Tandon junior Tanishi Mishra. (Alisha Goel for WSN)

After learning from rejection, Mishra realized it’s always important to network. Having an interest in natural language processing — an emerging subfield of computer science and linguistics that aims to help computers better understand human language — she managed to find an expert in João Sedoc, an assistant professor at the Stern School of Business.

In her research, Mishra plans to conduct experiments with control and experimental groups to analyze the reading patterns of those with dyslexia through the use of specialized eye-tracking equipment, which she is currently in the process of acquiring. 

“What we’re doing is something that has never been done before or not been done very well, it’s to help people with dyslexia read e-texts in a better way,” Mishra said. “It basically takes a body of text and using machine learning and deep learning techniques it sort of goes on and manipulates sentence structure as well as document level structure, it syntactically and lexically simplifies the content of any body of text.”

After collecting data, she will then feed it into a machine learning program which will change text to make it easier to read for those with dyslexia. Mishra said the program will use specialized tactics such as simplification and substitution, and will offer multiple personally-tailored options, ensuring users have an adaptable tool.

“Our solution is different because currently the only solutions that have been employed are either things like changing just the font, or changing the way sentences are arranged,” Mishra said. “None of them have really gone to address the problem of changing the actual content, changing the actual words. For example, instead of using ‘bad,’ because the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ look similar, we would change it to ‘evil.’”

Despite researching in the humanities, Jordan, like Mishra, is using a data-driven approach to her research. In just the first four months of her work, Jordan has dedicated substantial efforts to constructing a dataset in which she plans to conduct regressions and visualize patterns within the data using R — a programming language acquired through her Introduction to Research Methods for Politics class, a requisite of her program.

“The biggest misconception is that we don’t do statistical analysis in politics research, which is not true,” Jordan said. “It’s actually exactly what we do. The politics department at NYU is very focused on statistics, analysis, data and coding. Yes, they want to see a well-defined thesis, but they also really want to see numbers.”

A woman is typing on the keyboard of her white iPad.

In the short term, Jordan said she is excited to test her hypothesis and find out whether or not judicial race candidates who receive more donations from lawyers are more likely to win in their races. Despite uncertainty regarding continued research beyond the current year — due to her plan to attend law school after graduation — Jordan remains optimistic and grateful for her research experiences.

“For me, it’s kind of like a mystery,” Jordan said. “I have all the ingredients but I still have to see the final product about how statistically significant my hypothesis is or not, and after that make the judgments or conclusions about it, so I’m looking forward to that. I really enjoyed the process of doing research.”

A woman with glasses is sitting in front of her blue laptop and typing on its keyboard.

On the other hand, Mishra hopes to attend graduate school in her current field and plans to continue her research beyond her undergraduate tenure at NYU. She said the interdisciplinary nature of research not only helped her apply computer science in the real world, but also helped her to better understand linguistics, despite having no prior experience in the field. Ultimately, Mishra aspires to develop a functional prototype to help those with dyslexia.

“I want to address the initial problem, which was to make sure that at least some people who have dyslexia have the opportunity to have better readability and comprehensibility of a text,” Mishra said. “My final goal, by the time I graduate, would be to create a model that is fully working for at least some dyslexic people and then to also be able to make sure that this isn’t just a paper and have the tool readily available for people to use.”


Contact Krish Dev at [email protected].