One Thing

Trachtenberg Professors Share Something They Did in School That Prepared Them for Life After Graduation

Prof. Bill Adams Talks with Two StudentsThe decision to pursue graduate education is one of many that students face when mapping out potential pathways.  Which school should I attend? What classes should I take? Should I combine my studies with an internship or a job?

The professors in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration faced these questions, too. Looking back on when they were in your shoes, our faculty have offered some cogent insights as you map out your own path.

Pursue Your Passion (and Trust the Paycheck will Follow)

“I went to college to get the knowledge I needed in order to be sure I could always support myself. So I studied business economics,” said Dr. Jennifer Brinkerhoff. “When I applied for masters programs, naturally I applied to MBA programs. I didn't even consider alternatives. But when I received all of the admissions information from the school I ultimately chose, they sent me information about their other masters programs, too. I had never heard of a masters of public administration. I knew an MBA would help me support myself but I wondered, ‘What was I passionate about? Where did I want to invest the bulk of my time into the future?’ The possibility of growing and using my management-related skills to help others rather than make a profit... well, the rest is history. I wrote back to the university and asked to switch my program of study.”

Talk to the Professors

“Everybody has favorite professors,” said Professor David Brunori. “One of the most important things I ever did was talk to my teachers outside of class as much as I could. One day, while talking to one of my favorite teachers, I learned he was terminally ill. Basically, he told me that I should pursue a satisfying career -- one that had meaning to me. It was the best advice I ever received.”

Take the Job (and Don’t Panic if It’s Not a Fit)

“The most important thing I did was to work in the field of study I thought was what I wanted to do for a career, as this showed me that that career wasn't actually what interested me the most” said Dr. Jeff Williams. “I came to GW for the Science and Technology Policy program; specifically, the space policy component. I took space policy in my first semester and worked for a rocket launch firm here in DC. After a few months, I saw that the policy questions for outer space were not as meaningful personally as I expected them to be. So I went and worked in other areas related to science and technology policy and eventually found my home in innovation and social progress policy.”

Publish Something/Anything

“With encouragement from a mentor, I got two small things published including a book "note" (not even an actual review) of about three sentences” said Dr. Bill Adams. “Having a publications section transformed my resume and signaled I was someone who just might have serious academic potential.”

Be an Intern

“Getting an internship was the first step on my career path,” said Dr. Nancy Augustine. “It was a very Washington, D.C. internship. I worked for one of the many associations of state officials centered here. It gave me the opportunity to see that what I was learning in the classroom was applicable to the real world. I was able to see how professionals operate, how they get things done, how they work through decisions. Perhaps most importantly, I absorbed how people talk about the field I was in. I came to understand the issues, the vocabulary, the concerns, the stakeholders, the obstacles, the options and the value of information.”

“Part-way through my master's degree work, I applied for and got a summer internship at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Washington,” said Professor Peter Fontaine. “I got to be one of a handful of interns in the first summer program that DOE had. While I'm pretty sure the work I did that summer did not change the world, it was fun and interesting; and it gave me a taste for working in the policy arena.”

Student Lily Robin Consults with Prof. Donna InfeldPropose and Present

“I found it very valuable to submit conference proposals and give presentations at conferences like APPAM and the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management,” said Dr. Jason Juffras. “That allowed me to experience the excitement of doing my own research and engaging in scholarly dialogue.  Even unsuccessful conference proposals teach you something and help you to sharpen your ideas.”

Embrace Second Chances

“My first year at college (a selective university) was a depressing, academic disaster,” said Dr. Marvin Phaup. “However, my father offered to help me get a second chance by transferring to a small local college known for its encouraging teaching faculty. I was so relieved to have an opportunity to ‘start over’ in a supportive environment. I had many mentors. Every instructor was interested in encouraging earned success for all students. After graduation, I was admitted to my original, selective university for grad school where, I hope, I redeemed myself.”

Be Flexible

“When I was studying science and technology policy at MIT I came to visit D.C. and this convinced me I wanted to go to industry and not come directly to Washington,” said Dr. Scott Pace. “Working in industry allowed me to focus my attention on a very pragmatic dissertation that set me up well to then come to Washington.”

Do the Research

“I worked part-time as a research assistant in the statistics lab of the natural resource economics department,” said Professor Susan Dudley. “The RA position was a great opportunity to work closely with the faculty and PhD students and to apply the economic concepts I was learning to interesting, real-world topics.  I knew I was a good writer, but working on more quantitative projects helped me gain confidence and I ended up going on to MIT for grad school. I stay in touch with one of the professors who mentored and encouraged me 40 years ago.”

Find Opportunities to Minimize Debt

“I worked as a bus boy at the Raleigh Hotel in New York's Catskills Mountains,” said Professor Stephen J. Trachtenberg, President Emeritus of GW and the namesake for the Trachtenberg School. “It taught me to respect hard earned money. Ten hours a day. Seven days a week. Memorial Day to Labor Day. That paid tuition.”

From the practical to the emotional, Trachtenberg School faculty gained something from each of these actions. Now it’s your turn. What decisions can you make that will enable you to pursue your passion? What insights will you be able to offer to future classes?