ISS jump-starts new research led by junior faculty

By: Lori Sonken,  Cornell Chronicle
December 14, 2016

From exploring why so few women hold leadership positions in unions to examining criminal record inaccuracies among individuals denied employment, several research projects funded by the Institute for the Social Sciences’ (ISS) small grant program are examining topics never previously studied.

Rachel Aleks, assistant professor in labor relations, is conducting the first nationwide quantitative analysis exploring gender inequality in union officer positions in the United States. Her study is using longitudinal data from labor organization annual reports to examine the incidence, compensation and career paths of women in elected office positions.

All tenured and tenure-track social science faculty at Cornell are eligible for up to $12,000 for research and $5,000 for conferences through the ISS small-grant competition, held each semester. But special attention is given to applications from junior faculty members.

“We strive to jump-start the research of Cornell’s junior faculty,” said Daniel T. Lichter, the Robert S. Harrison director at the ISS. “The ISS is one place that faculty members early in their career can turn to for support.”

Of the 14 small grants awarded to Cornell faculty at seven colleges this fall, all but three supported research led by assistant professors.

To test the hypothesis that constitutional drafters rely on the courts to safeguard their interests, David Bateman, assistant professor of government, is developing the first analytically coded, cross-sectional database of all U.S. state constitutions and amendments from 1776 to 2016.

An interdisciplinary team, under the leadership of Erin York Cornwell, assistant professor of sociology, will use ISS funds to augment the Cornell Criminal Records Panel Survey to follow individuals participating in an intervention informing them about their criminal records.

“This study is an unprecedented opportunity to examine the extent of inaccuracies in criminal records among people who have been denied employment due to those records. We will also assess how learning about their records – and possibly correcting errors in those records – may shape subsequent job-seeking, employment and earnings,” said York Cornwell.

Kendra Bischoff, assistant professor of sociology, is investigating how individuals make neighborhood choices in response to local education policies.

What happens to a firm’s value over the course of its lifetime when shareholders of nontraded stocks get to control the company? Initial research by Hyunseob Kim and Roni Michaeli, assistant professors at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, show the costs outweigh the benefits especially for mature firms. They are taking another look using U.S. Census Bureau data on manufacturing firms dating to the 1970s to see how management in dual-class firms responds to productivity in terms of closing, opening, selling and purchasing plants.

Another Johnson faculty member, Soo Kim in marketing, is conducting experiments with individuals experiencing a major life transition, such as entering college or beginning parenthood, to test their likelihood of contributing to a charity that reflects who they believe they are as a person.

“Our research is likely to have implications for how charities could position themselves using slogans and mission statements targeting people in specific life transitions,” she said.

Mixing methods used in psychology and law, research by Zachary Clopton, assistant professor in law, and his collaborator, Carmen Sanchez, a graduate student in the field of psychology, are taking a closer look at whether the legal process can remove biases in judges and jurors. By studying how anchoring – making estimates based on the first piece of information provided – affects those working inside and outside the courtroom, their study is expected to shed light on how judges and juries make decisions.

Sarah Wolfolds, assistant professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, is examining whether performance-based pay linked to an organization achieving a desired outcome – as opposed to the individual employee’s achievements – is effective in the nonprofit, microfinance sector.

“I hope to better understand whether bonuses are actually incompatible with the social objectives of nonprofits, or whether bonuses can be altered to fit the different missions and different employee motivations in these organizations,” she said.

Ernesto Bassi, assistant professor of history, will visit library collections in Philadelphia and New York and archives in Spain and Argentina. He’s hoping to find documents uncovering intimate aspects of the lives of Spanish-American immigrants to the United States in the early decades of the 19th century. His works should make visible an early, and largely unknown, history of Latinos in the United States.

Other faculty to receive ISS support are Julieta Caunedo in economics; Jing Li, Weill Cornell Medicine; Vivian Zayas in psychology; and Stijn van Osselaer, Johnson.

In addition, Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis and human development, received ISS support to organize the international conference Childhood Poverty, Health and Behavior: Biological and Psychosocial Pathways, hosted by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, June 16-17, 2017, at Cornell.

Applications for the next ISS small grant competition are due Feb. 7, 2017.

Lori Sonken is the staff writer at the Institute for the Social Sciences.

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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