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Advanced Research Interns: the Christopher Columbuses of the Internet

Advanced Research Interns: the Christopher Columbuses of the Internet

Friday, December 20, 2013

Alexander Updegrove​, Advanced Research Intern, Spring 2013


As a member of the advanced research team, my primary job responsibility involves testing new ideas to determine whether they possess the potential to blossom into full-blown, fundable research projects.  This job usually involves a three-step process to determine if we can complete this research project or if we should find a new avenue of exploration to solve a more novel research question.

The three-step process is as follows:

  1. Researching information for a general idea online. If enough sources exist to conduct a proper literature review, there is a good chance the project will advance to the next stage; if too few sources are available, we  likely cannot currently begin a full research project.
    In these instances, we then concentrate our efforts  on identifying what the intermediate steps look like and how we might fill that void through our research efforts. 
  2. Identify the feasibility of answering the research question. For example, answering the question ‘How do terrorists recruit explosives experts?’ would add vital information currently lacking in the terrorism research field.  However, if answering this question requires interviewing terrorists and START is unable to access terrorists for questioning, then answering the research question is not feasible.
  3. Writing and submitting grants to relevant organizations. We submit a proposal (most likely to the government) to conduct research answering the research question identified in step two in return for funding.

Although each step of this process has its own merits, I most enjoy the first phase of online exploration.  Even before coming to START, I frequently utilized internet search engines to find relatively rare or unknown songs put out by my favorite musicians.  As much as I enjoyed being able to listen to one of these rare songs after I found it, I discovered during this time that the majority of the satisfaction I experienced resulted from the challenge involved with finding what few others could.  Working as an advanced research intern is the perfect position for me because it provides an intellectually stimulating academic environment where I can unearth the gems buried among the sheer volume of information prevalent on the Internet. 

I believe it is accurate to characterize advanced research interns as the Christopher Columbuses of the Internet: we set out thinking we are going to discover a new way to approach a research question that has already been examined from other angles, only to uncover an entirely different and innovative research question worth redirecting our efforts towards.  It is this ability to capitalize on new intellectual terrain that keeps START on the cutting edge of terrorism and homeland security research and why I have elected to continue working with them for a second semester instead of seeking out alternative opportunities.


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This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.