Position: Graduate Student at George Washington University and Researcher at Congressional Research Service
Field: Political Science
Graduated: 2007 with a B.A. in American Studies and History
At UMW, I majored in both history and American studies, concentrating in human rights. I really enjoyed being able to craft a lot of my major and pick the classes that were most interesting to me. (And, from a practical perspective, the flexibility made it very easy to schedule classes for both majors!) In addition to the human rights electives that were offered within the department, I was able to round out my major with related courses in religion, political science, and history, ending up with a truly unique educational experience. The research and writing skills the department emphasizes, along with the ability to approach problems from a variety of scholarly and ideological perspectives, has been immensely valuable for me in the years since Mary Washington.
After Mary Washington, I went to graduate school for political science and am working on a dissertation to finish up my Ph.D. from George Washington University. Going into graduate school (particularly in a different subject area), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but in general, the class size, structure, and reading workload of many graduate classes have been very similar to what I had in my American studies seminars. Writing a senior thesis was also excellent preparation—learning how to conduct independent research and being able to produce a longer paper are essential skills, and, in early semesters of graduate school, I know I felt more comfortable writing these types of papers than some of my peers did.
I currently work for Congressional Research Service (CRS), which is the branch of the Library of Congress that performs research and analysis for Congress. To do work that is relevant to policymakers today, I am frequently still looking back through historical congressional and government documents to provide context for current issues. Because we respond to requests from Members of Congress, and they can ask about any number of subjects, the work CRS does is often interdisciplinary. I don’t think a background in just political science would have prepared me for this type of research as well as a foundation in American studies has. CRS also prides itself on being objective and non-partisan, just like our history and American studies seminars always pushed us evenhandedly discuss and evaluate competing perspectives related to American values, society, and political institutions.