PD In DC: Making The Internship Work For You

PD In DC: Making The Internship Work For You

I’ve been interning with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA) for almost two months now. It’s been an interesting experience since I came into it without much prior international development knowledge except for the ethnographies studied in a Maxwell course last semester. I’ve settled in and have already had some projects that required heavy lifting on my part, but I still learn something new just about every day and generally keep an optimistic outlook on it all. Throughout the semester, I’ve done things that really helped make the most of my time and make this experience work for me.

One way that I’ve really made the most of my time at USAID is by meeting people for informational interviews. Initially, this was beneficial in helping me navigate the office and get to know the people I’d be collaborating with the most. Now that I’m more than halfway through my tenure, I keep doing them to learn more about the Agency, new projects and/or programs and to discuss career logistics/trajectories that truly only come from talking to others and hearing their experience/advice.

Going beyond informational interviews, I’ve also challenged myself to be both flexible and available (within reason) to help out with random, spur of the moment requests. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve learned a lot from some of the guests I’ve escorted to meetings and ended up being featured on social media for the Agency just by saying “yes” to immediate needs. In some ways, consistently showing my availability also helped build working relationships with people I’d otherwise not see regularly or be able to work with.

Asking questions is not always an easy thing for me to do, but throughout this and prior experiences, it is truly a fail-proof way for me to complete the big pictures and solidify my understanding of how my work, collaboration, and other efforts are contributing to the larger purpose of the Agency. It’s impossible to sit in on every meeting, but asking the right people questions just to know what’s going on or to get an update motivates me to keep up with my tasks to further progress. To this point, asking the right questions will often yield more information and clarity.

Taking ownership of projects is another way in which I’m getting the most out of this experience. As a Public Diplomacy (PD) student, a research consultancy is an additional requirement to fulfilling the internship that personally eats up a lot of my office hours; I’m still able to take on other projects (small and large) that challenge me to use my skills and develop new ones. Sometimes I have moments where I wish I could take on more and do other tasks, which leads me to my last point… shadowing others on the job.

Sometimes people don’t have spare time to sit and talk about all that they are working on, but it doesn’t mean one can’t ask to shadow someone. Shadowing someone doesn’t have to be for an entire day. It’s fascinating how much can be learned in an hour just by sitting with someone or going to a meeting/event with them. This is one area where I definitely want to step it up since April is the last full month of my internship to interact with the busiest people who I’ve only really seen in passing or the few minutes that they speak during one team meeting before dashing off to another one.



Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a second-year Public Diplomacy graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
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