In September 2021, I joined Policy Research as a research intern for the Research and Evaluation Program Area. At that time, I was a fifth-year PhD student at Tulane University and was finishing my dissertation. I was interested in an internship because I was considering obtaining a non-academic position after graduation and wanted to gain professional experience.

I decided to intern at Policy Research, specifically, for multiple reasons. Above everything, I was impressed by their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and social justice focus and the actionable steps they were excited about taking to achieve their DEI goals, both within their organization and nationwide through their work. Another interest of mine was to be a part of bridging the gap between research and practice. At Policy Research, I had the unique opportunity to work with people with a diverse blend of academic, practical, and lived experiences across topics such as homelessness and housing insecurity, criminal and juvenile justice, and behavioral health and trauma, among others. This internship seemed like an ideal match.

This internship experience was so much more (in the best way) than what I expected. I see myself holistically as a researcher, educator, mentor, and social activist, such that all my “selves” are interconnected, inseparable, and influence one another. I was able to incorporate my whole self and develop in all these ways while interning at Policy Research.

The research aspect of the internship involved my collaboration on a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation-funded project investigating factors that influence how pretrial professionals use pretrial risk assessment results to make pretrial decisions. One goal of this project is to use research evidence to inform policy in ways that increase equitable outcomes during the pretrial stage for people of color and people with behavioral health needs. My primary role was assisting the principal investigators in fulfilling the requirements of the grant. As a researcher who wholeheartedly believes in progressing equity and justice within the legal system, I greatly enjoyed doing this. I learned new research methodologies and statistical analyses and am in the process of learning a new software platform, among so many other new skills. I also gave research talks to broad audiences and worked on manuscripts for publication consideration in journals.

Moreover, this internship uniquely matched my collective interests. As a PhD student, I was on multiple department and university DEI and social justice committees. I was also an active leader in an organization that facilitated discussions on social justice and community engagement with university students, faculty, and staff. Knowing this information and the full extent of my passions, my supervisor also assigned me projects related to Policy Research’s DEI and social justice efforts. Through this work, I learned how to develop and maintain a DEI logic model and area-specific action plans, establish ways to measure DEI efforts, critically interpret findings, and develop measurable steps to progress our goals.

Mentorship also was a key aspect of the internship. I had regular check-in meetings with my supervisor and weekly meetings with the principal investigators of the research project I worked on. The internship was even more amazing because of the mentorship I received. Now I am much more knowledgeable and confident as a criminal legal system scholar—and as a professional in general.

One final and important part of my internship, which I think is unique to Policy Research, is the many internal committees, affinity groups, and trainings that advance the organization’s mission, principles, and core values. As an intern, I was encouraged to be fully engaged within the organization, which allowed me to develop professionally beyond my general responsibilities. This helped me connect with coworkers with varying expertise, learn about different perspectives, interests, and topics, and prioritize my life-work integration and well-being (which Policy Research promotes and provides benefits for!).

Looking back, I wish I had told myself early during the internship—and what I want to tell future interns—is that we are not “imposters.” Although I was new to the criminal legal system field, I gained this competitive internship because of my knowledge, skills, and experience and my potential to develop in all the ways necessary. Thankfully, I was able to overcome my self-inflicted doubt and anxiety and have been very successful. So future interns, believe your supervisors! You are here because you belong here, you absolutely deserve this opportunity, and you have the skills and mentorship necessary to succeed.

Moving forward, I am happy to announce that I gained a full-time researcher position at Policy Research after finishing my internship. As I reflect on my career, I could not be happier about joining Policy Research as an intern over a year ago and starting on this journey.