A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

In training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, START offers its students a chance to publish their work on this blog.

POICN Database Research Assistant Reflects on Past with START

POICN Database Research Assistant Reflects on Past with START

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Benjamin Ash, Research Assistant, Profiles of Incidents Involving CBRN Use by Non-state Actors (POICN) Database​

When I began my internship in the summer of 2014, I experienced the normal jitters and apprehension that most people encounter embarking on a new career opportunity, but I never could have predicted just how rewarding this opportunity would be. Two years before I came to START, I earned my Master’s Degree in Biodefense from George Mason University. There, I focused on the proliferation of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) technologies, with a special focus on illicit biological and chemical weapons programs.

I can still remember the day my advisor, Markus Binder, called to offer me an internship working as a Senior Database Technician on the Profiles of Incidents Involving CBRN Use by Non-state Actors (POICN) Database. Since that day, I have been surrounded by positivity, validation and empowerment at START.

Working with Markus and Matt Burger, another Research Assistant, on the POICN Database has been challenging, educational and ineffably valuable. The database, which catalogs CBRN attacks and plots that have occurred since 1990, was a stark reminder of how in-depth the research at START truly is. I never could have guessed that from a simple series of news articles, I would be extracting more than 400 pieces of data to construct an objective and thorough account of an event.

Since my initial internship, I have been fortunate enough to continue working on POICN as an hourly employee. If being offered an internship was a validation of my work prior to START, being promoted has multiplied the pride and diligence with which I approach my work. Every day I swipe my pass at the doorway to come to work, I am reminded of just how important the research we do is.

While my preceding internships were valuable in their own right, working at START brings a sense of pride that borders on indescribable. I can’t imagine another internship where an entire row of interns could have their work on one screen and a live stream of C-SPAN featuring our boss, Bill Braniff, testifying before Congress on the other. It becomes quickly apparent that the value and quality of my work, and the work of every other intern at START, is demonstrated each time our research is called upon before influential policymakers the world over.

START has given me two things that no other internship has: an unmatched boost in confidence and the work experience to keep me relevant in the often overlooked field of biosecurity and biodefense. For the opportunity to work with and grow at START, I will be forever grateful.