Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why should I consider an internship in policy in Washington if I want to be an engineer or scientist?
This program was designed specifically to be relevant to students who plan on pursuing traditional science and engineering degrees. This doesn't mean that it is irrelevant to students majoring in the social science, management, or the humanities, it only means that our first design criterion was answering this question. The answer to this question isn't the same for all scientists and engineers. Here are the major ones:
The conduct of science and engineering in the United States is closely intertwined with the federal government. For any hot topic on the frontiers of science and engineering (think about telecommunications, the Internet, or biolotechnology, for starters), the federal government has a major role as a regulator and funder. Therefore, to understand your future career, you need to understand how policy is made in Washington. This program is geared toward providing relevant background so that you can see how policy is made.
You will probably not spend your life doing the job you get immediately out of MIT. At some point you will want to take leadership in your company, division, or group. Your bosses will be picking leaders from among those young scientists and engineers who have not only a grasp of the technical issues at stake, but who have a firm understanding of the environment in which the firm operates. Participating in this program is a credible way to demonstrate such a grasp.
A career in science and engineering will require you, at some point, to work closely with people who don't have technical training in your field. Therefore, it is helpful to have experience communicating with non-technical experts who, in many cases, may be your superiors. This program gives you a real experience in doing precisely that.
You might not want to be a scientist or engineer forever - either after you graduate, or even before. This program will give you insight into how a technically-trained undergraduate might pursue a meaningful non-technical career that draws on that training.
2. Where will I intern in DC? What kind of jobs are there?
The program staff is geared up to identifying offices where you might have a profitable internship. We are also geared up to help you clarify what you want to accomplish this summer, so that the places you apply to will be relevant to your interests. We have an extensive database of contacts in the D.C. area, and we are always eager to add to that database.
The process of landing an internship is almost identical to landing a summer job. We will work with you to develop your resume, cover letter, and interview skills. We will also serve as a clearinghouse of information about you, so that your potential sponsors can assess your qualifications easily.
You decide where you apply and which internship you accept. Think of us as a clearinghouse and facilitator. We don't "place" you, in the traditional sense.
3. What kind of internship experience can I expect to have in DC? Will I be photocopying all day or have a substantive job?
The program is designed to ensure that you will have a substantive experience, in which clerical tasks are kept to a minimum. The actual experience you have – what you will do – will vary. Many of the internships are in think tanks or policy advocacy organizations where the day-to-day work is similar to research you might do at MIT with a professor. In these settings, you may be calling around Washington to get information, going to the library, or using the Internet. You will also do a fair amount of writing for your boss. In other cases, especially if you work on Capitol Hill, you may find yourself more often going to hearings and other meetings, where you will then report back to your boss about what happened.
We have a very good track record in getting internships for students that involve very little clerical work. The sponsors know our expectations, which helps a lot. In those rare cases where something goes wrong, and you find yourself doing more clerical work than you bargained for, the program staff makes several trips to Washington each summer, and we can help you move your assignments back closer to your expectations.
4. Where do we live, do we all live together and who pays for our housing?
All the interns live on the George Washington University campus, in (air conditioned!!) apartments or suites. MIT participants will be living with students in a similar program from the University of Virginia. There will also be interns from other universities living close by. This allows you to learn from each other and to learn from interns who come from a different university setting than the one you're used to at MIT. This part of the program is so important, that we insist that students whose families live in the D.C. area nonetheless live with the others at GW.
MIT pays for housing, as part of your stipend.
5. What's the timetable for the summer internship?
The precise dates vary, but generally speaking the internships start the last week of May and end the first week of August. (The major constraint is provided by when the George Washington University summer housing program is running.) In a few cases this time period may not be convenient. For instance, the White House internship program has two summer sessions, neither of which overlaps perfectly with our calendar. In such a case, we work with you to ensure that you have housing for the duration of your internship.
6. Is the spring break trip mandatory?
The spring break trip is an integral party of the program, and is therefore mandatory. Being in Washington to interview with potential sponsors gives you an incalculable advantage over other university interns, who rarely have an opportunity to come to Washington early to seek their summer internship. This also provides you with an opportunity to "kick the tires" of the places you might work – to see how you get along with the people, to clarify your role with your future supervisor, etc. Finally, we have some seminars and a reception with friends of MIT (both alumni and others), which are very much part of the program.
7. What's the stipend?
The base stipend is $7,500. Housing at GW will be taken out of that. You can count on $3,500 spending money after housing is paid.
The stipend we offer is a guarantee of a minimum level of support for the summer. We encourage people to apply for internships in which the sponsoring organization pays the stipend. In return, if you land such an internship, we will still pay for your housing, and will supplement what your employer pays you.
8. What's the class like? When does it meet?
17.307 is the class you will be required to enroll in as part of the internship. The on-campus part of the class spans the last half of the spring term and the first half of the following fall term. The major teaching device in 17.307 is a series of papers and presentations about (a) your internship site and (b) some policy area related to your internship. We assign two papers: a short paper about the politics of the internship sponsor and a longer policy-oriented paper. The assignments are likely to be similar this year, too. The policy paper is designed for you to do substantial research on it while you are in Washington. Once we have chosen the internship class, we will set class meetings to accommodate everyone's schedule.
9. If I get in, when do I have to make a commitment to the program?
You typically will have two weeks to make a commitment. Keep in mind that we always carry a waiting list, and we want those people to have a good idea about their summer plans, too.
10. Do I have to have classes in policy or political science to get into the program?
The academic backgrounds of participants in this program have been as varied as the academic backgrounds of all MIT undergraduates. The program was first intended for scientists and engineers who may not have had much experience (if any) with policy. Therefore, having taken political science or policy classes in the past is not a prerequisite. Likewise, each year we take people with clear and unclear vocational goals.
Basically, what we are looking for is this: We are looking for students whom we believe will get a lot out of a summer in Washington. In some cases, this will be the hotshot physicist with a 5.0 whose only goal in life is to make space ray guns. In other cases, it may be someone who doesn't know if she or he is cut out for laboratory science (and whose grades might show it), and wants to see what a life of policymaking in a scientific area might look like.
If you're uncertain about whether your background is what we're looking for, the answer is obvious: Apply!