Rebecca Bultman is a 7th year PhD Candidate in the Religious Studies department, researching Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. Her dissertation research considers anthropomorphic angel characters within ancient Jewish and Christian narrative literature and the impact this class of characters has on conceptions of the divine. Rebecca previously served as a Digital Pedagogy Consultant in the Scholar’s Lab, where she worked with Brandon Walsh on “A Humanist's Cookbook for Natural Language Processing in Python”.
Rebecca was an intern for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service in the Demographic Research Group for the past year.
What are your career aspirations?
Ultimately, I would like to land a career within a university setting working to support students and research or the wider community.
Please summarize your internship experience.
I applied for a PhD Plus internship with the hopes of gaining some "real world" work experience. At the time, I did not know much about the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, but after attending the info session, I was really inspired by the Cooper Center's mission and its vision of what public service could be. My dissertation research is primarily on ancient religious communities, so I was particularly excited to join a group whose work impacts people in the here and now. I applied to the Demographics Research Group (DRG) after hearing director Qian Cai at the info session. Her interest in working with humanities students felt very welcoming to me.
My original internship period was only for one semester, but thanks to the Cooper Center and the PhD Plus program I was able to extend it to last a full calendar year. Spending this amount of time with the DRG was a real boon as I got to work on many projects and see how a year unfolds at the Cooper Center. Working virtually through the pandemic was less disorienting than I feared it would be and I am grateful to both the DRG and the Cooper Center for creating an environment where I quickly felt integrated within the team.
A large part of my time during the internship was spent working on blog posts for the DRG's StatChat blog, a public facing resource offering insights and analysis on a range of demographics related topics. Working on these posts was super fun for me as each provided an opportunity to take a deep dive into a new topic and work closely with different members of the group. From the outset, I was worried my lack of demographics training would be a hinderance, but I was never made to feel that way. On the contrary, the team made me feel like the research and writing skills I brought with me from my graduate training were an asset. These posts were a wonderful opportunity to polish public facing writing skills and were a great opportunity to practice distilling information into concise and entertaining prose.
Another large project I worked on was collecting and collating user testimonials for the DRG's Racial Dot Map, a map of the United States that shows a dot for each person in the U.S. at the location where they were counted in the 2010 Census. The dots are color coded by the individual's race and ethnicity. Over the course of the project, we collected over 1000 testimonials and created several resources to share the impact of the map and the way it is used. Through the project I came to see the importance of making sound, reliable data freely available as I read through the many community-changing projects that utilized the resource. Working on this project as the Cooper Center sought funding to create an updated 2020 map was an eye-opening experience, and a valuable introduction to the realities of funding public service work.
What professional skills did you develop during this internship?
The internship was wonderful in terms of professional development. In graduate school, we spend a lot of energy learning how to communicate with other academics, but rarely with individuals in other fields and sectors. Within the internship, not only did I work on communication in terms of writing for general audiences, but I was also able to join meetings with clients and users of the DRG’s services. Observing how to conduct these meetings, how to listen and ask questions, and how to follow up with clients was insightful and I think it worked to fill in professional gaps in my training. I am very grateful to have had this experience and to have been with such a professional and encouraging group throughout.
How has this internship assisted in your career development and planning?
The internship was a great way to try on a career—to get a sense of what non-faculty jobs are out there and what they are like. I learned that I find working in a group really enjoyable and that taking on projects that impact the communities around you is immensely gratifying. These values will definitely inform the types of jobs I apply to in the future and the fields I hope to land in after graduation. Taking public service careers out of the abstract and getting to inhabit what the day-to-day might look and feel like was a very confidence building experience.
What advice would you give your peers on utilizing PhD Plus internships for career development?
My advice to current and future PhD Plus interns is to keep an open and curious mind about the projects you work on. The internship period is fairly short, so try to soak up all you can not only about the work you personally do, but the roles and responsibilities of the people you work with, as well. Periodically reflecting on and writing down your experiences (a suggestion made in the PhD Plus Career Design Workshop) turned out to be sage advice. The experience goes by quickly so having notes to myself about what I did and what I learned has been valuable as I prepare to go on the job market this year.