2,893 Inspirational Passion Project Ideas
Turn inspirations into your passion project.
This collection of project ideas, shared by Polygence mentors, is meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.
- Computer Science
- Creative Writing
- Environmental Science
- Game Design
- Organizational Leadership
- Public Health
- Social Science
- Sports Analytics
What is knowledge and what is it good for?
What is knowledge? What is the value of knowing something? How should answers to these questions inform our practice of explaining people's actions and animal behaviors by referencing what they know? We will start by familiarizing ourselves with contemporary discussions about the composition and value of knowledge. From there, we can branch out in accord with your interests to investigate such topics as knowledge in non-human animals, knowledge as a social good, or the scientific method as a distinctive way to gain knowledge. Pre-requisites: A curiosity for the role of knowledge in our mental lives is all that's required. We will start with thoughtful columns, podcasts, or videos authored by science communicators and public philosophers and engage with recent research and classic literature where needed.
Literary or Philosophical Analysis--Project of Your Choice!
Critical reading of any text that sparks your interest.
Study how politeness, kindness and other behavioral phenomena are expressed differently across languages (e.g. English vs Mandarin Chinese), by using large-scale datasets.
Authorship Text Analysis Project
Stylometry counts the occurrences of words and expressions in a piece of writing. These frequencies can reveal important information, such as who wrote the text. For example, J.K. Rowling was identified as writing under a pseudonym based on similar patterns of words in both The Cuckoo’s Calling and the Harry Potter books. There are many different applications of stylometry, especially in the fields of linguistics, computer science, forensic science, literature, and history. A project could be in any of these fields and could range from lighter computation (i.e. analyzing different word patterns produced by software) to heavier computation (e.g. calculating statistics, coding in Python to extract the frequencies yourself). You will gain skills in setting up a scientific experiment, conducting a quantitative analysis, reviewing scientific literature, and writing up your results.
Languages, Linguistics, Cognitive
Detecting bots on Twitter
Now that computers are good enough to generate very convincing text completely on their own, people have become quite concerned about "fake news". In this project, we will investigate how easy it is to detect Tweets that have been written by computers in four steps: 1) Collect some data, some possibly labelled already as "fake". 2) Look at the statistical properties of "real" Tweets versus "fake" Tweets. 3) Write a computer program, for example a Naive Bayes classifier, for labelling new Tweets as "real" or "fake". 4) Evaluate how good the program is using a sensible metric.
Math, Linguistics, AI/ML
Spanish and How it Got that Way
In 711 C.E. the Arabic-speaking Umayyad dynasty began their conquest of the Iberian peninsula, now present-day Spain and Portugal. During this time, there was over 800 years of Arab cultural and linguistic influence on the region. Today, over 4,000 Spanish words derive their origins from Arabic. Students can explore the influence of Arabic on Spanish through the lens of historical linguistics.
Literature, Languages, Creative Writing, Linguistics, Social Science
Literally speaking, how figurative are we?
When it comes to metaphors and other figures of speech, people generally equate them with some artistic talents that are shared only among poets and writers. Not to mention, some tend to believe that rhetorical devices are at best useless ornamental pieces scattered here and there to beautify one's language, or worse yet, deviant twists of tongues insidiously lead the recipients astray. But hold on a sec! Did I just unintentionally left a full trace of metaphors as I'm typing down these words? Isn't "equate" a metaphor - mapping maths values to general ideas? Isn't "scatter" a metaphor - mapping candies to words? Isn't "astray" a metaphor still - mapping a physical path to a mental path? It turned out, figuration (especially metaphor) might as well be a fundamental mechanism of human cognition! In this project, you will: - experience the magic of "Conceptual Metaphor Theory", a powerful and still developing theory in Cognitive Linguistics - gather evidences and examples of "metaphors of our mind" in linguistic data, cultural and social artifacts - Carry out a corpus study OR a discourse analysis based on arguments for or against "Conceptual metaphor
How can we write rules for a language game?
We do so much with words. Consider, for instance, our practice of questioning and asserting. In raising questions, we determine what problems to resolve. In asserting propositions, we resolve questions by present things as being certain ways rather than others. Our practice of questioning and asserting can have profound effects on others. In skillfully questioning and asserting, we can achieve equitable agreements, well-coordinated actions, and insightful research. In abusively questioning and asserting, we reap such harms as silencing, unwarranted subordinating, gaslighting, and propogating misinformation. How should we scientifically explain our ways with words? Many linguists and philosophers explain them as being moves in a rule governed language game. Others reject language games as unhelpful metaphors. Together, we'll examine both sides to understand what we explain when writing the rules of a language game. Pre-requisites: None. All you need is a curiousity for how our words bear meanings and how we can use our words to effect substantive change. We will start by reading classical philosophical works in the philosophy of language, foundational texts in linguistics, and thoughtful reflections by public intellectuals and then engage with recent research as the project develops.
Are you a computer?
Does a person's mind relate to their body as a computer's software relates its hardware? Those who answer ``yes'' endorse the Computational Theory of Mind (CTM). CTM commits you to the view that many, if not all, of a person's mental processes (e.g., their thinking and reasoning) are computer softwares executed by their brain. CTM is fascinating because it gives a unifying answer to a wide array of questions from across the history and philosophy of psychology. Nevertheless, there is broad disagreement over whether CTM is a genuine scientific organizing principle or a merely convenient metaphor. We'll start by familiarizing ourselves with the origins and content of CTM. After that, we'll branch out in accord with your interests. Whichever way we go, we'll strive for a deeper philosophical understanding of how our mental processes facilitate our capacity to navigate and alter our environment. Pre-requisites: A curiosity for the relationship between the mind, body, and environment is all that's required. We will start with thoughtful columns, podcasts, or videos authored by science communicators and public philosophers and engage with recent research and historical movements where needed.
