I often get asked if life at a college is slower paced during the summer. Nope! If anything, it’s our busiest time of year, as over 120 student research assistants join our team. It is exhausting and exhilarating, and for some projects the work during that time frame is crucial to support the efforts during the remaining 42 weeks.
Just some of the summer student researchers!
In addition to mentored research with faculty and partners — such as USAID, the World Bank, and the Gates Foundation — students also pursue the next generation of their own ideas. Run by the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, teams of students participate in a version of “Shark Tank” to receive funding. As I type this, students are frantically engaging in iterating their research designs, preparing to pitch to faculty and practitioners at the end of July. Last year’s winners included projects on tracking investments in combating Ebola, understanding the political and cultural drivers of Venezuelan aid, and analyzing the impact of Boko Haram on project approval in conflict affected areas. The student’s work on Ebola was sufficiently timely and thoughtful that their analysis is now supporting policy adaptations for next round of activities by USAID’s Ebola Team. And given what I’ve seen of this summer’s pitches, I think we’re just getting started. More on this to come in future posts.
AidData students Bella, Aili and Caleb prepping their Ebola pitch
During the summer students are also participating in various skills courses and career development programs. AidData staff and faculty teach intro courses to material such as geographical information systems, coding in R, and survey design. It’s a low cost way for students to get a taste of something that may be new or different, and it allows them to then follow-up during the school year by taking courses in the W&M curricula if they want to do a deeper dive. This summer I’ve taught a course on policy writing, crafting your resume, and how to interview for future internships/jobs, which then fed into the Institute’s “Day in DC” day in which we took nearly 100 students to Washington to meet with the State Department, Dalberg Global Development Advisors, the Albright Stonebridge Group, USAID, and representatives from over a dozen additional organizations. This is always one of the student’s favorite days in the summer, as it lets them better understand that there is no single one right career path to finding purpose and satisfaction in future work.
Given all these activities, at the end we always breathe a sigh of relief that we survived it all! But then, give us a couple of days, and we start to miss the energy, creativity, and thoughtfulness the students bring, and the countdown begins for summer once again.