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!