As someone who preferred A People’s History of the United States to frog dissections in high school, I have always wondered what research looked like outside of a lab setting, and this past summer, I was lucky enough to find out. Thanks to PURM, I had the great opportunity to conduct research under Dr. Julia Gray in the Political Science department of the University of Pennsylvania.
Working towards the goal of answering the question of what makes some international organizations (IOs) effective and others not, I followed closely the activity of several different IOs, across many regions. How does the Middle East continue working towards advances in infrastructure or education, despite the crises and the civil wars? How is a region like the Pacific Islands working to increase trade flows and become more economically integrated?
This project made me rethink IOs entirely. With “Brexit” and “TPP” all over the news, more than ever, we turn a blind eye to dozens of other IOs, that function just as well, if not better, than the European Union. We are quick to believe that IOs cannot function without the support of a strong, developed nation like the United States. We are just as quick to assume that IOs should be modeled after ones like the EU in order to be successful. This project taught me that there are so many other variables that affect the vitality of IOs. Extensive research on the effectiveness of this many IOs has previously not been conducted in the political science field, so I am excited to see the fruits of the team’s labor one day turned into a database of IO information, hopefully being used by political scientists worldwide.
Participating in this research project has made me exercise critical thinking in my political science studies, beyond the classroom. It has given me the opportunity to collect data on different organizations, compile the information into meaningful entries, and analyze that data to interpret what makes an IO efficient, or not. The experience has further equipped me with the skills to continue to study theories, and apply those theories to try to explain real-world happenings.