This past end-term season, I was lucky enough to be granted an opportunity to engage with and interview several individuals who work in Washington D.C. I asked them about what they do for a living and any potential career advice they might have for high schoolers. High school is when many of us experience our first paid and sometimes even full-time jobs; be it over the summer, weekend or after school hours, so I was interested in hearing what people who worked largely government-affiliated jobs would have to say about charting a career path for teenagers. Absolutely everything I learned from them was nothing short of pure wisdom—I’ll list here (in no particular order) a few anecdotes they were kind enough to share with me.
Interview with Pamela Whitney, a staff member at the House of Representative’s Space Policy Subcommittee: Your dream job may end up being something you could never have imagined yourself doing in high school.
- Very few teenagers know exactly what they want to do in their adult lives with absolute
- Even out of those that do, almost nobody stays in one job for their entire life.
- Where you’ll be in 20-30 years (career-wise, at least) is basically impossible to predict
Pamela Whitney started off working at Time-Life Books (think Time & Life magazines) and became fascinated by the politics behind astronomy after interviewing space engineers for the Time-Life digests. Fast forward a few decades, and she’s a professional working in space policy. When she was in high school, she didn’t feel like she had a particular connection to the subject or even consider herself much of a science/math kind of person! Her advice to us is not to box ourselves in and limit our career options too early. You might be surprised by where life can take you!
Interview with Philip Lippel, Assistant Director of MIT’s Washington Office:
Use your high school/college years to explore your options and find out what interests you.
- If you understand what sort of field you want to try early, it can open up new paths later on.
- Right now, all of us are in high school and learning more and at a quicker rate than we
will ever again. Take advantage of it!
- Be broad, but don’t lose sight of your core set of interests. Mr. Lippel had been interested in math and science since childhood, but also was big into theater in high school. From his experiences in theater programs, he learned certain aspects of engineering, design, and directing that he puts to use in his current job. Broad experience gives you skills that you can apply anywhere, anytime!
Interview with William Bonvillian, Director of the MIT Washington Office:
Make sure that you’re doing satisfying work above all.
- Maintaining a steady source of income should be a high priority, but so should being happy with what you’re doing for a living! Mr. Bonvillian, the Director of the MIT Washington Office alongside Philip Lippel, has been working with the government on technology policy since the Carter administration. Although he never attended MIT, he took a job at the Washington Office after he became disillusioned with the extreme partisanship and lack of cooperation in congress. He put his background in tech policy to use in a new setting, and has been happily working his current job for over a decade!
Interview with Elizabeth Canizares, an attorney for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:
Youth is for taking risks, but avoid careless mistakes.
- Your 20s are the years for taking gambles on jobs and decisions with potentially long-lasting consequences while there’s still ample time to recover from them.
- Travel abroad and take every opportunity that arises.
- Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between taking risks and simply making poor decisions.
Elizabeth Canizares took the time immediately after college to travel, amass a variety of experiences and skills, and ultimately do all of the soul-satisfying things she might not get an
opportunity to do again after these critical years. While she was in school, she was careful to
avoid doing anything irresponsible that might suddenly appear and prove an obstacle to her later in life. She also reminds us that taking low-paying transitory jobs during and after college can be a necessary springboard to a more stable career.
Interview with Tobin Smith, the Vice President for Policy at the Association of American Universities (AAU): Learn how to build a network of connections and meet people in your field.
- You can build lasting friendships with others who share your interests! Awesome, right?
- Also, having a network of acquaintances and friends in a certain professional area can
help you get recommended for positions in that area. It’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it! Tobin Smith has devoted his life’s work to lobbying for changes in ineffective academic policy. He proposes a (Waring-esque) system of peer-written evaluations for teachers as well as for students. To do this, he has to work with the AAU member colleges/universities as well as Congress. Doing this requires a massive network of personal connections to accomplish. It is only by friendly engagement with members of Congress that he can reach his goals. Follow these pro tips, and I can guarantee you’ll be that much closer to living the job of your Dreams!