A Day in the Bullpen

In baseball, the bullpen (or simply the pen) is the area where relief pitchers warm-up before entering a game.  On my first day of work, the Jennings Randolph Fellow I assist referred to the area where all the Research Assistants sit as “the bullpen.”  He was referring to the usage of the term to describe a large, open work area consisting of desks with no separating walls and private offices, but in a way the baseball reference is fairly accurate too.

Indeed we Research Assistants are all really just relief pitchers waiting for our chance to get in the game, quietly researching, making observations, and taking notes until we are needed in the field.  The starting pitcher also warms up in the bullpen, much like the Fellows come in to chat with us about their projects periodically before they go back out into the world to create their publications and speeches.

It may sound hierarchical to use this analogy, but just like in baseball, we are all really playing on the same team and working together.  I like the idea that as an intern or an assistant you are not only preparing work that will help out the team, but additionally honing your research and writing skills for the future even though you’re not the ‘starting pitcher,’ so to speak.

Our bullpen is a hive of academic activity, with the Research Assistants reading and typing away on their computers and the Fellows coming in and out of the area to hold impromptu meetings with us about their projects, and discuss the latest news and findings.  It’s a friendly and conversational environment, where new ideas about regions and policies are shared and welcomed, the news is a hot topic, and everyone exchanges witty banter about the state of DC’s public transportation system.  I love how despite working in the nation’s capital we never really get into discussing DC politics– academia with an international focus can sometimes be wonderful that way.

I have essentially been reading piles of articles and news findings for these past few weeks, catching up on the state of affairs in Indonesia.  My Fellow’s project is about Indonesia’s counter-insurgency strategy, and so knowing the context and history is everything.  The bullpen offers a mixed atmosphere, alternating from hushed focus to lively discussion.  I am a firm believer in the notion that discussion deepens the understanding of an issue, despite the fact that sometimes our shared knowledge is of the weekend’s football scores.

I think, as I’m sure everyone in the field already knows, that having an atmosphere where discussion is facilitated is perfect for exploratory research projects.  Whether it is from the coworker sitting next to me, the Fellow I work for, a Fellow working on a different project, or a speaker at one of the panels the USIP is hosting, I learn something new every day.  For someone like me who wishes I could be a professional student, I couldn’t ask for much more!

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.