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Interest in Biology and Terrorism Studies Leads to Newfound Career Path for START Intern


Kaitlyn Meyers

A few years back, if you had told me that I’d someday work at a terrorism research center, I probably would have laughed. How did a person with B.S. in Biology end up studying terrorism? I guess you could say that I didn’t find terrorism— terrorism found me.

The senior year of my undergraduate career, I focused on two things. The first was graduate school. The second was studying Parkinson’s disease using the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Yep, that’s right, I was trying to solve the mystery of Parkinson’s in humans using a tiny, microscopic worm.

But back to the graduate program. I always had an interest in law enforcement and emergency management, but I didn’t think I would be able to combine that with my love of science. The Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University (GMU) seemed to be the answer to that problem. I applied to a handful of programs that year, but I had received more rejection letters than acceptance letters that February.

I found myself spending Valentine’s Day with a box of chocolates and a sappy rom-com, heartbroken over my graduate school rejection letters. I decided to check my email one last time, and waiting in the inbox was an acceptance letter to the Biodefense Program at GMU, and the beginning of my journey in terrorism studies.

As it turned out, biodefense and terrorism studies are my lifelong valentines.

Shortly after my acceptance to GMU, the graduate coordinator sent out an email about an opportunity at START and I decided to apply. Fast-forward a year: I am now starting my second year on the Terrorism Propaganda Research Project.

As part of the project, we analyze and code speeches that have been transcribed from terrorist propaganda videos produced by al-Qaida and al-Qaida affiliated groups. We hope to learn more about the types of messages conveyed, techniques used, who the target audience is, and if there is any discernible pattern over time.

This internship has taught me many valuable skills. By coding transcripts from leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, I was able to better understand the techniques employed by the leaders.  The coding has also developed my analytical skills, which is critical for many jobs now. I am currently using these skills to analyze ISIS propaganda techniques as compared to al-Qaida’s tactics.

As I draw closer to graduating in May with M.S. in Biodefense with a concentration in Homeland Security and Terrorism, I hold these last two years at START near and dear to my heart.

START has provided with so many opportunities and skills that I would have never gained without the organization. Competition for jobs is high, but my START experiences have helped me stand out among my peers.

START provided me with the opportunity to gain real world experience while still pursuing my master’s degree. The experience has opened many doors, including a fellowship this summer at the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Already, I have been able to employ the skills I learned from my project both in my professional life and academic studies. As I begin to pursue a career in either public health or emergency management and law enforcement, I look forward to applying the skills I learned at START and combining them with my formal training in Biology and Biodefense. 


In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. 

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.