Like most college students this year, I embarked on my summer internship in an entirely virtual environment, my days were filled with Zoom calls, spreadsheets, Dropboxes, and more. It was so sad to realize that my internship would be entirely virtual, but the research experience I got with it was invaluable.
I’ll preface my description of the internship by saying that Penn loves acronyms. Nearly every department, organization, building, dining hall, and squirrel on Penn’s campus (okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point!) has one. So, in true Penn fashion, I was an intern under the PURM program, which stands for Penn Undergraduate Research and Mentoring. This program is unique to Penn and only available to freshmen and sophomores (during the internship they’re rising sophomores and juniors).
In a nutshell, there are hundreds of professors within nearly every discipline and department who are conducting research and looking for undergraduate research assistants. PURM, which is run through CURF (I told you!), which stands for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, matches up professors with undergraduates for summer research projects to be conducted over a 10 week period. Professors and graduate students get extra help with hefty research projects while developing meaningful working relationships with undergraduates, and students get a chance (often for the first time) to get involved with one of Penn’s hallmarks: top-notch research.
However, the experience isn’t the only draw-in. With an internship through PURM comes a $4500 stipend! Every student who does the program gets paid in two installments over the course of the summer, after which you’re expected to make a poster board (ours was virtual, obviously) detailing your research as well as submit a short summary of what you researched for future applicants to read. Usually, this money partially goes towards paying rent over the summer (if you’re highly-aided, there will be extra funds available for that), but the one upside of PURM being virtual was that paying rent to be near campus wasn’t necessary! As a result, I did spend a good amount of my money on shoes…
Through the program, I got to work with Dr. Julia Gray, a professor in the Political Science department, as well as one of the graduate students she oversees, Rachel Hulvey. They were conducting research on Intergovernmental Organizations and were in need of a data set of which sovereign states have legal immunity for specific IOs. I was mainly in charge of francophone states given my background in French language and culture, as well as Israel because of my fluency in Hebrew. Pooling together all of the other research assistants’ language skills, we spent 10 weeks growing the database and establishing a set of data that would be used for years to come. It was great to feel like the work I was doing would go beyond the 10 week period in which I did it, and it added an extra layer of meaning to the experience.
Through my summer with PURM, I was able to gain research experience, strengthen my relationship with faculty members and fellow students, learn more about political science and international relations, and have a flexible yet rigorous internship for the summer. Not to mention extra spending money on shoes! But seriously, I’m so grateful for my summer research experience. It reaffirmed to me how many opportunities Penn offers, even in the virtual realm.