This summer, I worked as a research assistant for an economics professor at Trinity College Dublin. Together with a team of researchers located around the world, we investigated the motivations and debate surrounding the Marshall Plan following World War II in the U.S. and the short- and long-term economic and political effects of that aid in Italy. I focused on the process to pass the Marshall Plan (European Recovery Act of 1948), and public opinion of foreign aid spending throughout that time. I compiled my work into written summaries, graphs, tables, and maps that reflected voting patterns, political alignment, and public opinion. I worked almost entirely independently, consulting with the team only to clarify the goals of the project and what was expected of me during my time as a research assistant.
My personal growth throughout this experience comes mostly from living in a foreign country for two months. I was consistently forced to adapt to my environment and adjust to cultural differences while commuting daily into the heart of the city. Although I have lived in an urban environment for my entire life, navigating not only a new city but a new country was a learning opportunity. I gained more independence and became more comfortable with exploring new places and meeting new people. This experience will help me adjust to any difficult environments I may face as a student or employee in the future. Knowing I can successfully function in a drastically new place has also expanded the geographic area I would consider settling down in. I am no longer limited by the region I grew up, and I would now be willing to live and work almost anywhere in the world if an opportunity presented itself.
Academically, this internship has exposed me to a higher level of research than I have ever seen or imagined before. This team connected experts and extremely intelligent people from around the world to investigate an issue from many different angles. It also opened my eyes to a more advanced method of the research process in the social sciences. Throughout my time with the team, there was never a thesis or even a straightforward path towards publishing papers or writing a book. Instead, they spent months learning as much as possible about the Marshall Plan from every direction, and plan on allowing their findings indicate the direction they will take in the future. Even before working with this team, I understood the merits of not making an argument before researching. This helps to prevent a confirmation bias and selective sourcing once the research process does begin. However, this project was less constrained than I could have imagined. I will likely be conducting my own Honors Thesis during my final year at the University of Pittsburgh and witnessing the early stages of the research process from some of the world’s best has armed me with knowledge and skills that will benefit my own work.
Professionally, this internship has exposed me to a completely new leadership style. This will not only help me adjust to varying styles of leadership I may find myself under, but I will also work to integrate some of the best aspects of this style into my own leadership. Prior to my time in Dublin, I led with a higher level of control and management. During a semester-long group project for a Digital Humanities course this past semester, I was elected group leader. I focused on controlling every aspect of work that was done so everyone knew exactly what was expected of them and no one was unnecessarily repeating work that was already finished. This was an effective way to conduct a group project with strict time restraints and many points we had to meet, but it limited the creativity of the team members and restricted any potential flexibility within the projects aims. This summer, the team left me almost entirely to my own devices and trusted my judgement in determining avenues to investigate. This was frustrating at times, but it allowed me to learn much more than if I was micromanaged, and my intimacy with the subject provided me with insight on the topic they did not have. In my future leadership roles, I hope to find a balance between these two strategies that maximizes the creativity and ability of each member while maintaining the efficiency of the team as a whole.
My two months in Dublin have been some of the most rewarding of my life thus far. I will carry the skills I have gained and lessons I have learned for the rest of my academic and professional career. Integrating these skills will require little conscious effort, as my experience has armed me with the confidence and competence to thrive in any situation.