With one full week of work behind me, I can reflect a bit on my experiences so far. I work at Public Citizen, a consumer-rights and public interest advocacy group, in Global Trade Watch, a branch which deals with international trade deals. I have done many things at the office so far, including researching minute details of trade laws, writing memos to help the senior researcher in our office understand the background of issues, and inputting lots of data into excel spreadsheets. I foresee some challenges in this internship; mainly concerning my own self-advocacy and confidence. I have already learned (and been told!) that I should speak up for myself—nobody can read my mind. For example, I recently spoke with my boss about how I felt I was completing more administrative tasks (printing, compiling packages for volunteers) than I wanted to. Self-advocacy in the workplace is something which can seem scary, but is necessary if you want to change things. (Of course, one must be polite . . . no yelling at your boss!)
One of the most difficult things so far has been dealing with mistakes at work. From all the mistakes I’ve made so far, I have the following takeaways:
- It’s always better to ask if you’re not sure. I once went through a whole data set in excel, looking for trends in agricultural trade, and, upon finishing, realized that I’d used the wrong numbers. Queue an awkward conversation and nervous sweats. This could have been easily avoided if I had sent a quick email to clarify what I was supposed to be doing.
- Ask for a timeline when given projects. When a superior (everyone is my superior at work…) gives an assignment with an unclear due time, it’s helpful to ask when they’d like it by. This helps one regulate time spent on an assignment (so you’re not wasting time overdoing a simple task , or, far worse, under-delivering on a big project).
All in all, the first week at work has been a learning experience, as I’ve become acquainted with office life in D.C. To help me cope with the newness of it all, I have a little strategy: when everything around me changes, I like to keep some things the same—I call these things “constants.” My constants are working out, reading and listening to music. When I’m stressed or afraid, doing any of these things can improve my mood. In short, making time for my constants ensures that, wherever I am, I won’t get lost.