Research in the Real World

Lydia Wang on CRS balcony with state capitol building in background

Although my tote bag was thoroughly packed with everything from multi-colored pens to snack bars, and I’d read through the packet providing short biographies of every staff member so many times I’d practically had it memorized, I knew that I’d still feel nervous on my first day. While on the light rail, I listened intently for my station, the feeling of anticipation growing as I watched my fellow cohort members trickle off the train one by one. What seemed like mere moments later, I finally saw my station flash a bright orange. One last smile to the other fellows and I was off. A few crosswalks later, I found myself staring up at the place where I’d be spending the next eight weeks, learning and absorbing everything I could. Though it still seemed vaguely familiar to me, as I hadn’t forgotten the day on which all of us Cal-in-Sacramento fellows were driven up to the capital to be interviewed by our respective offices, actually starting off as an intern certainly cast everything in an entirely new light. After snapping one last picture of the front (the dozens of planters hanging off the fifth floor made for quite an attractive building, after all), I finally stepped into the California Research Bureau.

Now, more than halfway through my internship, I still recall that first day like it was yesterday, and it is so hard to believe that I have less than four weeks left to spend with the most intelligent, creative, and fun-loving group of people I’ve ever met. Though I am now comfortable chatting with anyone in the office (as it turns out, memorizing the names was a piece of cake since our office is so small), I am still amazed every day as I continue to hear their stories. From public policy to economics, anthropology to health, every staff member comes from such a unique background, and yet their shared passion for the work done at the Research Bureau means that I have never once found it difficult to discuss and collaborate with them.

On my very first day my supervisor made it crystal clear to me that no question was too simple to ask, yet I couldn’t help but feel a little strange asking the basics to members who are so knowledgeable in their fields. Going into the Cal-in-Sacramento program, I knew that I wanted to find an internship in public policy research. What I didn’t know was what that kind of research actually entailed. Even now, more than a month later, I still have a hard time explaining all that I have had the chance to do at the California Research Bureau in just a few words. Every request that comes through the door from a member of the legislature or from the Governor is addressed in a massive team effort, with everyone pitching in brilliant ideas on how to gather data, contact relevant organizations, find published literature, and so much more. Being a part of an agency that values this constant exchange of knowledge and creativity has been immensely gratifying, as training is no longer a dry, formal process. It is quite literally part of the job.

Admittedly, I had not known of the Research Bureau until I had been introduced to it through this program, but I can now say that it is truly a hidden gem in the capital. Though I often get the feeling that we are overshadowed by the capitol, both metaphorically and physically (we happen to be located right across the street), it has not taken me much time to realize that the work we, and similar organizations such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Department of Finance, do is the backbone of every piece of legislation that passes through the building. What makes public policy beautiful is that it is forever intertwined with politics. And I am so glad that I have been able to be a part of this process, witnessing the hustle and bustle of California’s capital through the lens of research.