I grew up river rafting out west. Aside from the excitement of big water, I loved the fact that when you’re on the river you depend on those around you. We’d often go on overnight trips, taking all of our gear with us. Along the way, we’d work together to cook, explore side canyons, fix injuries, and plan our routes to thread the best path through the rapid. And on the best trips, as the miles went on and the boats continued downriver, each person would carve out a unique role, providing a strength and support to the entire group.
House Rock Rapid, Mile 17.1, Grand Canyon
My most rewarding experiences are the ones like those trips, ones that provide mastery and freedom and the opportunity to create a legacy with friends and co-workers. And when I’m not on the river I’ve found life at William & Mary is similarly situated to nurture these attributes, supporting communal connections along the path of intellectual exploration.
Havasupai Falls, Mile 157.3, Grand Canyon
Over the last three years I’ve worked at AidData at William & Mary – a research lab that advances knowledge frontiers with cutting-edge data and technology. Together, a team of faculty, students and development professionals tackles complex problems to increase the effectiveness of aid and, ultimately, improve the lives and livelihoods of communities around the world.
To succeed in this, we need to tackle tough questions. And what universities do particularly well is bring together disparate groups that operate in the difficult boundary areas of human experience and knowledge. At AidData this may include a geographer and an economist studying the impact of conservation efforts in the Amazon or leveraging a supercomputing cluster and a team of students to analyze aid and conflict. Or it may come from a student led research “Shark Tank,” in which students create a new methodology to track investments in Ebola to better support responses to future outbreaks.
This research – this tackling of challenging questions in the messy intersection of practice, policy and academia – is intoxicating. And just as rafting can be a transport to a world of wonder and excitement, creating moments of intense concentration and of focused collaboration, so too can the work at William & Mary help create these moments of discovery and meaning.
Each month over this next year, I look forward to sharing with you an example of innovation and teamwork that is happening at the AidData lab. And if you ever want to experience it yourself, feel free to drop me a line – we’re always looking for bright students to join the team and embark on their own journey of research frontiers.
David Trichler is Director of Operations for AidData based at William & Mary, former Special Assistant to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and one of Diplomatic Courier’s top 99 leaders in foreign policy under 33.