Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rick's Blog: Post #4

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Blog Post #4

While the primary aspect of the Washington DC Semester is the internship, there are two more aspects that deserve considerable attention.  The first are the networking opportunities, and the second are the courses taught during the semester. 

Besides the experience gained by interning at an organization in Washington, the ability to network with practitioners, academics, and other students is key.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a great many officials, practitioners, and fellow students with whom I hope to keep in touch in the future.  I’m not saying that the professors, classes, and students at GSPIA aren’t excellent, but it is important to expand one’s professional circle as wide as possible.

Sometimes it’s a bit daunting as to where to begin, but once you get the ball rolling, networking seems to come naturally.  There are a few keys here: 1) Start with people you do know or people you work with; 2) Expect that not every person you contact will respond; 3) Actually be interested in learning more about what those people do and how they got there. 

I think it’s important to get comfortable with networking by starting with people that you have some familiarity with beforehand. Once you get comfortable with the process, you will be better equipped to handle meeting people that you’ve only gained contact with through another contact, or through cold emailing.  This can be really helpful for dealing with times when you just don’t click with the person you meet with or speak to.  Be ready for the fact that when you reach out to people you aren’t already close to, a fair number of them will not get back to you.  When you finally do manage to get out there and network with new contacts, don’t be that guy or girl who comes across as only interested in how to get hired in that organization.  Instead, be actually interested in what that person does, what sort of skills or background are important in their job/office/field, what is new or developing in their field, and how that person got to where they are now.  Lastly, remember networking is a two way street: be prepared to share your own story, work, and interests in a way that relates to that person.

Since working and taking classes at the same time can be quite time-consuming, it is quite helpful that many of the courses here involve guest speakers and panels in a regular fashion.  While not a replacement for your own networking by any means, it sure helps to have access to practitioners and officials in this manner.

I found that the courses were well suited to the work/school dynamic of the Washington Semester.  The professors were all well aware that we were primarily engaged in work and professional activities, and conducted these courses accordingly.  Professors assigned work that was reasonable for our schedules and allowed for significant independent direction to address our diverse interests.

One last thing of note on courses: I am currently taking a class back at GSPIA while in Washington this semester.  I am able to do so by using the videoconference capabilities at the Pitt offices here in Washington and in Room 3431.  If you are considering the Washington Semester, but really want or need to take a particular course back at Pitt, it might be possible to make it happen!  I don’t think that my situation applies to the vast majority of courses, but it worked for me and for a few others in the past. If you are interested in taking a course back at Pitt during the Washington Semester, I suggest speaking to your career services advisor or to Jessica Hatherill about if it might work.  Just remember that the classes back at GSPIA will likely occur during your working hours!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014- “Alphabet Soup”

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Blog Post #3

Just about everywhere you go there is some sort of insider lingo.  Friends, school, and work all have inside jokes, references, and specific vocabulary relevant to the situation.  The government, it seems, takes this to a whole new level - just about everything has some sort of acronym or shortening.  The Department of State (DoS) is just as acronym heavy as anywhere in the United States Government (USG).

Just take a look at the official organization chart of the Department: each bureau and office gets its own letter designation.  Working for the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Office of Euro-Atlantic Security Affairs becomes T/AVC/ESA. 

Not only do offices have acronyms, but also documents, programs, and even people!  It’s definitely a learning curve when starting out.  I have never heard anyone actually say the phrase “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary,” but I have heard countless references to the “PDAS.”  For laws, one must look no farther than the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).  It takes awhile to get up to speed with the new vocabulary (not to mention the new information behind that vocabulary). 

On my first day in my office at State I was handed a binder with an intern orientation guide, which included a 60-page single-spaced acronym list.  Ironically, I soon discovered that few of the things I needed to reference on a daily basis were in this list!  Based on that, I decided to update and expand the list to be more relevant and helpful to those interns that will come after my tenure.  It’s also a good project to fill in time when I finish up official assignments early.  As it stands now, the list weighs in at about 105 pages and counting!

That’s not to say that we spend all day coming up with sentences made up entirely of acronyms, or that you’ll need to spend your nights after work memorizing lists of acronyms.  It does help, however, to become familiar with a few common acronyms and the organizational structure of the Department of State.  If you’re really serious about pursuing opportunities at the Department of State, I strongly suggest taking Prof. Skinner’s Foreign Policy and Diplomacy course.  Not only will the familiarity help you better target your application to your interests and experience, but also once you get in, you will be able to bend that learning curve farther in your favor.