Think Tank Internship Provided St. Lawrence Student with Career Direction, Professional Connections
St. Lawrence University senior Jacob Ciolek credits The Washington Center with introducing him to a diverse cast of friends, a mentor and the work experience needed to launch his career upon graduation in May. The environmental studies and economics major attended TWC as a junior in Spring 2019.
Where did you intern through TWC?
I interned with the Urban Institute as a research intern. I was part of the Center on International Governance and Development team. It was really awesome there because everyone treated me like a colleague rather than an intern. For better or worse, they treated me like I had my Ph.D., as if I knew everything about development economics. That was interesting and I really enjoyed working there.
What prompted you to seek an internship as part of your college career? Why choose TWC for that internship?
I had done a study abroad program in New Zealand the year before TWC. My junior year was the time to buckle down and get some experience. St. Lawrence University is in a pretty rural area of New York and that doesn’t really allow for immersive internships. My school offers internship programs in New York City and the program at TWC. My brother, who also went to St. Lawrence, did the NYC program so I knew about that one through him. There are about 20 people and everyone lives in the same area and interacts with only students from St. Lawrence. That wasn’t what I wanted.
What drew me to TWC really was the possibility to experience the type of job that I want for a career. I’m not interested in finance at all, though you can get that in D.C., too. I was looking for applied economics, some think tank experience. That’s why I did TWC. I didn’t know it at the time I applied, but I would end up being housed with hundreds of students from all over the country and world. My friend group at TWC included people from Spain, Mexico, Boston. It was so awesome because it was the most diverse mix of friends I’ve ever had and I never really thought I would get that at TWC.
What was it like to intern at your organization?
Working at the Urban Institute was really interesting. There was a team of nine economists working together to address the respective problems the Urban Institute focuses on. They relied on me for different takes of what was going on. I remember doing a presentation on behavioral economics and people there had never really considered the psychological facets that could lead to different social outcomes with development economics. That was really interesting.
I also had probably the most wonderful boss I think I will ever have. At the beginning, I had to learn how we were going to operate together. She wasn’t in the office, she was coming back from out of the country. She sent me a reading on a program in Tanzania. I looked at this policy and it was 600 pages long. I didn’t know if it was supposed to be due that day or in the morning, I had no idea which sections were pertinent. I wound up at the office until 9:00 p.m. and I presented on it the next day. She was surprised that I had done it so fast. I can’t stress enough that she was so lovely. Once the program was over, I stayed in D.C. and she would invite me over for things like the Fourth of July. We became friends and still keep in contact today.
How did the skills and experience from your internship help shape your professional development and subsequent career building steps?
The internship really helped build up my communications skills. Working hand-in-hand with other think tanks takes a lot of communication: emails, phone calls, etc. Also, it taught me how to navigate priorities. When you’re given a project in school, it has a deadline. However, working at a think tank, you have to learn what is a pertinent issue versus what can be put on the back burner. There are so many steps to completing a proposal, it may take nearly a year. Obviously, I didn’t work there for a year, so I learned I had to give myself deadlines. It was really nice because if I was ahead of schedule I was able to telecommute every Wednesday or Thursday. I could go to work, but that could mean going to a museum with my laptop.
The full article above is from The Washington Center.