The end of my FDD internship

My summer internship at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies proved to be an extraordinary experience for me both intellectually and professionally. I was afforded the ability to write and conduct research on a daily basis,  greatly sharpening my researching skills. Moreover, I received continuous constructive feedback on all my work from my supervisor, which helped me to identify flaws in my writing and gaps in my political analysis. Finally, I was tasked to work on a range of issues, including many subjects in which I had not had previous experience. Researching unfamiliar topics was both challenging and enlightening, as it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to rely on the skills I had acquired over the summer as an analyst. As such, I can point to two published reports as tangible examples of the work I have produced over the course of the summer semester.
The experiences that I had and the skills that I developed over the course of the summer will undoubtedly be critical for me as I return to the academic environment at Brandeis. I expect that I will be able to make a seamless transition back to college work because of all of the writing and research that I had to do during my summer internship. In particular, I believe that my journalism project this upcoming semester will benefit tremendously because I feel that I have developed new theories and analytical resources as a result of my work at FDD that I will be able to apply to my independent study.
Now that I have had numerous internship opportunities at think tanks and academic research centers, I would like to have an opportunity to work inside the government and see how foreign policy is articulated and implemented within the national security industry. Interning at think tanks has given me a valuable outside perspective and I think that would be a valuable asset within the policymaking apparatus. I also look forward to future opportunities to publish my work, especially in academic journals and prominent foreign policy magazines. One could certainly say that, having had the chance to publish this summer, I have caught the publishing bug. I would also like to learn more about the inter-agency policy making process, which is something I feel somewhat ignorant about at this point in my professional career.
Interning at a foreign policy think tank such as FDD is a valuable experience and I would highly recommend such an opportunity to aspiring political analysts and policy wonks. That being said, I think that those going into the field should be aware that the work varies from day to day and may not always be as exciting as one would hope. Moreover, interns must be versatile and flexible in responding to the demands of their supervisors. Most importantly, I would exhort future interns to reach out to senior fellows and professional analysts, not just for professional advice but also for constructive feedback and criticism on their work. The most valuable experiences that I had over the summer came when I submitted my work to my supervisor and received feedback that helped to shape and focus my research and writing.

Mid-point of my FDD internship

At the mid-point of my internship, I feel that I am making considerable progress on my learning goals. At FDD, I have had the opportunity to draft analytical pieces and conduct granular research on a daily basis. I am also able to collaborate with senior research fellows who help to shape and focus my analysis. My internship has sharpened my writing skills because I am forced to write concisely and expediently to meet the deadlines and expectations established by my supervisors. Moreover, I am constantly shifting projects and topics, which has improved my ability to quickly synthesize information and provide analysis based on the limited information available. Finally, I am sometimes tasked to do research on certain obscure issues that have not been sufficiently covered in the Western media. As a result, I must rely on foreign language sources and build off of incomplete information, two facets of my work environment that have greatly enhanced my research skills. Although there is no established or institutionalized mechanism that allows me to track my growth during the internship, I receive constant feedback and constructive criticism from my supervisors. This feedback loop has greatly improved my writing and analytical skills and forced me to engage at a deeper level with the research material I handle.

 

I have also had the opportunity to write for a general audience at FDD. I am most proud of the three pieces that I have coauthored that have been published online in various locations. I am currently monitoring conflict and tracking the evolution of violent non-state actors in North Africa and I have collaborated on two research products pertaining to the current conflict between two militia coalitions in Benghazi, Libya. I have compiled resources and produced written reports on the nascent violent struggle in Benghazi and have also designed two graphics that map out kinetic activities (i.e. violent attacks) in the city. In addition, I helped to produce briefing material for war games concerning the potential spillover of violence in Iraq into neighboring countries. The latter assignment was particularly engaging for me because it allowed me to anticipate events and consider contingency plans should violence escalate in neighboring countries. This thought exercise also provided me with an insight into the war planning process that occurs within the government as policymakers seek to predict events and suggest possible policies to help manage crises.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this internship has had a fundamental impact on my analytical skills and research abilities. The skills that I am cultivating at FDD will serve me tremendously in both my academic career and in my professional life. I feel much more comfortable as a writer because I am frequently writing reports and memos and have little time to agonize over a future project. Perhaps the most important skill learned at FDD that I will be able to transfer back to an academic setting is my ability to assess research and identify gaps within the analysis of my peers. This skill will be highly useful in helping me to identify flaws within my work as I continue to write papers at Brandeis. This internship has been a very valuable learning experience thus far and I look forward to continuing the work and applying the skills that I have learned in an academic environment.

My first week at FDD

I am interning at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) this summer, a think tank focusing on foreign policy and national security issues, located in Washington D.C. The FDD provides analysis, policy recommendations and research to politicians, government officials, military officers and other members of the foreign policy community. FDD fellows and researchers fuse academic research with practical experience and analysis in order to educate policymakers about national security issues. As an intern, I will be focusing primarily on issues concerning violent non-state actors (VNSAs), including terrorist organizations and violent insurgency movements. My responsibilities include producing research memos for senior fellows and compiling source documents on emerging issues. In addition, I will assist senior fellows as they write policy papers, congressional testimonies and research monographs. I will also have the opportunity to participate in FDD”s intern speaker series, a program that brings national security professionals and policymakers to FDD”s offices to share their experiences and to educate interns about various opportunities in the policy community.

The process of finding and securing an internship at FDD was relatively straightforward. I previously interned at two think tanks in DC,  the Institute for the Study of War and the Center for American Progress, and was familiar with FDD’s work before I applied for the internship. In particular, I was very impressed with the comprehensive and objective research and analysis produced by various FDD scholars on counter-terrorism issues. Given my interest in pursuing a career in counter-terrorism and national security, I felt that FDD would be a good internship opportunity and I sent in a resume in February. My resume was passed on to a senior fellow who specializes in counter-terrorism issues and I had a brief phone interview with the fellow to determine whether I would be a good fit for FDD. I was offered the job at the end of the phone interview and accepted a few days later.

My first week was very enriching and exciting, as I received a brief orientation on Tuesday before quickly jumping into a research project focusing on the organizational structure and trajectory of an insurgent movement in South Asia. I received a brief training on proper formatting for research memos and source documents before I was tasked with developing a literature review that comprised all relevant scholarly articles concerning the South Asian insurgency group. The project was briefly interrupted because our research unit was required to produce a graphic to help explain the emerging political crisis in Libya. However, we quickly compiled the research required for the graphic and I switched back to building out the literature review and helping to fill factual gaps in an existing draft discussing the insurgency group.

I hope to sharpen my skills as a political analyst this summer and to improve my writing skills further so that I can confidently produce research memos within a short period of time. FDD is a fast-paced environment and so I expect that my efficiency and productivity will improve as I continue to adapt to the new work culture.