Research Internship Program

CNA’s 12-week paid Summer Research Internship Program is designed to introduce recent undergraduates and current graduate students to work in a professional studies and analysis organization dedicated to the safety and security of the nation.

We are seeking up to three interns with quantitative or qualitative research and analysis skills to work with our research staff, which spans a diverse range of academic backgrounds. We encourage applicants in any of the following fields: computer science, chemistry, physics, biology/environmental science, engineering, operations research, mathematics, statistics, economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, or international relations. Post-doctoral fellows are not eligible for the internship program. However, we encourage postdocs who are completing their fellowships to apply for a full-time Research Analyst position.

Our goal is for the internship experience to mimic what it’s like to be a member of a CNA research team. Upon hire, each intern is assigned to a mentor and a project that matches his or her area of study. With the mentor’s guidance, the intern assists the team in structuring and solving a complex problem, developing sound analytical methods to derive findings and conclusions. The intern documents those results and presents their work at the conclusion of the internship. In the course of conducting the analysis, the intern may engage with the study sponsor, generally located in government agencies in the National Capital Region. In addition, throughout the course of the internship, interns benefit from ongoing learning events and collaboration activities.

Because of the current pandemic, the 2021 internship is designed as a virtual program. Our interns will work from home, collaborating with research program teams using CNA-provided equipment. Mentors and research program team members will provide interns with guidance on project tasks and navigating CNA resources. Other virtual events are planned throughout the summer to help connect the intern to CNA. Selected candidates from the National Capital Region may be asked to occasionally work at CNA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, if public health conditions allow.

Qualifications

Eligible candidates must satisfy the following requirements:

  • Recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree or currently enrolled in a graduate program in the physical, social, or computer sciences or a related discipline.
  • US citizen
  • Cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.3 or higher
  • Strong collaboration and communications skills

Application Process

Students who qualify should submit an application (link below), cover letter, undergraduate and graduate transcripts, and resume (including GPA) to CNA by December 30, 2020. The cover letter should describe the candidate’s interest in the internship, as well as their leadership, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration skills. All job applicants must have US citizenship. Qualified applicants will be interviewed January–February 2021 and notified of their status no later than March 2021.

Pay

CNA’s Research Student Summer Research Internship Program lasts approximately 12 weeks. Interns are paid every two weeks at a competitive rate for the area and level of work they will be conducting. This is a 40-hours-a-week position.

Interns are paid for national holidays that are observed during their appointment.

Exceptions to any of the above conditions require the advance approval of the Vice President of Human Resources.

Click here to apply to CNA's Summer Research Internship Program.

In Their Own Words: Interviews With Past CNA Interns

  • When did you intern at CNA and on what team? What are you doing now?
  • HW: My name is Hayley Welsh. I interned at CNA over the summer of 2016 before starting graduate school at the London School of Economics (LSE). At LSE, I studied environment and development in a joint program between the departments of environment and geography, and international development. As an undergraduate, I studied biology and environmental studies at Tufts University. At CNA, I was an intern on the environment and energy team within the resource analysis division (RAD) and Ron Filadelfo was my manager.

    RT: I’m Rachel Townsley and I was a CNA intern in 2017 and I went to North Carolina State University for my Ph.D. in industrial and system engineering. I just started full time as a research analyst with CNA’s research analysis division (RAD) on the health research policy team. Kara Mandell was my supervisor for my internship and Chris Meyer was the team lead.

    SG: My name is Shiyana Gunasekara and I’ve just graduated from Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) with a Master’s Degree in International Economics and South Asia Studies. I interned at CNA between semesters in 2017 for the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) as a graduate research intern, and my supervisor was Nilanthi Samaranayake.

    KI: I am Kelly Isom and I also attended Johns Hopkins SAIS. I interned with CNA’s Operations Evaluation Group (OEG) in 2016 and I was part of Margaux Hoar’s organizations, roles, and missions team. After graduation I joined the group as an associate research analyst.

  • How did the internship program set you up for success afterwards?
  • HW: My internship at CNA allowed me to get to know the organization, how it’s structured, its mission and dynamics, and the high quality of research performed by the analysts. During my internship, I felt totally integrated into the team. I worked with scientists across divisions, and gained technical and analytical skills that have set me up for success now that I have returned as an associate research analyst.

    RT: I haven't yet started my permanent position at CNA, but I anticipate that it will make the transition into the job much smoother, as I'll know something about the culture, corporate structure, people, and maybe even a few acronyms!

    SG: The internship is a great way to offer those interested in working at CNA an opportunity to start and complete a research project and present it in front of your colleagues, mentors, and supervisors.

    KI: From day one I was told that we have to answer “squishy” questions, and that sometimes we have to figure out the “right” question for the study. So learning how to understand what the problem really is and then defining it was very helpful.

