A shared passion for research on Capitol Hill

August 2, 2017

Ph.D. student Samantha McDonald continues her research on how technology affects political communication while interning for the Congressional Management Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Second-year informatics Ph.D. student Samantha McDonald is spending her summer as a research assistant at the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) in Washington, D.C., where she is conducting data analysis on satisfaction surveys that congressional representatives sent to their constituents in order to provide key findings and recommendations to improve future surveys. In addition to her research, she is also writing for the CMF blog about her findings and experiences.

Originally from Maryland, McDonald returned home last winter break and while there met with a CMF staff member who she had reached out to after discovering their research online. Over coffee, the two discussed McDonald’s research that coincided with CMF’s own investigations into technology and the U.S. Congress.

Her networking paid off and a few months later, when she returned to D.C. for the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) Conference, McDonald again spoke with the staffer who this time suggested she look into a summer internship with CMF.

“When I first met with them, they said they had no openings,” said McDonald. “But after the second meeting, they said there was. I think by continuing to make contact with the office and displaying my dedication to this topic, I really showed them I was committed to the research.”

In return for her work this summer, McDonald is collaborating with CMF to explore her own research questions in informatics that focus on the field of technology and communication within Congress.

“What I’ve found so far is a whirlwind of interesting technology questions that have huge implications for how Congress can do its job,” said McDonald. “I’m excited to continue working with CMF to conduct interviews and investigate how the design and use of technology is affecting both the relationship between representatives and citizens and the representative’s capacity to do his or her job.”

The internship has already proven to be a significant means to her research. Without proper influences and an understanding of the internal mechanisms of Congress, the legislature is extremely difficult to penetrate. This is where CMF has been an invaluable tool for McDonald, offering her the connections and expertise needed to infiltrate behind the scenes and curate critical data for her ongoing research.

CMF has also provided McDonald opportunities to attend different conferences and meet congressional staff members and important civic-tech players in the community who have offered to share their previous data with her. Like McDonald, they share a passion for research to help improve Congress and their capacity to serve the people of the United States.