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A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

GTD project shapes career goal for START intern


GTD project shapes career goal for START intern

Intern Profile: Katharine Sobotka

March 26, 2013J.R. Taylor

Today, START intern Katharine Sobotka stands approximately six weeks from graduation with a degree in government and politics. Born and raised in Washington D.C., she took a slight detour to Scotland before attending the school "in her back yard."

"I didn't come to Maryland as a freshman, but as a transfer student," Sobotka said.

"I'd been a psychology major at the University of Edinburgh for two years when it occurred to me that psychology was not where my heart lay, and I missed the United States a lot. Being from D.C., I've always had a huge interest in government and in international relations, which made Maryland an easy choice."

Terrorism and terrorism analysis interested Sobotka from a young age. By chance, she discovered START through a pamphlet she picked up at Maryland Day. Immediately, she wanted to get involved. Before traveling to Australia through START's study abroad program, Sobotka secured an internship with START's Global Terrorism Database (GTD) team.

"Before I left for the trip to study Australian and Pacific Rim perspectives on terrorism and counter-terrorism, I sat down with Erin Miller and Mike Distler to interview for an internship with START," said Sobotka.

"I was incredibly lucky in that not only did I get to go to Australia and study terrorism, but as soon as I got home I was able to continue that study through my work on the START's Global Terrorism Database."

Sobotka quickly felt at home with START and that her work made an impact on terrorism and terrorism analysis.

"After a few weeks I was hooked," Sobotka said. "I really felt like I was doing serious work, that I was not just being given busy work to make me feel useful, but that I was actually doing a job and that there was a point to it. That has always been my favorite thing about working at START: the interns do work. Interns at START do real, important work, and our contributions are not only acknowledged but lauded."

Sobotka's favorite project she worked on at START was about the terrorist group(s) Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) in Nepal. The GTD team tasked her with determining whether JTMM was a single group or a collection ofdistinct groups with the same name. Sobotka identified eight unique organizations, and as she further investigated the organizations' activities, found more than 100 terrorist attacks to add to the GTD. The experience gave Sobotka in-depth knowledge of JTMM and the intricacies of the GTD.

"This gave me the chance to become familiar with the vast number of variables taken into account when we code cases, and made me much more aware of exactly how big the GTD really is," she said. "Plus, now there's probably no one in the Western hemisphere that knows nearly as much about JTMM as I do."

A little more than a month before graduation, Sobotka is undecided between two doctoral programs. Wherever Sobotka chooses, she plans to continue her passion of terrorism studies.

"At one point in time my greatest wish was to work for the United States government, fighting terrorism in a very immediate sense," Sobotka said.

"Over the past few years, however, and especially during my time at START I have come to realize that my passion lies in gathering information and in furthering our understanding of terrorism. Every day I find a new thing to fascinate me and I don't think I could ever be satisfied if I didn't follow these fascinations as far as they could possibly take me. I love to learn and being in a constantly evolving and developing field is incredibly exciting to me."