Nico Pinchak at the University of Michigan’s ICPSR
During an information session last fall for Bowling Green State University sociology majors, Dr. Wendy Manning, a distinguished professor in the department, had mentioned that the University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) offered a summer internship opportunity for undergraduates. ICPSR is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization. It plays a key role in the infrastructure of social science research by providing data curation, preservation and access services as well as by offering advanced training opportunities to the next generation of social scientists through the ICPSR Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research.
Upon further investigation, it was clear that, for students pursuing careers in social science research, the experience would be unrivalled. The internship promised 10 weeks of technical training in data processing and curation techniques, participation in the Summer Program, personalized training and mentorship in quantitative research, and regular professional workshop sessions with room and board and an added stipend. Now, reflecting on my summer, I can confidently say that ICPSR more than delivered.
What likely will become the most memorable and consequential part of my experience was ISR’s complexity and magnitude. The bulk of the research conducted in the Department of Sociology at BGSU utilizes large-scale datasets comprised of answers to hundreds of questions from thousands of participants. Being able to work with these datasets to find social patterns can be an exhilarating experience, but to see all of the complexity behind how such studies are created takes everything to an entirely new level. For example, one of the workshops that we attended introduced us to the Survey Research Operations (SRO) unit within ISR. Among other things, SRO is responsible for assisting with questionnaire designs, computing participant sampling frames, contacting study participants, and hiring interviewers across the country to collect sensitive data from participants. All being carried out at ISR, these tasks call on the efforts of hundreds of researchers and affiliates as well millions of dollars in funding. Processing studies post-data collection further opened my eyes to how these studies are paid for and made accessible. As an aspirating social scientist, documenting the behind the scenes of study designs and purposes was a highly motivating experience.
Other workshops included personal meetings with University of Michigan faculty, such as Alford Young, department chair of sociology, and ISR research scientists such as Jukka Savolainen, and as opportunities to meet with graduate program representatives across the university. Bringing good news for students approaching graduation, one workshop was on potential bachelors-level research careers with Mathematica Policy Research and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). For students with even just a basic level of experience with social research, the opportunities are many. Responsibilities for such positions may include report writing, conducting policy-relevant literature reviews, operating statistical package programs, orchestrating and transcribing focus groups, and much more.
Ultimately serving as a capstone to our internship, the four of us spent much of our time learning quantitative research methods through the summer program and working with Dr. Lynette Hoelter, another ISR research scientist, to develop our independent research projects. From start to finish, the experience exposed us to the stages of the research process and left us each with a conference-ready poster. At least one of us has already scheduled to present at a conference, and I’m now planning to continue working with Hoelter to turn my poster into a publishable paper.
And of course, we were sure to make time for play. Trips were made to Canada, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Cedar Point were made; Ann Arbor’s nightlife explored and Art Fair consumed; a half-marathon completed; a dance class taken; friendships formed; and countless memories made.
For students interested in pursuing similar internship experiences, my best piece of advice would be to take advantage of research opportunities. We were told that this internship was highly competitive, and I’m confident in saying that the world-class faculty and numerous nationally funded research opportunities in the BGSU Department of Sociology are what put me toward the head of the pack. On numerous occasions upon introducing myself I was asked about well-known BGSU scholars such as Drs. Manning, Giordano, Brown, Lin, Joyner and others. The training that I’ve received in my time here, and now also in Ann Arbor, has definitely prepared me for the next level of education, and in so many ways am I proud to have started out a Falcon.