Now that I’ve settled back in at home, I have begun to reflect on my eight weeks interning at the State Department. My conclusion: it was the best experience of my life. When else am I going to meet ambassadors, attend hearings on the Hill, work with an Assistant Secretary, process paperwork for an entire bureau, organize an event for an entire bureau, and sit at a table with an Undersecretary to discuss US nuclear policy regarding Russia…all while being intrigued by the work I am doing and enjoying the people with whom I work?
Dickinson played a large role in making my summer experience possible. First, it was Dickinson that provided me with the opportunity to intern at the United States Army War College. Here, I worked for a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who encouraged me to apply for a summer internship at the State Department.
Second, Amity Fox in the Career Center informed me of the internship grant program that helps fund some of the costs associated with having a summer internship in a different city. Without having to worry about rent or money for food, I was able to explore D.C. in professional, fun, and interesting ways.
Third, Dickinson gave me the skills to succeed in a professional environment. My professors have pushed me to think critically about some of today’s most important issues. It is a sound, liberal-arts education that prepared me to work with high levels of leadership on foreign policy issues.
I hope my advice throughout the summer will be helpful for any young professional interested in pursuing a summer internship in D.C.
My D.C. experience would not have been made possible without the help of the internship grant, awarded to me by the Dickinson College Career Center. When Amity Fox mentioned that Dickinson students could apply to have the College help with costs associated with a summer internship – housing, commutation, food – I immediately marched over to Biddle House and filled out the application. D.C. is not a cheap city and an opportunity to work at the State Department was something I absolutely could not (and would not!) turn down. The grant I received has assisted me with living costs and food this summer, which allowed me to fund other opportunities that arose outside of my internship. I was able to attend seminars and lectures at various other institutions, attend networking events, tour graduate schools, and, of course, have some fun exploring the city with friends. In seven weeks, I have explored various career options and made connections that will hopefully be useful in my future professional endeavors. Although the application deadline creeps up quickly in the spring, it is absolutely worth pursuing if you would like to grow professionally and experience a whole new city.
Last week I was blessed with an early start to the holiday weekend. Even though I love my office, it was definitely nice to relax on Thursday afternoon before seeing friends and family for July 4th. I had not anticipated an early release from work so I slowed down my work pace to ease into the weekend – this was a mistake! I ended up leaving the office with a few items left on my to-do list and had not made any progress in getting a head start for the following week. Dickinson has trained me to do my work in advance so when I don’t, I feel the guilt! My pre-holiday weekend slump caught up to me this morning when I saw my ever-growing to-do list, which served as a reminder for me to keep up my good work habits and complete tasks on time and in advance when possible.
I had the opportunity to take some time away from the office this past week to attend panel discussions held elsewhere in D.C. One presentation took place at another federal agency. It featured individuals who each explained their different paths to becoming full time employees in the federal government, which is not a straightforward (or easy) process. They provided insight on their graduate work, their applications for fellowships, navigating job fairs, and tips for getting to where they are now. With little knowledge of the conversion process, this was extremely helpful. I also had the chance to head over to a major foreign policy think tank to hear a panel discuss leveraging innovation at the Department of Defense – a topic that was particularly interesting to me as I explore political-military issues.
These opportunities not only help provide guidance on your career path by exposing you to issues in your industry, but they also give you a chance to expand your mind beyond your office. Hopefully, the more you leave the office, the more knowledge you can bring back to your desk. And, as always, they are great networking opportunities and conversation starters!
I have already concluded half of my internship at the Department of State so I figured now is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have done, what I have learned, and what I want to accomplish before I leave. So here is my list of what I have learned in a month working for the federal government.
