A Summer at Topos Partnership

Naomi Zucker, PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology

This summer, I was fortunate to work as an intern at Topos Partnership, a public opinion/strategic advising research consultancy that draws on social scientific methods (especially linguistics and anthropology) to explore (and help reshape) popular understandings of public interest issues. Having spent my PhD training learning qualitative research skills for academic anthropology, I was eager to see how these methods might be employed in a more applied context, and to learn more about how the open-ended, long-term, and highly inductive practices of anthropological fieldwork—involving participant observation and in-depth interviewing, often over months to years—might be adapted to the time-scale and goals of a non-academic, public interest context. I also hoped to gain experience conducting collaborative qualitative research. In my field, both fieldwork and writing are generally carried out alone, with single-author publications the norm and collaboration relatively rare. I wanted to see what it would be like to work with others on a qualitative research project, and get a feel for a more team-based work environment.  

During my time at Topos, I was involved with two main research projects. The first was concerned with how people in a midwestern city and its surrounds understand the relationships between health, race, and place. In addition to attending project meetings and discussions, I produced a detailed annotated bibliography on past relevant research, summarizing past Topos work as well as external reports and academic research. The second project was concerned with the relationship between data and equity, with an emphasis on how people think about the risks and benefits of data in relation to privacy, representation, governance, racial equity, and community improvements. For this project, I conducted both online interviews and in-person fieldwork in Philadelphia, recruiting subjects in different locations, carrying out interviews based on a research protocol, and taking fieldnotes documenting initial impressions and observations. I also conducted analysis for the project, producing an “insights” document summarizing core take-aways from my fieldwork, and attending project meetings to discuss findings and think through analyses together with other researchers and analysts. I also conducted a number of small research tasks for other ongoing projects, including an academic search and review on the topic of abundance and scarcity.  

Overall, I felt that I was able to get a clear sense of how Topos approaches problems, carries out research and analysis, and ultimately presents their work to clients. It was illuminating to see how some of the core skills I’ve been developing in my PhD training might be meaningfully applied in a very different context, and to try out a more applied and goal-driven form of qualitative research with an organization that shares my political values and policy goals. As I approach my final year of graduate school and begin to prepare for what comes next, this summer internship will inform how I think about the kinds of jobs I might hope to pursue and what constitutes meaningful and engaging work outside the academy.  

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 GAPSA Summer Internship Funding Program that is coordinated by Penn Career Services. 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.

By Career Services
Career Services