With the world going into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, late March 2020 was perhaps not the optimum time to move to a new city and begin a six-month internship. My bewilderment was quickly alleviated: IPIS staff did a great job of welcoming me on to the team and provided training on various software remotely, so I was soon up and running as a GIS intern.
The internship was the concluding phase of my Masters’ course, meaning around half of my time was spent on a research project that addressed an academic research gap while also being useful to IPIS. My project created and tested an R Shiny dashboard on pastoralism in the Central African Republic. The project gave me the opportunity to apply my new R skills to a real-life case study and develop a product that expanded upon IPIS’ previous dashboard work. Feedback from the GIS team, other researchers and my own burgeoning addiction to R led to me developing a few bespoke features such as data filtering using a map selection box.
IPIS uses an impressive range of open source GIS and data analysis products and I had a lot of freedom to choose tasks that matched my interests or enabled me to discover platforms I had no practical experience with. Outside the research project, I was given a range of jobs that helped me to learn and stretch my map-making and R skills. Like my own project, most of these focused on displaying the data collected in the field by IPIS in ways that were effective and understandable to users. These included creating A0 maps of mining sites in provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, extraction and visualisation of data from PostGIS using R, and authoring a story map to show key points from an IPIS report in a narrative form.
Although the circumstances were unusual, my time as a GIS intern at IPIS was both interesting and worthwhile, and it has fuelled my ambition to build a career in the peace and security sector. Armed with some practical experience and guidance from IPIS staff hopefully I will be able to contribute to other peace and security organisations in the future as an employee or volunteer. I also enjoyed living in and discovering Antwerp, a city which appears to have a near limitless quantity of bars to visit (even in a pandemic situation). Thanks to the IPIS team, and if you are a GIS student seeking an internship consider this a strong endorsement!
– Alistair Steward