I received a Summer Award from the Curriculum in Global Studies primarily to support travel costs associated with an internship at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a think tank in Washington, DC. This was an unpaid position intended to give me some hands-on experience in both the policy field and working in Washington. Overall, this internship was a valuable networking experience and helped me solidify my post-graduation job preferences, as well as a chance to develop my language, research, and writing skills in a non-academic setting.
My primary responsibility was to provide daily briefs on Russian state and independent media to the scholar whom I was assigned to. This was a great chance to practice my language skills and my ability to quickly digest a large amount of information and communicate the main points effectively. Occasionally, I was asked to research a specific topic and write a short memo on it. These were usually concerning the Russian response to a political development somewhere in Europe or the Caucasus. For example, I wrote a memo concerning the Moldovan constitutional crisis in July and another on the protests in Tbilisi. Although I did not receive much in the way of feedback for these memos, I felt that the practice in writing succinctly was valuable. Other responsibilities included assisting with events at the CEPA offices or off-site and manning the front desk once every other week. I had the opportunity to attend events at other think tanks in the city, which were generally informative and provided more chances to network.
One event hosted by CEPA at the Slovak Embassy was the highlight of the summer both because it was fun and because it was an opportunity to learn more about diplomacy. This was a relatively informal discussion between a CEPA scholar and a Slovak scholar about the European Parliament elections. I worked with a Slovak diplomat to set up the room beforehand, and he graciously talked with me about working in diplomacy during the reception. I also spoke with some American State Department officials who came to other events, and one of the scholars at CEPA, who was previously a Foreign Service Officer. These conversations helped confirm my desire to work in diplomacy while also elucidating some drawbacks that I should be aware of going forward.
After this internship, I do not think that I would enjoy working for a think tank in the future. There did not seem to be much practical work being done; rather it struck me as a group of semi-scholars trying to promote their message about foreign policy to anyone who would listen. I did not entirely agree with their message, which is likely coloring my perception. I also found that I frequently had nothing to do once my briefs were completed, so it is possible that I would have a different view if I had been more involved. That aside, I still believe that I would prefer a more practical job like in diplomacy or intelligence. Research is certainly a large part of those fields, but there at least feels like there is more of a reason for doing the research.