Spotlight on Research
Diaz-Wahl earns undergraduate researcher of the month accolades for February
By Marc Speir
Based on his study that covers incivility in politics, Alejandro Diaz-Wahl, a senior in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Communication, received UT’s Undergraduate Researcher of the Month award for February.
The Senate of College Councils’ Undergraduate Research Committee bestows the award based on a candidate’s passion, commitment and overall quality of research project.
Diaz-Wahl, a native of Palo Alto, Calif., began his research during a Senior Fellows Class in media and public opinion during the fall of 2011 and later extended it into an independent research course. His topic addresses online communication and the level of civility people exhibit when discussing politics on news websites.
Diaz-Wahl said that previous research focused more on face-to-face interactions, but he was able to use similar methods to code audiences into liberal and conservative camps and gather data for analysis. He said the online presence of political discourse intrigued him and he originally expected people to be more civil in communicating ideas on websites that were more evenly split between those on the left and right.
“I found that online, there really is no major pattern across the board,” Diaz-Wahl said. “I did discover that sites that are more 50-50 amongst conservatives and liberal audiences tended to have more incidences of rudeness than sites with more homogeneous audiences like Fox News or The New York Times.”
The 21-year-old plans to submit his paper to the UT Undergraduate Research Journal for acceptance and start a career after graduation. Diaz-Wahl holds a second major in Arabic and is interested in the translation of documents, but he also may pursue law school.
“In Alejandro’s case, he won this award because he’s an ambitious and terrific student,” said Talia Jomini Stroud, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and faculty advisor to Diaz-Wahl. “He didn’t need that much direction. My biggest advice for other students (starting research) is to find the puzzle or mystery of something we don’t know the answer to.”
Diaz-Wahl will be recognized for his achievement at the Senate’s general assembly on Thursday, March 22.
“It’s been fun and enlightening to work with professors I really like on a topic that interests me,” said Diaz-Wahl. “I’m very grateful for the program.”