Language variation and identity
Speakers of the same language vary in terms of pronunciation, word choice, and other dimensions. This variation is structured, and can often be correlated with factors such as gender, ethnicity, geography. The student will collect data on a case of linguistic variation, and explore how this variation is tied to markers of identity. The student can learn methods for collecting speech and analyzing speech data (e.g. fieldwork methodology, working with online text corpora).
Computer Science, Languages, Linguistics
Logistic Regression for Cancer-Risk Screening
Calculating patient cancer risk from relevant medical data, and determining if biopsy operation should take place. Maximizing a true positive rate and positive predictive value.
Computer Science, Linguistics, AI/ML
Bilingualism and cognition
How does bilingualism affect general cognition? In turn, how does cognition affect bilingualism? In this project, we will examine the intersection of bilingualism and domain-general cognitive processes such as attention, executive function, cognitive control, and memory. We will also review the similarities and differences between various types of bilinguals, such as simultaneous bilinguals vs. late learners.
Neuroscience, Linguistics, Cognitive
Can our bodies shape our minds? If so, how?
They say "mind over matter", but have you ever considered the possibilities of the other way around? In this project, you will: - learn about interesting topics and studies in "Embodied Cognition" - explore how people are "prompted" or "swayed" to perceive things in certain ways and/or to make certain decisions based on their bodily interactions with the world - write a review paper OR produce a podcast OR create a VLOG OR design an experiment based on the topics and theories we have covered
What are games good for?
``Common sense'' wisdom alleges that games are a waste of time, if not a social ill. Playing games allegedly weakens our character and stymies our goals. Social media platforms allegedly ruined political discourse by turning them into games. In contrast, some sciences and their associated philosophies value games as vehicles for exploring and explaining their subject matter. Economists and ecologists often ``model'' certain behaviors as optimal strategies for winning games with certain pay-off structures. Linguists often ``model'' types of conversations as ``language games'' with distinctive goals, rules, and scoreboards. But are games good for their own sake? Is there a characteristic good or value to ``just playing a game''? Together we'll look at discussions by artists, game designers, and philosophers about how games comprise a distinctive artform valuable for their own sake. From there, we'll branch out in accord with your interests. Whichever way we go, we'll strive for a deeper philosophical understanding of just what it is games are good for. Pre-requisites: A curiosity for what makes games, arts, or scientific explanations special is all that's required. We will start with thoughtful columns, podcasts, or videos authored by science communicators and public philosophers and engage with recent research where needed.
Looking to get approval or even some funding towards a project you're passionate about? Together, we will work through the steps to developing a strong proposal, including researching existing literature, developing research questions or project goals, and devising a timeline and/or budget. We will also discuss persuasive writing strategies and adapting writing to institutional contexts.
Learning (and coping) strategies in this fast-paced and eventful era
When more than half of our global population was confined to bedrooms and to learn and to work, when online courses and meetings became the norm, when our average human attention span is rapidly shrinking while everything else is booming and luring, how do we keep our focus and keep important information from fading? In this project, you will: - gain comprehensive understanding of attention, memory and learning processes - get to know useful tools and methods (such as mindfulness) in boosting attention, memory and general life satisfaction - Evaluate the validity and reliability of certain intervention-based studies that trying to promote/demote certain practices - conduct interviews and/or questionnaires on one or several of the tools and methods we have discussed
Music and Poetry: Song, Opera, Lyrics, Fiction, and More
In my dissertation, I took a personally and politically reflective look at the relationship between poetry and music in the songs (or Lieder, in German) of Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms, and so forth. We can do something similar for anything that interests you at this interface between what writers and composers do, and how performers and audiences mediate these inter-artistic conjunctions. I'm most comfortable with music in the tradition of European classical music, but we can explore any genre that interests you.
German Art Song (Lieder)--the Philosophy of Music and Poetry
I wrote my beloved dissertation on a form within the so-called German classical music tradition called "art songs" or "Lieder" (singular: "Lied"). A Lied is a poem set to music, usually by someone other than the poet. The poet may or may not have known the composer, or given their blessing to having it set to music--there was no copyright in those days, so the composer could use any text they wanted and do anything they pleased with it. My greatest fascination is with the meeting--or confrontation--of two separate artistic wills, and the magical transformation that happened when a composer like Franz Schubert or Robert Schumann set a poem to music. When it went well, the whole is more than the sum of its two parts. I'm hoping to turn this dissertation into a book and will need help with many parts of the process, including finding citations for quotes and sources that I already have, and also finding new material to enhance or deepen the argument. I might even need help getting permission from various places to use quotes, materials, or pictures (don't worry, I'd help you help me with technical stuff like that!). If you're interested in queer studies, there's also a connection (even if not a very obvious one) between that and my German art song project that I'd love help developing. Knowledge of German, or at least curiosity about it and a desire to learn, is helpful though not required--same goes for music.
Beyoncé as Poetry? Street Performance as Prose?
Rap. Movies. Musicals. That street performer who jumped over your head. Writing does not just mean a poem by a white man from the 1800s. Writing is the accordion player on the subway. The giggling baby dancing in a snow suit. Through this project we'll uncover how words show up in our everyday surroundings through (non?)fiction and poetry, using as many artistic mediums as you wish.
Creative Writing, Linguistics
Bringing Your Story to Life
Storytelling has been around for thousands of years. It's an essential part of being human. In this project, let's bring your story to life, whether it be through film, theatre, song, or any other concept that you have in mind.
Music, Linguistics, Cognitive