In this month's Researcher Spotlight, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lauren Pinson, a researcher at START's headquarters at the University of Maryland, about her education, her career in terrorism studies and what makes her tick. A native of the state of Georgia, Pinson has been at START since she earned her master's degree.
Where did you earn your undergraduate degree and what did you study?
I went to the University of Georgia, where I earned a combined bachelor's/master's degree. My bachelor's degree is in international affairs with a focus in security and international relations, and my master's degree is in public administration, focused in public policy analysis.
What first interested you in terrorism studies and how did you become involved with START?
What I've loved about START is that the research here is not "in the clouds" kind of theory- it's all applied research. I actually didn't have much background in terrorism studies before being at START. When I started the job, I had background in CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) technologies, open source research and social science coding, but not terrorism studies.
During my first year, I did a lot of academic and policy-relevant reading related to terrorism studies and also earned my graduate certificate in terrorism studies through START and the University of Maryland. Terrorism studies overlaps with many other fields I am interested in, such as nuclear proliferation.
What is a typical day like for you as a START researcher?
Hectic. We always have a lot going on and we're generally working on more than one project. Most of my projects have been focused on CBRN terrorism, but not all of them. Sometimes I learn something completely new in the course of my research. My day can entail anything from trying to put together a journal article, to attending a government briefing, to selecting and working with our interns.
Even within the research itself, there's a range of tasks because we do quantitative and qualitative work. So research may entail doing interviews with police officers, journalists and others to gather more in-depth information for a case study, or it may be a lot of open-source research for specific events in a quantitative dataset. So there's kind of a variety in everything I do here.
What types of projects are you currently working on?
The majority of what I'm doing right now is focused on CBRN terrorism. One of those projects, which is finishing next week, looks at how violent non-state actors' use of technologies have evolved over time. It connects back to the Profiles of Incidents involving CBRN by Non-state Actors (POICN) database that we've collected over the last two years. In another project using POICN, we're working with partners at the University of Arizona and SUNY Albany to aggregate POICN with organizational data, and then work with sociologists to determine the types of group characteristics that organizations are most likely to have if they are pursuing these different CBRN agents. Related to that project, we're also doing in-depth, process tracing case studies and trying to figure out why some cases don't fit the model.
What other interests or hobbies do you have outside of terrorism studies?
I like traveling, photography, Georgia college football, yoga, music and live shows.
What do you hope for the future of START and its research/work?
I hope that START can continue to add to its groundbreaking research on terrorism/counterterrorism issues, and provide facts and analysis that help inform decision making. I also hope that as START's research grows, the center keeps expanding its educational programs. I know we have a lot of students that go through our internships and fellowships who are able to plug into different policy and research jobs a lot easier than they could otherwise. START does a great job striking a balance between research and education.
The Researcher Spotlight is a monthly Q&A series designed to profile START researchers and staff for their accomplishments and personal journey to the field of terrorism studies. To nominate consortium researchers or staff members for consideration, email email@example.com with Researcher Spotlight Suggestion in the subject line.