- Workplace culture matters to me. I did not think much about the overall work environment into which I would be placed. Rather, I assumed my responsibilities in my small office (that looks and feels exactly the same as those in the other 300,000 square feet of the building) would consume me. I was wrong. From day one, I recognized that there is an energy at the State Department that is unlike anything I have experienced. Everyone seems excited by his or her work and interested in meeting new people. It was shocking to see how many co-workers grab lunch together or catch up with old colleagues. People chat in the elevator, wave in the hallways, and socialize with individuals outside of their office. This culture has excited me each day as I swipe my badge to enter the building and has been one of the reasons I look forward to each day. I am unsure why this has shocked me as much as it has, but it has made me realize that I care about the attitudes of people with whom I work.
- This place is diverse. Even though I hail from the New York City area and am a member of quite a diverse college community, the State Department is the most diverse environment of which I have been a part. Each employee has a different story to tell, which, I believe, creates the positive energy at the Department.
- People work together. I have had the opportunity to attend my bureau’s weekly senior staff meeting where the Assistant Secretary summarizes important measures the bureau took that week and relevant news to the other leaders in the bureau. The senior members then provide feedback and updates on their office’s work. This weekly gathering keeps everyone on the same page and allows individuals from different offices to communicate on bureau-wide issues. This collaborative setting proves that no one can do their job without communicating with other individuals or offices. No one is ashamed to ask for help from colleagues. I think this is why the bureau functions at a highly efficient level.
And here is my (abbreviated) list of what I would like to accomplish before I leave
- Attend more events. Many summer interns are stuck waiting around for tasks or passing time taking unnecessary walks through the hallways. But as a Staff Assistant in the Front Office, I am responsible for the entire bureau’s paperwork – any memo goes through me. I have loved learning how the office works, recognizing how much the bureau relies on the skills of the staffers in the Front Office, and being kept busy, but I would like to take some time to attend more seminars and lectures on topics that are particularly interesting to me. Luckily, I’ll be attending a talk at USAID this week – hopefully it is not my last!
- Spend less money on food. One thing I did not expect was a great cafeteria. But I seriously need to stop spending $10 on lunch every single day.
Not just on what your supervisor says, but also on your experience. After each work day, I write down some of the interesting tasks I did that day, an achievement, or a moment that stood out to me. It might be meeting with a director from another office who provided you with advice or it might be a note about a project you are working on – these are important to remember. Not only are they are reminders of how far you have come since your first day but they can also be beneficial for resume building because you can account for exactly what you did. Your notes can also be talking points during networking opportunities to show off what you have done.
My notes are not very detailed but they are substantial enough to jog my memory when it comes time to network and resume build.
Hopefully, this habit will stick for the remaining weeks of my internship.
Yes, this week’s advice is about sweat. There are two things you need to know.
First, D.C. is actually as hot as they tell you it is. Actually, it might be even hotter. You will sweat all the time, especially on your way to work. My advice is to invest in sleeveless tops and to always bring deodorant. You don’t want to be the smelly intern.
Second, don’t sweat the small stuff. Part of the intern experience involves messing up a little in the beginning – maybe getting lost on your way through the building or just not knowing where the right folder is. These hiccups are part of how we learn what to do and what not to do. Your mistakes will serve as reminders in the future for what not to do. But they will also serve as reminders as to how much you will learn. After some time, you will be able to look back and realize how far you have come from your first few days.
On Tuesday, May 26, I began my summer internship at the United States Department of State in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs located in Washington, D.C. By the time I reached my office – after four hours of briefs, countless security checks, and time spent wandering through a building over 300,000 square feet – I realized what I needed to not do starting that day: I could not be shy. The opportunity to be working for the nation’s enactor and protector of diplomacy will seem as lackluster as the hallways if I allow myself to simply blend in. It is worth the risk to ask someone for directions, to meet for lunch, to attend a seminar, to get to know your supervisors or to talk to someone who was once an intern in your bureau. All of these moments will shape your experience and will expose you to perspectives you cannot find elsewhere. Dickinson has provided us with the skills to succeed in any work environment and to meet many of the different challenges we will face but the first step in conquering anything in your path is to step far outside your comfort zone to realize your real potential. Right from the start, ask questions and do something that feels bold. You will regret everything you let slip by you, and interning is all about new experiences.