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Harvard students glean tremendous knowledge from the lectures and discussions that take place inside the classroom, but the learning doesn't stop there. Many graduates and undergraduates supplement their Harvard experience with opportunities to assist faculty members involved in independent research projects – which offer a different kind of appeal for students.
“Being a research assistant is like doing another class – but without the pressure of grading and with the bonus of getting paid!” said Harvard junior Hannah Phillips ’15, currently serving as a 2014 research assistant for Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Senior Public Policy Lecturer Hannah Riley Bowles.
Phillips’ research position is supported by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy aiming to inspire students to public service careers and serving as a bridge between the academic and political worlds. Each year, the IOP’s Research Assistant program allows a dozen undergraduates to explore public policy hand-in-hand with some of the Kennedy School’s most dynamic professors and policy experts. Students work with HKS faculty and researchers on a range of topics that run the gamut -- from international affairs and human rights to polarization in American politics and campaign finance reform.
“The Institute’s Research Assistant program not only helps nurture critical research skills among our undergraduates, it also offers them the opportunity to work on important public policy challenges with graduate students and top faculty and staff at Harvard Kennedy School,” said Trey Grayson, Director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Phillips feels fortunate to work on a topic she’s personally interested in.
“I am learning how to conduct qualitative research in a topic area - women in politics - that I am extremely passionate about. I am so thankful to the IOP for providing me with this learning experience that I would have not got a chance to do otherwise,” said Phillips.
“Working with Hannah Phillips has been fabulous,” said Riley Bowles, who has worked with numerous IOP students in the program for several years. “She consistently follows through on what she agrees to do, and then goes above and beyond. I have had terrific experiences working with IOP Research Assistants.”
Students have traveled many paths after participating in the IOP Research Assistant program. Some were accepted into prestigious graduate school programs; others went into politics and public service; and a few later gained full-time employment with the HKS faculty member with whom they worked during their assistantship.
As a Harvard junior in 2011, Alexander Loomis ’12 served as an IOP Research Assistant working with Douglas Dillon Professor of Government Graham Allison, who also serves as faculty director of the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The experience not only improved his research and professional skills; it led to an academic position at HKS following his graduation from the College.
“I spent a significant portion of my internship with Graham Allison analyzing the decision-making process that led to the bin Laden raid, a true privilege given Professor Allison’s work assessing decision-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Loomis, now a research assistant at the Belfer Center. “Graham has high standards, an excellent quality in a professor: my research and analytic skills have improved immensely through my work with him. After graduation, I joined Professor Allison’s fulltime research staff and have spent the bulk of my time analyzing national security leaks and government surveillance programs.”
More information on the Institute’s Research Assistant program – including a video and testimonials from participating students – is available on the IOP website.