The Crossroads of Data Science and Political Science at the Smithsonian

By Jessie Searles, Purdue University

This past semester, I have had the opportunity to intern remotely with the Smithsonian Institution from West Lafayette, Indiana where I am a student at Purdue University. The internship—which has me collecting data on everything from phone numbers to longitude latitude coordinates for cultural institutions in Texas to Florida—has challenged me to think about best practices for collecting data and has also led me to rethink my future aspirations.

Since starting my work with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, I have realized that accurate data quality is imperative in the disaster response process for those impacted by natural disasters. I have seen how crucial strong data is to both research and good public policy. Not only that, my experience in my data science classes at Purdue have allowed me to think ahead in what we can do to make data clean easier not only for right now but for future assignments as well. My fellow interns and I have discussed ways to run data through a Python code to make the cleaning much less manual, and while we haven’t figured it out yet, with perseverance, I am sure we can find a way.

This internship has been a learning experience in other ways too. I began my time at Purdue as a Supply Chain, Information and Analytics major with a minor in Political Science and a Certification in Public Policy. After starting my internship, I knew that I needed to expand my degree by adding Political Science as a double major after realizing how impactful the work people do within the political science field really is. This work has also reaffirmed that the crossroad of political science and data is where I want to be with my future. The meaningful work I have done here has proven there is room for programming and automation within disaster response for cultural heritage.

Jessie working in one of the libraries on campus
The internship provides a very flexible work schedule. Jessie working in one of the libraries on campus.
Source: Jessie Searles.