Grad Student Internship Experience

March 15, 2018

Who: Joe Navelski, AREC MS 2nd year student

What: Research Economist Intern at Economic Research Services (USDA)

Where:  Washington, DC


A popular theme for graduate students is to seek some type of summer research internship.  Whether the internship is with the  Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the greater Tucson area, or with a non-governmental organization (NGO), graduate students usually try to take their analytical toolsets to the job market for the summer.  Researching and trying to understand what employers are looking for usually adds to the stress of finding an internship, but enduring this stress can ultimately lead to some really cool summer time internship opportunities.

This was the case for Joe Navelski, a second year Agricultural & Resource Economics (AREC) Masters of Science graduate student, who earned the opportunity to be a Research Economist Intern for USDA's Economic Research Services (ERS).  ERS is located in Washington D.C., and it is one of two statistics agencies in the USDA.  The mission of USDA's ERS is to anticipate the trends and emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America and to conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision making.

One unique aspect about ERS is that every year the agency selects approximately 30+ graduate students from across the United States to come work on a research project under the supervision of a ERS project leader.  The internship is fully funded by ERS, is full time, and each intern receives a pre-paid metro pass to travel to and from work.  ERS prefers that the student interns have a background in economics, but the only official requirements for the internship is that the student interns pass a background check and be enrolled in at least 9 semester credits the following academic semester.

The internship requirements enable a diverse application field, and yield a cohort of student interns from all over the country.  In Joe's cohort he met students from U.C. Berkley, University of Wisconsin, Georgetown, Washington State University, University of Minnesota, and University of Nebraska, to name a few, and most students were currently enrolled or starting a PhD or masters program.  Each of the student interns were at different points of their academic sequence, and each student was identified as a strong candidate for the specific project they were selected to work on. 

Joe and his team created a guided and interactive data visualization focused on the U.S. farm sector's financial metrics using Agriculture and Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data.  He learned how to use statistical software, and how to code in the languages supported by these software, to produce an economic research report.  All of the statistical analyses and coding was flexible to work with, well documented, and repeatable, and the data visualization will be published in an upcoming Farm Income Report on the ERS website for it's stakeholders.

"The whole experience was amazing!" Joe Navelski says, "I was in the Farm Economy Branch, and I worked directly with the Farm Income team.  My project was to create a guided and interactive data visualization, which focused on the U.S. farm sector's financial metrics using Agriculture and Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data.  Essentially, I was trained in how to use SAS, Microsoft SQL Server, Git, Github, Tableau, and I used these programs to develop an interactive data visualization."

Over the course of the summer, Joe was presented with numerous networking and professional development opportunities.  He was encouraged to attend economic seminars and conferences, and met many interesting professionals in the economics industry.  He also found time to volunteer at the New England Agriculture and Resource Economics Association (NEREA) regional conference, attended all of the Council of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE) guest speaker seminars, and participated in the all of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer meetings.  Joe is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), and he worked in Nicaragua as a Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security volunteer.

"D.C. is really diverse and filled with opportunities to learn, explore and network.  One of my favorite networking events I went to was the Annual USDA Chili Cook-off Fundraiser.  Myself, and a couple of other interns, entered the cook-off and came in 5th out of 20 teams.  The cool think about the cook-off were there were teams represented form every division in the USDA.  I met some really interesting people during the competition, and participated in an event that generated over 5 tons of non-perishable food for families in the D.C. area.  I would recommend getting involved in these types of outreach experiences to all students," Joe says.

In terms of obtaining a summer internship, Joe mentioned that you have to be very proactive in your search, and to ask questions about all the opportunities you are interested in.  The more information you can gain before you apply will help you know if you definitively qualify for the position and you can use this information to you're your application stand out from the other applicants.  Government positions usually have very specific qualification requirements, and it take a long time to go through the review and clearance processes.  With that said, Joe is open to all questions about getting a summer internship USDA or ERS, and please feel free to contact him via e-mail!

A few photos from Joe's time in D.C. with this internship:


  Joe and Kevin, his team leader, are discussing the different ways to create and present a data visualization for their summer project.  The data visualization was an economic report that summarized the financial health of the U.S. farm sector.

  Joe and Jeff, his supervisor, review the Agriculture and Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to get familiar with the data generation process of the ARMS data.


  Joe and other ERS Interns at the USDA Annual Chili Cook-off Fundraiser serving up some chili to the public.  The name of their chili was Chili Chili Bang Bang, and they tied for 5th place in the competition.  Patrons were required to donate non-perishable food items, which were later given to underserved families in the D.C. area, in order to taste the different chili styles in the completion.