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Faculty members in the social sciences are deeply committed to research. Some of this research is done by individual faculty members with the assistance of one or two collaborators (other faculty members, post-docs, graduate students, and/or undergraduates). This will always be a significant component of what we do. But at the same time, we have established three areas for priority enhancement. The goal is to bring together students and faculty from across the school to create or enhance teaching and research. The areas for priority enhancement are: (1) cognitive neurosciences, (2) race, ethnicity and diversity, and (3) public policy.

Cognitive Neurosciences
Cognitive neuroscience studies the biological foundations of mental phenomena. This is an area of study that is of interest to a number of faculty in the department of psychology, as well as in several departments outside the social sciences (ecology and evolutionary biology, computational and applied mathematics, and computer science). Increasingly, this field is seen as one that can help account for human behavior in a variety of spheres. Consequently, within the social sciences at Rice, interest in cognitive neuroscience extends beyond psychology to other social science disciplines. This burgeoning area offers the opportunity for the School of Social Sciences to become an international leader in the application of cognitive neuroscience to the study of human behavior.

Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity
Questions about the nature and effects of social inequality and diversity have been central to the social sciences since their inception. The past decades have seen great changes in the parameters of these issues. For example, localities and nations have been challenged by the rise of regional ethnic solidarity, global circuits of trade and migration, and the resurgence of religious fundamentalisms. Such developments pose opportunities for social science theory, research, and policy. Every department in the Rice University School of Social Sciences has strong research and teaching interests in these areas. Colleagues in other schools at Rice have interests that both overlap and complement those in the School of Social Science. We stand poised to focus and concentrate our efforts to achieve a qualitative leap ahead in scholarly excellence and public visibility, as well as a closer relationship with the community.

Public Policy
Public policy covers a range of areas and a number of our faculty have proven interests in a variety of policy topics. At Rice, we eschew the traditional approach of organizing around several policy issues. Instead, we use the organizing principles of institutional design and methods of inquiry. The structure of an institution has a major impact on how it functions and the impacts it produces. Different approaches to formulate policy problems and their solutions are likely to increase the chances that the best means to achieve policy goals can be identified. Social science faculty members from all our departments have interests in public policy, and these interests are shared by various faculty across the campus.

In each area, we have a core of strong faculty and student interest. Furthermore, there are faculty and students in other schools at Rice who share these interests. We believe that we can achieve national and international excellence in each area. This will provide unique and expanding opportunities not only for our faculty, but also for our students who will be active participants in the search for new knowledge.

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Policy Studies

The need for interdisciplinary approaches to complement specialized training in undergraduate education has been widely recognized both at Rice University and across academia, in general. Many of society's problems that Rice undergraduates will work to solve are no longer self-contained but instead have spill-over effects across a broad range of disciplines.

For example, students in highly technical, specialized sciences such as bioengineering or environmental engineering also must have an understanding of the social and political institutions and processes that both impact and are impacted by their work. It is also clear that the institutions Rice undergraduates will be working in are no longer narrowly defined; success in these institutions will come to those who are well trained in their specialty but who also have an understanding of the broader networks that crisscross modern society.

Health care is another area where this is particularly evident. Successful doctors and health care providers today must go beyond mastering the technological aspects of medicine to understanding the broad and complex socioeconomic matrix that surrounds health care. Students need the opportunity for more than just exposure to concepts from outside their discipline-they also need practice with their application.

The Policy Studies major provides students with such an opportunity. Students gain useable knowledge that provides value-added benefits in their future job performance. This has the benefit of providing Rice students with a competitive advantage over students from other schools as they enter the job force or continue on to professional or graduate schools.