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Keiko Ivinson: 2017 ARIA Recipient

What was your summer internship?

Over the course of summer 2017, I was pleased to have the opportunity to work with Professor Dietlind Stolle and Professor Elisabeth Gidengil in the comparative politics department on many interesting research endeavors. Unlike most of the ARIA recipients, my work was not focused on one single project. I researched a variety of topics ranging from populism to religious radicalization to policy feedback. Although at times quite difficult, having many tasks to work on at once was great. I always had something to do, which is exactly what I wanted out of my summer.

What attracted you to the ARIA?

Of course as students we are exposed to academia, research, and lots of reading; however, as we enroll in many different classes, we are unable to really experience how a career in researching a specific topic would be like after graduation, for example as a PhD student or even later on as a professor. Being given the opportunity to do research so closely with a professor, or in my case professors, and see firsthand what a career in academia is like was one of the aspects that drew me to the ARIA program. And, I can safely say that it has given me that insight. Yet being able to finally use the knowledge and skills that I have acquired after my years of hard work here at McGill for something other than school was also another reason I wanted to take part in the program. Overall, it has been very rewarding to have been given the responsibility to help Professor Stolle and Gidengil in their research.

Tell us about some of the projects you were working on.

One of my main projects was a collaboration between both of my professors. This project is based around the question of if and how partisan identification is neurologically similar to other strong social identities, such as race. In other words, does political party stimuli elicit activity in the same brain regions as other social identity stimuli. Understanding how partisanship functions at a neurological scale is fascinating for being able to see how political alignments can affect everyday life. This project will continue well past the end of my ARIA experience, and any significant findings will take even longer to compile, however, I am very grateful to have been given a window into this multidisciplinary subject. Although I knew very little about neuro-politics before beginning this research, I was thrown right into this project. I was given the responsibility to find all new relevant research and summarize key findings, and I was included in the meetings with the neuro-scientists at the MNI to discuss the fMRI sessions, which was definitely a highlight of this summer’s work.

Being exposed to such diverse projects and people over the course of four months and learning about topics which, on my own I would not have thought to study, has helped to make my experience a positive one. For example, learning about populism and religious radicalization from the academic side, as opposed to what we hear on the media, was invaluable, especially with everything going on today. Learning about the reasons for the non-take-up of public benefits, understanding the importance and future of social capital, and searching for the best ways to measure political knowledge have all been fascinating and important projects. My career path may not lead me to pursuing these exact topics, but nevertheless, knowing more about the human brain or societal mobilizations will always be an asset.

What were some of the challenges that you faced during your internship?

Although these projects are fascinating and the results rewarding, it is at times challenging to not only keep on track of deadlines but to keep focused. As I said, working with two professors meant that I always had something to do, but it also meant that I had tasks upon tasks to complete and different deadlines to work around. Having to switch modes and delve into different research projects just to receive feedback about a prior task from weeks before could be very exhausting. Staying organized was difficult to say the least, yet keeping extensive notes of where I left off, making sure my files where orderly and up to date, being on top of my emails and keeping a calendar helped to keep me on track.

Even if I am unable to be part of the final step of these projects, I am grateful to have been included in them nevertheless. Many thanks to Professor Stolle and Gidengil for the opportunity to work with them and be included in their research endeavors. I would also like to thank the Maldoff family for their kind donations to the ARIA program; without their generosity I would not have been able to pursue this research.