Research Intern – (Dis)Trust in Public-Sector Data Infrastructures | Microsoft | New York, NY

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  • United States, New York, NY View on Map
  • Post Date : November 19, 2020
  • Apply Before : December 19, 2020
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Job Description

Research Internships at Microsoft provide a dynamic environment for research careers with a network of world-class research labs led by globally-recognized scientists and engineers. Our researchers and engineers pursue innovation in a range of scientific and technical disciplines to help solve complex challenges in diverse fields, including computing, healthcare, economics, and the environment.
Microsoft Research internships provide PhD students with an opportunity to work on an independent research project that advances their intellectual development while collaborating with a multi-disciplinary group of scholars. Interns typically relish the networks that they build through this program. This internship will be mentored by danah boyd; the intern will be part of both the NYC lab’s cohort and a member of New England’s Social Media Collective. Applicants for this internship should be interested in conducting original research related to how trust in public-sector data infrastructures is formed and/or destroyed.

Context: In the United States, federal data infrastructures are under attack. Political interference has threatened the legitimacy of federal agencies and the data infrastructures they protect. Climate science relies on data collected by NOAA, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture. Yet, anti-science political rhetoric has restricted funding, undermined hiring, and pushed for the erasure of critical sources of data. And then there was Sharpie-gate. In the midst of a pandemic, policymakers in government and leaders in industry need to trust public health data to make informed decisions. Yet, the CDC has faced such severe attacks on its data infrastructure and organization that non-governmental groups have formed to create shadow sources of data. The census is democracy’s data infrastructure, yet it too has been plagued by political interference.

Data has long been a source of political power and state legitimacy, as well as a tool to argue for specific policies and defend core values. Yet, the history of public-sector data infrastructures is fraught, in no small part because state data has long been used to oppress, colonize, and control. Numbers have politics and politics has numbers. Anti-colonial and anti-racist movements have long challenged what data the state collects, about whom, and for what purposes. Decades of public policy debates about privacy and power have shaped public-sector data infrastructures. Amidst these efforts to ensure that data is used to ensure equity – and not abuse – there have been a range of adversarial forces who have invested in polluting data for political, financial, or ideological purposes.

The legitimacy of public-sector data infrastructures is socially constructed. It is not driven by either the quality or quantity of data, but how the data – and the institution that uses its credibility to guarantee the data – is perceived. When data are manipulated or political interests contort the appearance of data, data infrastructures are at risk. As with any type of infrastructure, data infrastructures must be maintained as sociotechnical systems. Data infrastructures are rendered visible when they break, but the cracks in the system should be negotiated long before the system has collapsed.

This internship is designed for someone whose project interfaces with these conversations, someone who wants to examine what “trust in numbers” looks like in the contemporary American context. The project might focus on a particular government agency, or compare across agencies. The project might look at how policymakers seek to make sense of and repair our crumbling data infrastructure – or how politicians seek to use the tools at their disposal to aid and abet the dismantlement of data infrastructures. Or perhaps the project is a historical examination of how data infrastructures came to be structured the way they are. Most likely, the project is something that the MSR team has not yet considered.

A successful internship project will shed new light on (dis)trust in public-sector data infrastructures, offering both an empirical and theoretical intervention. Preference will be given to projects that involve new data collection, projects that recognize that race and inequity are intertwined with state data infrastructures, and projects that go beyond critique to grapple with normative challenges about upholding public-sector data infrastructures.


Interns put inquiry and theory into practice. Alongside fellow doctoral candidates and some of the world’s best researchers, interns learn, collaborate, and network for life. Interns not only advance their own careers, but they also contribute to exciting research and development strides. During the 12-week internship, students are paired with mentors and expected to collaborate with other interns and researchers, present findings, and contribute to the vibrant life of the community. Research internships are available in all areas of research, and are offered year-round, though they typically begin in the summer.


In addition to the qualifications below, you’ll need to submit a minimum of two reference letters for this position. After you submit your application, a request for letters may be sent to your list of references on your behalf. Note that reference letters cannot be requested until after you have submitted your application, and furthermore, that they might not be automatically requested for all candidates. You may wish to alert your letter writers in advance, so they will be ready to submit your letter.

Required Qualifications

  • Currently enrolled in a PhD program in a social scientific field (including, but not limited to: Sociology, Communications, Media Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, History, American Studies, etc.)
  • Have completed, or on target to complete coursework by June 2021

Preferred Qualifications

  • Have experience conducting independent research using qualitative methods (e.g., interviews, archival research, ethnographic fieldwork, etc.)
  • Have written publication-ready research papers
  • Can demonstrate a track record of research collaboration
  • Can articulate a project proposal that accounts for / centers equity and justice in their proposed analysis

Your application should include:
  • Your CV
  • A brief (no more than 1 page) description of your dissertation project.
  • A short (2-3 pages) project proposal.
  • A cover sheet that describes your interest in this internship and your relevant experience.
  • Names of three references who, upon contact, will be able to return reference letters in a timely manner.
  • An academic article-length manuscript (~7,000 or more) that you have authored or co-authored (published or unpublished) that demonstrates your writing skills.
Your project proposal should describe a potential project that you would like to conduct that fits the scope of this call. The purpose of this project proposal is to articulate how you would think about investigating (dis)trust in public-sector data infrastructures, what questions might drive your inquiry, how you would methodologically pursue your questions, what fieldsite and/or data might be most fruitful for such an analysis. Your proposal should account for method and theory, and be attentive to the realistic challenges of accessing relevant data. Your proposal should also reveal why you are qualified to do this work by highlighting your experience. Please note: The purpose of the proposal is to demonstrate your theoretical and analytical interests, ability to scope a project, and understanding of the data needed to do the work. The successful intern will work with their mentor during the internship to finalize a proposal before beginning data collection or analysis.

Review of applications will begin on December 23, 2020.

Microsoft is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, ancestry, color, family or medical care leave, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, medical condition, national origin, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, protected veteran status, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, or any other characteristic protected by applicable laws, regulations and ordinances. We also consider qualified applicants regardless of criminal histories, consistent with legal requirements. If you need assistance and/or a reasonable accommodation due to a disability during the application or the recruiting process, please send a request via the Accommodation request form.

Benefits/perks listed below may vary depending on the nature of your employment with Microsoft and the country where you work.

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