JPSM and GVPT alumni are running The Washington Post News Polling Team, and are now looking for their fourth University of Maryland fellow
Through a unique partnership between the University of Maryland’s Department of Government and Politics (GVPT) and The Washington Post’s News Polling team—a.k.a. Scott Clement, JPSM M.S. ’17, and Emily Guskin, GVPT ’06—GVPT graduate students are able to get hands-on experience taking the pulse of American opinion.
Three students—Jared McDonald M.A. ’15, Ph.D. ’19; Alauna Safarpour, Ph.D. ’21; and William Bishop M.A. ’20—have participated in the program so far, and now, the department professors who created the program, Mike Hanmer and Stella Rouse, are looking for a lucky fourth.
“We are able to provide hands-on experience working on surveys from start to finish for a lot of our students, but the fellowship with The Post increases the volume incredibly so,” explained Hanmer, who also serves as the research director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement (CDCE). “In academia we write for a pretty narrow audience, but a newspaper has a much broader audience and the pace is so much quicker.”
The speed of the newsroom seed was actually Bishop’s favorite part of the experience.
“It really opened my eyes to nonacademic careers; before, I was just focused on being a professor,” said Bishop, who participated in the program this past fall and is on track to graduate with his Ph.D. in American Politics next spring. “A lot of times, as academics, we might have these projects that are very important but they take so many years to come to completion, so Emily and Scott being able to ask important questions about how people feel about the current economy, for example, that’s something that really appealed to me.”
Asking Americans questions that fellows find interesting has been encouraged since the program’s start, as evidenced by McDonald’s recollection of his spring 2018 fellowship.
“I was empowered to take ongoing research projects and pursue avenues of inquiry I found especially interesting,” the Stanford University postdoctoral researcher said. “My primary interests are in public opinion and voting behavior, so getting to work with journalists whose job it is to communicate the preferences of the American electorate to a broad audience was an incredible opportunity.”
The “incredible opportunity” seems to work both ways. Fellows are paid for 20 hours per week during the course of 10 weeks for their contributions—thanks to contributions from both The Post and the BSOS Dean’s Office—and Clement and Guskin gain from the experience, too.
“It really is fortuitous to be working with the fellows at that stage in their career. They are getting a lot of vital training at the University of Maryland, they bring a lot of technical capability, and their ideas are very fresh in terms of how to approach things,” said Clement. “It’s a constant challenge when conducting research to come up with new ideas on what to look into and new ways of looking into the challenges we always face. The fellows help bring some of those ideas to our team.”
“Plus it’s fun talking about stuff that we all did on and around campus,” added Guskin, who worked as a BSOS peer advisor as an undergrad. “It’s a nice commonality that we all have, and it's cool to connect with current BSOS students and see the commonalities between the coursework they are taking as Ph.D. students—or teaching, or researching—with coursework that I had quite some time ago as an undergrad BSOS major.”
Safarpour, a March-November 2020 participant who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said some of those very UMD experiences are what prepared her for her time at the paper.
“Between the courses offered at JPSM, the graduate public opinion seminars offered by GVPT, my research assistant work on the University of Maryland’s Critical Issues Poll, and my research assistant work for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship (now the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement), I had good theoretical and empirical background going into the fellowship, which helped me keep up with the fast-paced environment of news polling,” she said. “The fellowship at The Post was fantastic preparation for the work I am doing now.”
That sentiment, leaving the fellowship better equipped than they were upon entry, is shared by all past participants.
“I am very pleased that a number of our highly talented students were able to take advantage of this opportunity. I believe it has strengthened their CVs and by extension the breadth of employment opportunities they can pursue,” said Rouse, CDCE director. “We hope to continue this partnership for years to come, as a way to recruit graduate students and offer them an experience they cannot get in other graduate programs.”
At least in theory, continuing the partnership shouldn’t be an issue.
“The beauty of this industry is that there is always something to ask Americans about,” Guskin said.
To apply for the next Fellowship in News Polling, email mhanmer [at] umd [dot] edu for more information. Applications are due at noon on Friday, March 25.
The building and newspaper photos are by Emily Guskin. Scott Clement and Emily Guskin's headshots are provided by "The Washington Post."