What I Did this Summer: Entry #1

John Hughes is a second-year MIA student that will be working in our office this year.  At SIPA we have no summer courses and the specific reason for this is that we want our students to go out and get professional experience.  We want them to build on their first year in the classroom, develop professional skills, network, and learn things that will help them to more wisely choose courses in their second year of study.

This will be the first in a series as we have several students working in our office this year, so stay tuned for more.

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I spent this summer in Austin, Texas, conducting an internship at STRATFOR, a geopolitical forecasting and consulting company.  STRATFOR organizes its geopolitical staff among regions, with each region researching and writing about key current and future events that will likely impact the region and broader world.  STRATFOR offers a web-based subscription service where clients have access to all the analyses, and also performs tailored individual consulting projects for clients.

I split my time between the Latin America and Eurasia teams, spending half the summer in each.  The company deliberately put me on to the LatAm team to begin the summer because they knew I had no experience in the region and wanted me to go in to the analyses “dumb.”  I learned an incredible amount about the region over the next six weeks, especially in the countries that I covered: Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.  While researching Eurasia I had the chance to do quite a bit of economic research related to the global economic crisis, and was further allowed to write two of my own pieces that were published to the client site.

There were fifteen interns total this summer, working with a geopolitical analyst team of ten staff.  Thus, we interns overlapped in our area responsibilities, and collaborated quite a bit on our research.  We also all sat together in the “intern pen,” a large rectangular cubicle filled with computers.  Needless to say, we got to know each other quite well.  The intern class was a mix of undergrads and graduate students, with the tasks varying depending on skill level and training.  Fundamentally, however, we all conducted in-depth research for senior analysts on a range of topics, depending on what was important for the day or week.

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Besides a wonderful internship experience, I was able to experience Texas for the first time this summer.  Unlike most of my friends at SIPA, who were off to travel the globe, I was off to travel to a whole new part of America.   Besides the oppressive summer heat, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Austin.

The town itself is filled with a number of cool bars and restaurants, an amazing live-music scene, and is filled with independent stores.  Plus, both the barbecue and Tex-Mex fare in Austin, and Texas in general, is top notch.  The other interns and I quickly formed a bond and ended up spending a good amount of time together outside of work exploring what Austin had to offer.  Furthermore, my wife was able to join me for three weeks, during which time she and I traveled to Dallas, the hill country west of Austin, and to the coast.

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Overall, it was a great experience, and one that I would certainly do over again.   My coursework at SIPA focuses on political and economic risk analysis, and the internship was a great way to apply these studies to a real-world consultancy.   Much of the research I conducted, though on different topics than my SIPA papers, was remarkably similar to what I do at SIPA.  I found that the core courses at SIPA have given me a unique way to look at the world, and one that helped me to focus on what was important in my research at STRATFOR.

Also, when conducting economic analysis for the company, I definitely used the skills I have learned at SIPA.  A year ago I would never have known what was important when conducting macroeconomic research, but SIPA’s econ courses have certainly helped me in that regard.  I am happy to report that I’ll be continuing on part-time as an intern this fall for STRATFOR, and look forward to applying the knowledge I gain from my coursework there!