Many Communication Studies majors find ways to pursue their interests more deeply through involvement in undergraduate research. Research affords students the opportunity to pursue their passions and craft their own unique academic experiences. Along the way, these students also develop skills in critical thinking, detailed analysis, and creative problem-solving. Students who choose to conduct research as undergraduates gain solid preparation for future graduate studies and the workplace, while also forging strong connections with members of the faculty.

Undergraduate Research Grants

Northwestern’s Office of Undergraduate Research administers many programs that may be of interest to Communication Studies majors, including the Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grants and Summer Undergraduate Research Grants . With faculty supervision, recipients of these grants are able to conduct independent research or creative work in any field of study. Alternately, students interested in assisting a faculty member with his or her current research may decide to pursue the Undergraduate Research Assistant Program . Regardless of their program of interest, students are encouraged to visit the Office of Undergraduate Research’s website to learn valuable information about the benefits of research and helpful tips on crafting a winning research proposal.

Faculty Research Labs

In addition to their individual research projects, many faculty in the Communication Studies department maintain active research labs where they explore issues at the forefront of the field. Students in the department have involved themselves in these labs through work-study positions, through Research Practica (through which they can earn academic credit) and as Research Assistants. Click below to learn more about some of the work being done by our faculty.

Professor Jeremy Birnholtz’s Social Media Lab engages in research on how social media — defined broadly as technologies that facilitate social behavior among people — are used for work and play. They are interested in understanding both how social media are used today, and how technologies might be designed to better support people’s existing goals and enable them to do new things.

Professor Noshir Contractor’s Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research group advances social network theories, methods, and tools to better understand and meet the needs of diverse communities. SONIC develops cutting-edge techniques to study and improve social and knowledge networks in distributed working groups, online communities, virtual teams, and other large communities.

Professor Liz Gerber's Creative Action Lab is interested in understanding and designing systems that support group interactions to foster innovation.  The lab’s current research examines the role of crowdsourcing information and monetary resources in online innovation communities. They are building networking, feedback, and learning tools for these communities.

Professor Darren Gergle’s Collab Lab is interested in understanding and designing systems capable of supporting group interactions and communication in a variety of contextual environments.  The lab’s current research programs span a number of areas from understanding how various forms of visual information influence our social interactions to developing dynamic visualizations of interaction patterns in online environments to building computational models that account for real-time contextual information to support interaction.

Professor Anne Marie Piper's Inclusive Technology Lab  investigates new computer interfaces to support communication, social interaction, and the developmental needs of people throughout the lifespan. Much of our work focuses on technology-based solutions for individuals with disabilities and older adults.

Professor Michelle Shumate's Network for Nonprofit and Social Impact examines how nonprofit organizations work with other nonprofits, government organizations, and businesses to create social good and to address wicked problems. They are interested in nonprofit capacity, business-nonprofit partnerships, and how stakeholders navigate nonprofit networks.

Professor Ellen Wartella’s Center on Media and Human Development conducts research to examine media and human development.  Research questions to be explored include:  How do teachers use media in their classrooms?  How do parental attitudes and values regarding media influence children's use of media?  How do changes in technology influence parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward media use with children?  How does media use influence obesity and other health related outcomes?  How are media used by youth internationally?

Other Opportunities

Students interested in exploring their interests in research are encouraged to consider conducting an independent study with a faculty member or applying for the Communication Studies Honors Program (see Honors under Course of Study)