After my long wonderful crazy summer in Washington D.C., I have finally returned to Irvine for another quarter of school.
This summer definitely provided it’s up and downs, but it was a great learning experience. I learned so much about myself and what I want to accomplish in graduate school. I also made quite a number of mistakes, none of which I regret. They will help me be a better researcher in Congress if I return for another summer.
So to reflect on my experience, here are a few things I learned:
Things I Learned About Congress:
1. How You Dress Matters
This seems a bit obvious but it was definitely a wake up call for yours truly. I came to D.C. with only one backpacking backpack (basically one suitcase) filled with clothes for three months. I made it work, but I realized that my clothing standards were not as high as they should have been. I’ve spent so much time in school and in IT departments where jeans and a nice shirt are acceptable forms of attire. When I started working for CMF, I had to start doing dry cleaning for the first time (gasp!); I worse suits and dress pants and a pair of uncomfortable flats. Yet, even what I wore to CMF on a daily basis wasn’t enough for Congress. During my very last week of work, I had to attend a lunch presentation. I had completely forgotten that the lunch was in the Hart Senate building and that Congress was in session. Everyone was wearing full suits, high heels (for the ladies), and pressed jackets. I on the other hand had a sweater with holes in it, a decently nice blouse, green jeans, and flats…safe to say I hid in the corner during that presentation.
But I learned by lesson. As much as it’s going to be a hard adjustment, when I return I am definitely going to update my Congressional wardrobe.
2. Congress is Young
One morning, I was early to work and had to wait outside. So I decided to take a little stroll to the park next to the Raymond House Building to have some breakfast. When I got off the train at Capitol South, I sat and watched all the congressional employees go to work. If anyone knows the demographics of Congress, they will know that Congress is young….really young. The Sunlight Foundation says that the average age is 31. Due to high turnover and high demand for previous staffers in the lobbying industry, the Hill is always hiring new people. The feeling of youthfulness is especially present in the summer time when there are an abundance of interns coming to work. When I watched people come up from the metro, I felt like every single person was around my age. No Bernie Sanders or John McCain or John Boehner in sight.
This, I think, is a vital component to shaping tensions between Congressional technology standards and technology demands within the House. The younger employees clearly feel the frustrations of using legacy software that doesn’t meet the demands of todays world, especially in regards to communication. In my opinion, it may also be slight beneficial…but that’s for another blog post.
3. Technology Standards are Changing Fast
For a more detailed look at this, read this article I wrote for CMF.
Things I Learned About Research:
1. Getting Interviews (in Congress) is hard
The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have the connections, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get an interview. All my interviews were chosen using contacts I have made over the summer. Even my own Representative’s office hasn’t gotten back to me, even after I called and emailed and showed up to their office in person multiple times. But again, each office is also very different, but the fact of the matter is that they are busy, and won’t take the time to stop and waste time on an hour long interview for something they don’t know or trust.
2. Thinking is hard
It’s hard to sit down and think, especially when you are working full time and want to take some time off after work to relax. I made sure to sit down and transcribe all my notes after every interview every day, but taking daily notes and doing daily reflections can get exhausting. Discipline is the name of the game and I most definitely did not have as much as I should have.
3. Matching Your Research to the Literature is Important
This is something I most definitely regret, but will learn from in the future. It’s important to actively read and review the literature while conducting research of any kind. It can help frame to work and give context to the story you are trying to tell. I did not spend enough time reviewing the literature as I continued to conduct my research.
4. Balancing Work and Family is Hard
In California, it’s pretty easy for me to balance work and personal life, but that’s mostly because I have no personal life…just kidding, but not really. I am still new to California so I haven’t established any long-standing friendships yet, so it’s easy for me to devote all my time to my work.
But in D.C. I am very close to home. I grew up in Maryland and my parents, sister, and close friends are all still in the DelMarVa area, so when I had time to see them, I took advantage of it. I did not spend a single weekend catching up on reading or writing because I was spending my time with my family and my friends. That is a personal choice that I do not regret.
Also, during my first month in D.C. my commute was four hours every day (one car ride, one train, and a metro ride!), so when I returned to an apartment late at night with only 3 hours to spare before bed time, I wanted to spend that time relaxing after an exhausting commute.
I am lucky ( and in many ways unlucky) to be in a position where I do not have family commitments while in school. So when family opportunities do arrive, I take advantage of spending as much time as possible with the people that I love; a trade-off most graduate students, or let’s be honest – ALL PEOPLE, must face throughout their career.
I may have made some mistakes this summer, but I learned so much, and I don’t regret a single minute of how I used my time….except for the time I binged watched Game of Thrones. That’s the only thing I regret.