Rebecca interned with the Demographics Research Group, co-authoring blog posts, collaborating with other researchers on client-based projects, and assisted with other projects, including developing a customer satisfaction survey.
“The PhD+ program is a wonderful way to see how you might fit within careers outside the professorate. I have learned so much about myself and my skillset. It has been a confidence building experience to see how graduate training translates into other areas and empowering to learn what new skills to sharpen."
Rebecca's PhD program was in Religious Studies, focusing on Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity. She was working on her dissertation when she completed her internship.
Why did you choose to intern with the Cooper Center, Demographics Research Group?
The vision of the Cooper Center and the breadth of services the Center provides was very inspiring. I was eager to learn more about the workings of the Center and to see how I might fit in similar careers and organizations. The internship position with the Demographics Group presented a great opportunity to apply aspects of my graduate school training (namely, researching and writing) to a real-world work environment and to begin learning new professional skills. I’m grateful the Demographics Group was open to working with humanities PhDs.
What projects did you work on during your internship?
I’ve had the opportunity to co-author two blog posts for the Demographics Group’s StatChat Blog, one on Asian unemployment during the pandemic and the other on the way outdated racial categories distort the picture of growing diversity in the U.S. I learned so much from each experience including how much care is put into making the demographics data behind each post accessible to wide audience. It was a fun challenge to take the team’s research and distill it into something that is concise and informative, and at the same time entertaining. Currently, I’m working on a contracted project exploring employment trends in Virginia’s West Piedmont region and assisting different arms of the Cooper Center as we work to draw funding for an updated version of the prolific Racial Dot Map. I’ve enjoyed learning about the different aspects of the Demographics Group and the Cooper Center as a whole. It’s been invaluable to see not only how we work to meet different clients’ needs, but also how we assess and communicate our public service work.
What have you learned as a result of your internship?
So many things! Before the internship, I did not appreciate the role demographic data plays in our society. So many crucial policy and funding decisions are made by taking demographic data into account. Without access to reliable, sound data, our ability to make many of these important decisions that impact our lives suffers. All this means we need a healthy skepticism when we are given demographic figures. As many of the StatChat posts show, the narrative surrounding demographic data can make all the difference. Demographic narratives impact decisions at the highest levels, but they also influence public opinion and the way people vote.
Has your experience in the Demographics Group helped you in your academic studies, given you skills you can use in a future career or helped you to think differently about your academic and/or career path?
Working with the Demographics Group has been a confidence-building experience. I came into the internship with a lot of research and teaching experience, but little “real world” training under my belt. Through the internship, I have learned so much about communicating with the public and with clients, and have come to appreciate how much I like working as part of team, especially within a public service oriented organization. Seeing the immediate impact our work has for our clients and so many in the general public has been eye-opening for me and made me realize how much I value this type of mission in any future career. This experience has shaped the type of jobs I will look for in the coming years and has given me insight into how I can translate my academic training into traditionally non-academic sectors.
What did you enjoy most about your internship?
I have loved the opportunity to work in a field so different than my academic research area. Since I am primarily working on my dissertation, the chance to switch to a different part of my brain and work on subjects that aren’t related has been a breath of fresh air. I have also loved working collaboratively. So much of my academic work involves me reading and writing alone, it has been so fun to bring these skills to collaborative projects. I’m also learning I really enjoy working with data! Telling a story about data is like putting together a puzzle: What pieces do you have? How do those pieces fit together to make a coherent picture? Are you overlooking something important? It’s not unlike how we research in the humanities, but it was a parallel I didn’t expect when working with demographic data.
Would you recommend the PhD Plus Program to future students?
Absolutely! The PhD+ program is a wonderful way to see how you might fit within careers outside the professorate. I have learned so much about myself and my skillset. It has been a confidence building experience to see how graduate training translates into other areas and empowering to learn what new skills to sharpen.