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Focus on Faculty: Celeste Lay

Publication date

October 30, 2018 7:45 PM


Katie Fitzpatrick

Professor J. Celeste Lay, Associate Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, is an expert on civic relations and political behavior. In 2017, she was named “Honors Professor of the Year” by seniors in the Honors Program for her work with Honors students, mainly through research opportunities and research-based Honors courses. She values the opportunities and even the challenges associated with the research process and hopes to instill those lessons in her students.

Professor Lay began her Honors involvement serving as the director of many Honors Theses and teaching the Honors Thesis Bootcamp Colloquium course. For her, being able to interact with students across the academic landscape at Tulane was what made this teaching opportunity so special. “It is rare, as a political science professor, to venture outside the Liberal Arts academic realm,” she says. This experience also introduced her to other techniques for research not commonly used in political science. While students of political science usually use methods such as public opinion surveys, interviews, and focus groups, students from different fields of study determined other methods to use based on their research questions and areas of study. For example, one of her Bootcamp students in Neuroscience wrote her thesis on the effects of music on the brain and used brain scans for research.

Through this Colloquium and her role on Honors Thesis committees, Professor Lay recalls a key component of guiding young researchers. At the beginning of a student’s research career, Professor Lay iterates the importance of failure and uncertainty in research. Many students go into their senior year with high expectations from their academic performance thus far, and when they get to their research, they can become frustrated. She assures her students that topics can and will change and narrow, and that this is the nature of the work. She advises her students and others to be prepared for these obstacles in the research journey.

Throughout her scholarly career, Professor Lay has contributed a great deal to the field of American politics. Currently, Professor Lay is writing a book about the civic effects of the New Orleans Public School System. She is researching how responses to New Orleans public schools translate to opinions about local government: Can it be trusted? Can citizens make change to public policy? What is their involvement with the local government? Professor Lay is also involved with a group of researchers studying the child perspective on politics and government. She and her colleagues have gathered over 1000 interviews with 1st – 6th graders about their opinion and attitude toward government and politics. Children were asked to draw pictures of a local leader, and researchers recorded who they drew and took other factors into consideration such as the gender and race of the leader. It is their hope to understand how children perceive leaders in their community. Their findings will be published in a series of scholarly journal articles. 


All faculty interviewed recommend a book that they find compelling and important.

Professor Lay’s first book recommendation: The Great Alignment, by Alan I. Abramowitz.

This book offers a concise insight into the divide between Republican and Democratic voters in today’s political climate and what this means for the future of our country. This is a required text for Lay’s Election course.

Professor Lay’s second book recommendation: Suspect Citizens, by Frank Baumgartner.

Lay’s second recommendation is a product of research done by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This book analyzes the connection between race and policing. Suspect Citizens documents the extreme rarity of drug busts and reveals sustained and troubling disparities in how different racial groups are treated.