Elise Thorsen

Open Source Analyst, Novetta Advanced Analytics

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies?

I started focusing on Russian in high school out of a search for a challenge and got enough of a reward from it to keep going indefinitely. From that journey, I’ll highlight the importance of the undergraduate Russian program at the College of William & Mary as a community that I treasure to this day and for stoking enough unwarranted brashness to keep going through a Ph.D. in Russian Literature at the University of Pittsburgh, writing about lyric subjects’ construction of Soviet belonging in poetry from the 1920s and 1930s. Thanks to both programs for taking a leap of faith on me.

Moving toward my recent move to work outside of academia, providing Russian expertise to an advanced analytics project at a tech defense contractor, getting the call for this position emerged from a confluence of factors: a disappointing year on the academic job market; graduating in 2016 just as “Russian influence” exploded as a generally recognized issue; the particulars of my personal network from growing up in Northern Virginia, contractor central; and an openness to looking at quantitative support to answer unruly qualitative questions that came from an introduction to Digital Humanities at Pitt.

What support have you received throughout your career that has allowed you to advance your scholarship?

I benefited from a number of language training and research fellowships while pursuing my Ph.D., both at the University of Pittsburgh and also for study and research abroad in Moscow and Kazan via the American Councils Title VIII Combined Research & Language Training grant and a Fulbright student research award. That time in Russia provides an enduring touchstone for reality checks in analysis after regular exposure to a much more mediatized version of Russia.

Describe your current work.

I lead reporting for an advanced analytics project monitoring strategic communications and influence campaigns in Europe. On a day-to-day basis, this means a few different tasks. One is quality assurance on our database of publicly available information collected via aggregators and individual research and enriched with metadata such as quote-level speakers using Novetta’s toolkit. Another is composing reports to answer customer requests for information about trends or shifts in the information environment. This can be a refreshing intellectual challenge, requiring keeping up with in-depth academic research and current tendencies in policy and then distilling that information into less than a page with appropriate data visualizations with a turnaround time of days. And finally, as a senior analyst, I take final responsibility for editing my team’s reports for accuracy and clarity.

What does your ASEEES membership mean to you?  How has your involvement with ASEEES helped to further your career?

Academic research is very hard to keep up with outside of the university context and I feared losing the community that grows around a relatively narrow field of research. ASEEES opened the aperture for how I can participate in the expert community. For just a few examples: as a government-adjacent analyst, I’ve discovered the foreign policy panels at the conference; as a member who recently made the jump to a non-academic career, I can offer perspective to members considering a similar move; and ASEEES still gives me so many different excuses to reach out to those people whose loss I feared.

Besides your professional work, what other interests or hobbies do you enjoy?

Keeping up with academic research at least enough to get to conferences! I’m interested right now in the content and channels for streaming video in Russia and how they operate in the contemporary global market.

I currently live in Central Vermont: I enjoy ample opportunities for day hiking and allow the aggressively simple lifestyle to affect me positively. Another positive hobby is Toastmasters: I love that I have found a club that encourages me to develop my communication skills intensively and offers constructive feedback, and I’m glad to do the same for other members of my club.