This is the second installment of a series highlighting exceptional student contributions to the Global Research Institute. Stay tuned for other features throughout April: Undergraduate Research Month.
With majors ranging from French & Francophone Studies to Economics and Middle Eastern Studies, Aidan Donovan ’21, Maggie Manson ’22, and Mary Trimble ’23 have diverse academic backgrounds. But the three are united by a common interest: bridging the gap between policymakers and those who study policy. At GRI’s Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project, these undergraduate Research Assistants (RAs) are able to help address this gap with their colleagues and project leaders, gaining valuable research skills and insights to policy along the way.
Some primary responsibilities of TRIP RAs involve helping to create and distribute surveys to journalists, policy scholars, or non-governmental organizations, analyzing survey results, and coding international relations journals.
Because of TRIPs comprehensive approach to policy, the researchers have also been able to incorporate their own interests into their roles. For instance, Manson—an International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies double major—is working on developing her own addition to one of TRIP’s surveys that concentrates on teaching and research focused on the Middle East.
“There’s a lot of room for you to grow in your own research while you’re at TRIP,” Manson said. “It’s not just giving the contact collection and the kind of nitty gritty stuff. It’s really important to have your operations, but also to be expanding on your own research interests as well.”
Maggie Manson ’22, a Research Assistant at the TRIP Project, presents research at one of GRI’s Research Showcase events, in which students share what they’ve been working on. Throughout the pandemic, this event has taken place in a virtual format instead, and student teams present over Zoom.
TRIP supports its RAs in creating their own original work. Donovan, for instance, published an article on the TRIP blog last semester highlighting some considerations researchers should take when gathering and interpreting scholars’ perspectives.
Trimble published a piece in the Monitor looking at how the CIA used a vaccine program to plot to kill Osama bin Laden, which resulted in a blurred line between warfighting and humanitarianism. Although this work was not done through TRIP, the team supported her in her own research along the way, underscoring the team’s commitment to the ethos of research.
“The support when it came out from the TRIP team was just unbelievable,” Trimble said.
Along with other TRIP colleagues, Trimble and Donovan also worked as RAs over the summer. During this time, they helped read and review chapters of the TRIP Project’s new book, Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This book uses TRIP data gathered over 15 years to look at the gap regarding how academics influences policy.
“I think all of that is super interesting and important in terms of understanding how we can better get academic knowledge into the hands of policymakers so that it can impact their day to day decisions,” Manson said.
At the start of the pandemic, the TRIP team had to transition from in-person to online work—a difficulty since GRI emphasizes mentorship and connection among student researchers and project leaders. But the team made the most of its circumstances.
“We all had a really strong relationship with each other and a really strong working relationship with each other,” Trimble said. “I really looked forward to our [virtual] staff meetings every week because it was something that felt kind of normal.”
Although they are currently working remotely, Donovan, Manson, Trimble, and their colleagues have continued to promote TRIP’s mission of bridging the gap between policymakers and those who study policy. Doing so—whether online or in-person—has helped the student researchers gain skills they will use throughout their careers.
“[TRIP has] given me the opportunity to conduct some independent work and has really helped me form some qualitative and quantitative research skills,” Manson said. “These are all things that TRIP has facilitated for me, and I think that all of this research training is really going to help in my own academic pursuits moving forward.”
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