Research Skills Academy

Summer 2024: the Institute will host the Research Skills Academy for a fourth season. Dates will be July 8-25. We will operate virtually, with people from several cities participating from their home. Students can also form a cluster in their city’s public library, but they would still be following the online program. The Academy’s goal is to prepare motivated high school (and very motivated middle school) students with skills needed to do research and advanced academic work. Students may sign up for the Research Skills Academy at the sign-up page. The Research Skills Academy is free, but space might be limited.


Research skills: library and web research, analyzing data sets, graphical visualization (including animation), writing, programming, …

Academic awareness: a tour of every major academic field, including a discussion of what research is done in those fields. (Anthropology, art, biology, chemistry, classics, computer science, economics, engineering, history, languages, linguistics, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, theater, …)

Tools: ideas are important, and often the real barrier between the mind and its expression in a scholarly output is the use of tools. We teach the use of advanced tools for research at many levels, including version control, advanced text editing, typesetting, the panorama of web development, web presence, …

Collaboration: the Research Skills Academy does not have a teaching staff: we have lecturers and we have a continuous presence in chat rooms to make sure nobody is flagging, but students are expected to support each other and find help.

Case studies: maybe the most important part: tutoring and practice in carrying out in-depth case studies.

Soft skills: communication, time management, project management, …

Citizenship: understanding under-representation, better allies, environmental stewardship, digital citizenship, and software freedom.

Writing in the content area: instruction on writing up research results, as well as college and scholarship applications.

Personal or partnered projects: in addition to instruction and lectures, students will have plenty of time to practice the skills and work on personal projects.

Giving presentations: most presentations are lousy. How do you go beyond that? Topics are: reading the room, giving talks that are not “reading bullet points”, slide preparation along the lines of the TED talk principles, …

Specificity: students list a top area of interest, and we pool guest-scientist and lecturer knowledge to prepare presentations on that topic.

Logistic details

Dates/times in 2023: This is a 12-day course — Monday-Thursday of the three weeks of July 10, July 17, July 24. And times listed below are in the US/Mountain time zone. (Make sure you adjust the time if you are in another time zone.)

10:00am-11:00amLessons, worked examples, and case studies on our topics.
11:15am-12:15pmFree form discussions of lecture, possibly with quizzes that students prepare together
12:15pm-1pmLunch break
1pm-1:15pmScrum – guided conversation in which students update the other students on their work and progress
1:15pm-3:45pmIndividual (or self-formed small group) work
(2pm-3pm)Lecture on days when we have lectures.

Lecturers: lectures will be given by the community of researchers and scholars at the Institute for Computing in Research.

College credit: college credit will be given for the lecture series, as well as for the overall research experience. [this is not yet guaranteed: we are negotiating this now]

Support for individual projects: the Institute’s scientists and former interns will be available in chat rooms for support with research and computing problems.

Self-organized: the Academy (or RSA) is developed by students and is intended to foster independence. Researchers and former Institute interns are available, but keep to the offing unless intervention is needed.

Remote: the Research Skills Academy is remote, and people can participate from anywhere in the world. You can work from home, but we will let you know if other people from your city are participating, and we can contact your public library to help set up space for you to work with your local cohort.

Examples of research problems

Students will work on projects that involve looking at a question from many different angles. Different problems come with different angles of interest, but they almost always have several.

The topics below are just examples. Students can come up with their own projects, which should offer insights when analyzed through the lens of several academic disciplines.

Instant messaging and privacy

The situation: messaging solutions offered by companies (telecoms, social media companies, …) are riddled with privacy and security problems.

Students would research the topic efficiently and in a multi-faceted way. They would produce individual or group reports in which they analyze this question from several angles:

State of the market: what companies propose, why do companies offer zero-cost instant messaging? What is the real revenue flow of instant messaging? What products offer what features?

History: what is the historical arc of communications and the compromise of communications?

Real consequences: case studies of government or corporate intrusion that has caused damage.

Digital citizenship issues: is the customer really “the product” for these companies? How about “vendor lock-in”? How are the Free/Open-source solutions different?

Underlying tech: what is end-to-end encryption? How do the approaches of telegram and signal differ?

The science of deadly conflicts

Lewis Richardson did early work in studying the statistics of warfare. Students should rapidly research the findings of analytical studies of war data, and write a report. The report could look at this problem from several angles, including:

History: what is the historical arc of deadly warfare intensity? What are its milestones and what innovations do they relate to?

Statistics: how do you quantify this phenomenon in a way that gives useful insight? How can one explain the statistical distributions that come up in this study to a non-mathematical readership?

Visualization: what visualizations of this data bring home the important points discussed above?

Video games and game engines

angles: history, current tech for hardware, effect on evolution of hardware industry, current tech for software, psychology of video games, scope of the industry, sociology of generations, tales of the programmers

Art conservation, theft, and forgery

angles: chemistry, forensics, archaeology, history of art, style, computer analysis

Music: the art and the industry

angles: musician career biographies, style and genre, workings of recording studios, “follow the money” for label/artist interaction, Amanda Palmer and crowdfunding, owning media versus subscription approaches, …

Brought to you by

Instructors at the Research Skills Academy in 2023 are:

Karina Higginson, Reed College and Institute for Computing in Research
Albert Kerelis, Reed College and Institute for Computing in Research
Mark Galassi, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Institute for Computing in Research
Rhonda Crespo, Monte del Sol charter school and Institute for Computing in Research

The Research Skills Academy started in 2021, founded by discussions with Santa Fe students:

Hajer Maaz, Monte del Sol and The Masters Program
Rubén Hernández O’kelly, Santa Fe High School
Atlas Hussey, Mandela International Magnet School