From Political Science 101 to Congress, how choosing your major and gaining experience outside the classroom can give you clarity on who you are and the types of experiences you’re passionate about.
REALIZING WHAT PICKING A MAJOR REALLY MEANS
Picking a major can be overwhelming and if you’re like me, the idea of picking the wrong one can scare you away from making a decision. I wanted to choose a concentration that would encourage me beyond just the classroom. Luckily for me, the political science department presents you with plenty of opportunities and is filled with teachers that have had incredible experiences in their lives and are happy to share their stories with you.
From sitting in office hours eager to hear about a professor’s life story to learning inside the classroom, I realized that my initial thoughts about what I’d learn as a political science major weren’t entirely accurate. While I thought I’d be focused on learning about Supreme Court rulings or recent bills in Congress, it was much more than that. The classes prompt you to understand campaigns, to debate today’s complex topics and to overcome your fears and become a knowledgeable member of society.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
Skimming through my email one day, I found an application for the Public Service Internship Program (PSIP), run by the Career Center. Although my definition of public service at the time was shaky, to say the least, I did know that as a sophomore with no resume, an internship program related to my major would probably help me in the long run.
PSIP ended up being one of the best opportunities I have had at Michigan. Not only does the program surround you with motivated students and mentors that want to help you find a great internship, it also helps you narrow down the stressful internship application process to one city, DC, which makes a huge difference.
I spent the year learning what exactly a cover letter was and how to tailor my resume for different opportunities. I found myself doing mock-interviews with friends and researching think tanks and slowly stressing out about when I’d hear back from an internship.
Like the adage goes, good things come to those who wait, my offer to work on the Hill finally popped up in my inbox and I was off to DC.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS AS YOU GAIN EXPERIENCE
The thing about college political science classes is that you are expected to know a lot of things already. It was assumed I knew how a bill got passed, what ideals were democratic and republican and that I knew what a lobbyist did. Well, I just happened to be one of those kids in the major that didn’t know any of that stuff and when I walked through the metal detectors on my first day of work for a Congresswoman, the truth hit me. What am I doing here?
Truth is, my first day was busy with going over the instructions, learning how to use the phone and me staring back at the PC in front of me trying to log on to my new office email account. Nobody was going to quiz me on the Congresswoman’s stance on healthcare (yet) and no one would ask me how many votes the bill next week would receive (as if anyone ever knew), but like my political science classes there was a standard expected of me. I should know how to professionally write an email, I should know how to research and learn about a bill when asked too and I should know how to take notes on a briefing about NASA even when I have no idea about the current project on Mars. And this is where my political science background really kicked in.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER AND MAKING SENSE OF YOUR EXPERIENCE
My political science classes never tested me on the bill of rights or how many seats were in Congress, instead my teachers focused on making sure we were smart students. I was challenged to stand up in front of 300 person lectures and give a presentation, which taught me I had the courage to ask a Congressman a question in an elevator (although not a highly recommended thing to do, so I learned) and give tours of the Capital building to constituents. I was pushed to research complex topics and understand ancient philosophical arguments, which made the morning news clips on any topic easier to read and compiling legislative information a task I could actually complete.
Knowing how much I learned by attending office hours made me realize that it was important for me to attend congressional briefings, stay after hours and watch debates on the Senate and House floor and always always say yes if a staffer asked if I wanted to come to an event. Internships are about learning. For some it is about learning the field they want to work in and getting to know people and for some, it is about learning the kind of employee they can be and where their skills truly are.
I began to see that who I was in the classroom became who I was in the office and since my classes constantly encouraged thinking outside of the box, meeting deadlines and going the extra mile for research, that was the kind of intern I could be too.
Jessica is a rising senior studying political science and writing. She is an active member of Greek Life, an employee for the Center for Campus Involvement and loves attending all Michigan sporting events.