LLNL Externships, Events Provide Experiential Learning

CGSR director Brad Roberts talks with a postdoctoral research fellow and Pardee RAND student Pau Alonso Garcia-Bode (cohort '18), photo courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

CGSR director Brad Roberts talks with a postdoctoral research fellow and Pardee RAND student Pau Alonso Garcia-Bode (cohort '18)

Photo courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

December 4, 2019

Through a partnership with the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, several students have had the chance to hold externships, conduct research, and participate in global security conferences and events.

Pau Alonso-Garcia (cohort '18) is currently a research assistant at CGSR; Mike Gaines ('17) finished his externship this summer and received approval to remain there for a few more months to work on his independent study and dissertation research. Dung Huynh ('16) had a 2 1/2-month externship there in summer 2018, and Bilyana Lilly ('16) participated in a conference this past July.

As part of his externship, Alonso-Garcia is exploring great power competition in the space domain, the new entrepreneurial space era, and its implications for the positioning of Europe as a major space power.

"I'm a Spanish national and interested in space policy, with a lot of experience in aerospace and aviation. What I'm doing at Livermore forms the base for my dissertation," he said.

He explained that his nationality has posed some problems getting relevant project work at RAND, as he is unable to get a U.S. security clearance, but CGSR is less restrictive.

"There are several Europeans here, all NATO allies, and of course lots of Americans," he said. "Also, my time here can count toward 100 of the 300 OJT days required for graduation, which will help a lot."

Pau Alonso-Garcia

Mike Gaines

Alonso-Garcia added that the working environment is conducive to productivity and networking.

"There's lot of freedom. Mentors give us room to work on what we want, within reason, and we can use the work for our dissertations," he said. "Also, the network and contacts I'm building here will help me with future research."

During his externship, Gaines explored the value of alliances under the liberal international order and their effect on deterring bad actors.

"I headed here for the summer and was here three months, and when I was about to leave I asked if I could stick around for awhile longer. Honestly, now I'm just reading a lot, working on my dissertation. But I still have access to my mentor, CGSR director Brad Roberts, which is great," he said.

"Once I got here I realized how great a place it is. As a research assistant I could focus on whatever I wanted to focus on. As long as you can tie it to national security or deterrence or a security-type field, you can pretty much study what you want, from climate change to space tech to AI and ML, whatever," Gaines added.

Lilly was invited by Jaclyn Kerr, a CGSR researcher on the governance of internet, to attend the conference on "Strategic Competition in Cyberspace: Challenges and Implications." Mike also attended the conference.

"LLNL is very well resourced, a hidden gem. I wasn't aware of its political science research until I was invited to the conference," Lilly said. "Being there was great. I encourage people to get outside RAND and explore opportunities."

Dung Huynh

Bilyana Lilly

While he was at CGSR, Huynh examined U.S. extended deterrence in Asia, the U.S. alliance and partnership in Asia, and South China Sea disputes — topics related to his dissertation, which is on the likelihood of a low-intensity conflict between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea and what the U.S. role might be.

"I appreciated the independence and flexibility when I was there," he said. "It was very productive to be able to sit and concentrate on my research. But I also learned a lot in new areas," he added, from nuclear and engineering workshops and seminars he attended at the lab, and working with a post-doc mentor.

When he returned to Pardee RAND last fall, Huynh presented a seminar about his externship. "I definitely recommend it," he said. "It was a great experience. I wish I could have reapplied, but it wouldn't be fair to other students to deprive them of the opportunity."

Gaines agreed. "We need to integrate LLNL more with Pardee RAND. More students need to come here. Even better, it's a paid internship! It's a great opportunity."

— Monica Hertzman