Ali Kelley ’09



Project Title

Project Microbe

“This summer I went to South Africa with three other Princeton students to study local government responses to infectious disease.  In today’s globalized world, effective authority is needed to contain the risk of infectious disease, yet the perceptions of and efforts to contain these threats vary across time, space, and infection.  Significant variation exists at the national and sub-national levels, and it was our goal as members of “Team Microbe,” to determine potential causes for and implications of these discrepancies across municipalities in South Africa.  In order to do this, we designed and conducted a survey of local councilors across two of the country’s nine provinces.  By focusing on these two adjacent provinces – the Eastern and Western Capes – we were able to control for “provincial effects,” given the highly similar demographics and socio-economic conditions at their border.  We selected our municipalities based on two factors: the degree of racial heterogeneity and the relative strength of political parties.  Then, we created categories based on these factors and aimed to include an equal number of municipalities from each group. ”

“Over the course of two months, we administered our survey to over 120 officials across fifteen local councils and one “metro” council.  Each interview lasted for about an hour and included both open and closed questions that related to each councilor’s policy beliefs, priorities, and personal background.  In determining the root causes of these responses, we considered several potential factors of influence, including ethnic/racial identity; international organizations; levels of civil society; strength of institutions (political parties, courts, etc.); as well as cultural attitudes toward the problems themselves. Our project was based out of a rented apartment in Cape Town, though much of our time was spend traveling to outlying municipalities.  The logistics of our research were often more complicated than we had anticipated, but we came up with creative solutions and achieved our goals nonetheless. We were especially proud of the information we gathered during our two-week road trip to the Eastern Cape, during which we drove hundreds of miles, interviewed dozens of councilors, and even got to visit a few wildlife preserves.”

“Now that the survey is complete and the results have been compiled into a large database, our goal is to find and explicate patterns within it.  Each of us is currently working on a thesis or dissertation on a specific component of the survey, and our Professor, Evan Lieberman, will eventually incorporate our study into his own research.  As I begin to focus on my own project – a study of policy diffusion among the local governments we surveyed – I realize how much I learned during my summer in South Africa – not just about politics and public health, but about myself and my values, talents, and ambitions.  Joining “Team Microbe” was one of the best decisions I’ve made at Princeton, and I have no doubt that I will continue to reflect on and benefit from this experience for a long time to come.”

Internship Year


Project Category



Princeton University


Evan Lieberman