Life as a Political Scientist

Life as a Political ScientistMy interest in political science started late in life. Growing up, I never paid any attention to politics. The current events I knew were the latest episodes of Gilmore Girls on TV, which most of you probably have never even heard of. I disliked, to a great extent, anything political. When I was about twelve years old, a fortune teller predicted that I was going to do something government-related in my future. Several sleepless nights ensued.

I entered college intent on becoming an economics major, but alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry! By sophomore year, I realized I did not like economics. I went through a mini identity crisis because I no longer knew what I wanted to study. Looking at my previous courses, I had naturally gravitated towards many political science classes because they interested me. At that point, political science was the easiest major for me to switch to, so I switched to that major out of sheer convenience.

After finishing my college degrees in political science and international studies, I wanted to come back to California, my home state, and work in my field of study. My mom found an ad in the Vietnamese paper about the Capital Fellowship, a fellowship to work for the California state government for a year. Working for the government was never part of my long term plan, but I applied anyway just to give myself options. To my great surprise, they accepted me, and by then, I didn’t want to throw away a possibly life changing opportunity.

Working for the California State Senate was such a steep learning curve, but the entire experience was rewarding and definitely life changing. I got to help draft a bill, a proposed law, to help charities regain their tax exemption that has now been signed into law. I analyzed over fifteen policy bills, consulted with staff on ways to improve their bill, and made vote recommendations to my policy Committee Chair. I even organized a hearing that ignited a mini scandal in the legislature. I learned about the intricate processes of the California legislature and met high ranking officials, such as the Senate Pro Tempore, the State Treasure, and all the Assembly Members and Senators, just to name a few. Seeing the humane side of these formidable figures, like how my Committee Chair is simply a caring grandmother to her two grandchildren, made me acutely aware of the many layers of considerations politicians must examine when they make their many small and big decisions every day. I grew fascinated by the direct observation of how relationships transcend and influence policies on many issues.

Needless to say, I grew a lot both personally and professionally during my fellowship year. I enjoyed my time in the legislature and considered working for the government after my fellowship ended, but working in the legislature was a career builder, and I wasn’t ready to settle down. I still had new paths I wanted to pursue, places to travel to, and I wanted to be closer to my family. I was afraid that the longer I stayed, the harder it would be for me to leave. At that time, Harvard Professor Deepak Malhotra’s advice for the Harvard MBA 2012 graduates echoed loudly in my ears: quit early and often. He didn’t mean quit at everything, but he did mean quit the things that aren’t suited for you. So I quit.

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Although I now live in Los Angeles, Sacramento continues to influence me. I learned from my fellowship that I enjoy studying and analyzing politics. This experience has inspired me to go to graduate school, and I will be attending USC’s Political Science and International Relations Ph.D. program in the fall. My dissertation topic will be on how political and personal relationships affect policy decision-making, a decision prompted by my observations during my fellowship. I am still undecided about becoming a professor, but just like my fellowship, I believe that graduate school will open many opportunities for me and help me figure out my next step in life.

I am a minority in several respects. I am a female, and I am Vietnamese. I will be studying political science, and I am going for a Ph.D. Although there aren’t too many people who fit my profile pursuing my path, I seldom think about my status as a minority. I believe that if I remain flexible to the challenges I face, I can be a minority and still succeed in areas where people like me aren’t well represented. The philosophy that hasn’t failed me yet so far is going with the flow, like switching to political science, and keeping an eye out for opportunities, like taking the Capital Fellowship. If I never stop pushing forward, the good and bad things that happen to me will be another opportunity for me to grow and move towards where I am meant to be.

Helpful Resources:

Opportunities Related to Political Science:

National Student Leadership Conference on Political Action and Public Policy

Georgetown University Political Institutes

Emersion College Political Communication Program

Junior Statesman Summer Program

St. Albans School of Public Service

Yale Young Global Scholars

Washington Workshops Foundation

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