  • What tasks or projects did you work on during your internship?
  • HW: As an intern, I contributed to a study exploring vessel strikes with marine mammals. Periodically, ships, both Navy and commercial, collide with whales and other marine mammals, often injuring or even killing them. NOAA and other regulatory bodies have introduced policy and regulations to reduce the harm inflicted on marine mammals by these collisions. Our study looked at how these regulations impacted the Navy. As an intern, I contributed to the development of mathematical models, quantitative analyses, and framed the study within the wider regulatory context. 

    RT: I worked on a large project that many people were involved in about measuring the health of sailors and marines. I did some literature reviews, generated representative synthetic data which was used to test data visualization strategies, and contributed some of my own ideas and research about the incentive dynamics of healthy behaviors. I also had the opportunity to build on and extend a past project that really interested me, a project about optimal rotation policies for navy physicians. 

    SG: I created a dataset on monetary values of commercial trade shipped across the Indian Ocean by five major regional players. With this data, I did a trends-analysis, looking at the shares of each country's trade traveling through the Indian Ocean. While the CSS team has produced work on the military and defense implications for the region, not much has been done on modern day economics of the Indian Ocean, so this was a great opportunity to build on existing CNA work.

    KI: I mostly worked on a project that looked at Marine Corps training. I was also encouraged to attend all of the soapboxes and speaker series events, which gave Hayley, another summer intern, and I the opportunity to hear from many different groups within CNA. The breadth and depth of in-house experience was really interesting.

  • What was the most rewarding aspect of being a part of the internship program?
  • HW: Sometimes internship work at other organizations can be dominated by mindless tasks, and interns may not feel integrated into the organization or team. At CNA I was encouraged to rise to the challenge and participate like a full-time member of the team. My project director and teammates offered me helpful feedback that allowed me to develop as a professional. Through my internship, I learned that I wanted to continue working in quantitative research, and that I’m passionate about working with data and bridging the gap between highly technical science and decision-makers within the government.

    RT: I really enjoyed working on the optimal rotation policy project because I felt ownership over it and had a lot of freedom to take it in the direction that I wanted. It was something that aligned well with my research expertise and it felt like it was a very tangible contribution. When I presented the work at the end of the summer, my (larger than expected) audience was very engaged and interested, which is always a plus!

    SG: The most rewarding experience from this internship was forming close relationships with mentors and friends, with whom I still keep in close contact today.

    KI: People seemed to enjoy their work, and many found it meaningful to be able to support the military. Those were two key qualities I was searching for during my grad school job hunt and it was rewarding to find a career with both. It was also pretty cool to travel with my team to Twenty-nine Palms and help brief a senior military official!

  • What do you recommend for incoming interns or applicants?
  • HW: I would recommend that incoming interns take advantage of all the resources CNA has to offer, and get their feet wet in as many projects as they can. The best way to understand CNA’s work is to actively participate and get to know the sponsors as much as possible. CNA is an organization where many researchers have stayed for 30 plus years, which is unique in today’s workplace environment. Look at your internship as an opportunity to learn why CNA analysts are so committed to the organization and their work.

    RT: I think internships are a great way to figure out if you like a company and if you'll do well there. Some of that you can pick up on just doing the work, but most of it you'll learn through talking to people, so do that. Don't be afraid to ask real questions that are going to generate useful answers and feedback, and don't be afraid to be honest about any concerns you might have.

    SG: I recommend applicants to showcase their research acumen and familiarity with CNA's work. CNA highly values rigorous research methodology so it is important for an intern or applicant to demonstrate their understanding of qualitative and/or quantitative approaches to abstract questions.

    KI: Be confident, yet humble. You have something to offer, but there’s still plenty to be learned.

  • How did your experience as a CNA intern relate to what you do now?
  • HW: Now that I have returned to CNA as an associate research analyst, I am back on the environment and energy team. I have continued to contribute to studies related to marine policy and marine mammals, and have been able to expand the breadth of my project work to other areas, such as energy and manpower studies. Both as an intern and as a full time analyst, I have been able to contribute meaningfully to CNA’s analytical studies. I look forward to growing within the organization for years to come.

    RT: We'll see once I get there!

    SG: I work largely on energy security, which is a key factor in maritime security. At CNA I learned about maritime chokepoints and commercial trade, and that much of a country's maritime security needs are related to protecting their oil and gas that travels by sea. I became more interested in understanding this link between maritime and energy security after my internship at CNA. 

    KI: As an intern, I learned two important lessons: first, the management style is fairly hands off so you need to be proactive about finding information and asking for guidance; and second, all projects are a team effort so be sure to listen to and appreciate your colleagues’ input. My work now includes a variety of new topics, but those observations from my internship have proven useful under any circumstance.

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