Researching and Engaging with the Global Think Tank Community: My Experience as a Think Tanks and Civil Society Program Intern, Summer 2020

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2020 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Andrew Orner, COL ’22

This summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at Penn’s Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies. Founded and lead by Dr. James McGann, TTCSP has been called “the think tanks’ think tank.” TTCSP has earned this moniker by developing the one of the world’s largest database of think tanks in the world, spearheading think tank summits around the world and engaging in thorough scholarly research into the global think tank landscape. It was a privilege to contribute to these worthy projects and initiatives.

In these unprecedented times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, TTCSP’s entire 63-person strong cohort of interns worked remotely from places all around the world. The challenges of remote work did not impede the program’s efforts. I had the opportunity to lead a team of interns spanning three continents in the completion of a data collection and analysis project focused on the Western European think tank landscape. I served two other teams, one conducting an in-depth mapping of the Portuguese think tank landscape and another providing research and logistical support to TTCSP’s initiative to help address policy issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Think Tank Town Hall Series. Each of these projects culminated in a final report and a presentation at the program’s 2020 Summer Research Symposium.

As part of TTCSP Director, Dr. McGann’s commitment to helping his interns to launch meaningful careers, he drew upon his substantial connections at Penn and in the global think tank community to bring interesting and accomplished guest speakers to our weekly all-intern meetings. Without question, the opportunity to hear from these scholars and executives from around the world was an immense privilege and a highlight of my summer experience.

My time at TTCSP helped me to further develop many important skills soft and hard skills. The fast-paced and demanding challenges of working on three projects simultaneously reinforced the value of careful prioritization of tasks. Leading a team of interns spanning nine time zones required planning and foresight. I quickly learned that I had to stay one-step ahead of the process and continuously refine my vision for the next steps in our work. As part of my work, I also became more familiar with social science research methods and greatly expanded my MS excel and PowerPoint skills.

Despite never having met most of my fellow interns in person, I grew closer to many of my teammates over the course of the summer. My favorite part of team video calls was always the brief period before the planned agenda began when we would share personal stories and talk about how things were going in our respective home cities or countries.

Working at TTCSP this summer was a fulfilling and meaningful experience in the midst of the challenging times for the world. It was immensely gratifying to be able to contribute to TTCSP’s work to improve understanding the role of think tanks in the world. My experiences this summer have reinforced my strong desire to make a positive impact in the world through a career in public policy.

I am tremendously grateful for the financial support provided by the Career Services Summer Funding Grant that made my summer experience possible.

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