2008 PFIG Recipient Matthew Waring

Career Administrator

Matthew Waring
College of Arts & Sciences
Politics
2009 Graduation Year

Internship: American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC

Ever since an internship experience two summers ago at the Department of Justice, where I worked on the congressional reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act, I’ve been interested in questions about how elections are conducted and regulated. I’m following up on that interest this summer as an intern at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, DC. I work as a research intern for two great scholars, Norman Ornstein and John Fortier, in AEI’s “Political Corner.” Apart from keeping an eye on this summer’s elections, our department keeps abreast of developments in Congress and collaborates with another think tank on an ongoing project investigating topics in election reform.

Notes on the first week 

So far, I’ve been given a wide variety of research tasks and participated in several great events. In particular, our department held a conference on Tuesday for academics from around the country who study issues in the field of elections. It was very stimulating to be a “fly on the wall” as these two dozen scholars presented research, discussed their ideas, and debated topics of common interest. Some of these topics are ones I’ve been interested in, such as the merits of different types of voting machines, and it’s wonderful to be on top of the latest research!

I already feel that the job is improving my research skills, as I learn to make better and more efficient use of familiar resources such as online databases, and learn how to use new ones; I’ve already made several trips to the Library of Congress to get old articles from microfilm, for example. I hope to be able to continue to develop these proficiencies during my time at AEI. Along the same lines, we’re encouraged to pursue our own research interests if we have spare time and no other pressing assignments. Past interns have even gotten some of this work published. I plan to try and narrow down a topic in the area of election reform and produce a similar piece or two. Finally, I hope to simply absorb wisdom from the people around me. The scholars here have a wealth of knowledge about Washington and politics in general, and they’re also affable and easy to talk to. I’m looking forward to a great summer of learning from them.

Midway 

I’m about halfway through my internship at the American Enterprise Institute. One observation I’ve made so far is that think tanks are really great environments for summer internships! AEI employs about 40 interns during the summer; each gets matched with a scholar who is working in his or her particular area of interest. It’s a win-win for everybody because the scholar gets help with his or her projects, and you can get ideas and expertise that will be useful in your own research. I can’t speak for all think tanks, but another great advantage they have over some office internships is that you are given a lot of substantive work. We are all tasked with important research assignments, and while a little clerical work is unavoidable, it’s pretty minimal. 

I’ve continued to take full advantage of the wonderfully stimulating environment here by attending as many of AEI’s conferences and symposia as possible. So far I’ve been able to attend events addressing immigration, the housing crisis, climate change, and food prices, to name a few. These are great ways to become more informed about important issues and see the linkages between those issues and public policy. Representatives from all sorts of interest and advocacy groups will come to these events and have Q&A with our experts, and it’s always interesting to see what questions they pose and how the topic is related to their organizations. AEI also holds private lectures just for interns, which are opportunities to interact with scholars more closely and even to get career advice (one such lecture was a resume workshop!) 

I feel that I am making good progress on my goal of improving as a researcher. I’m now familiar with all of the important political and news resources that are available to us and find myself navigating them much more easily. Finally, it looks like I’ll get my chance to do some research of my own this summer as well. I hope to collaborate with the other intern who works for my scholars on a coauthored paper on election reforms over the next month. That would be a nice way to finish up what has been a delightful experience so far!

Final Reflections

My internship at AEI has wrapped up! Looking back, I can honestly say it’s been the best summer work experience I’ve had. As we planned to, one of my intern colleagues and I spent the last few weeks of our time there surveying election administrators around Virginia and Maryland , and turned our findings into an article about the process of training poll workers. It’s going to be published in the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project newsletter, and we’ve made a shortened version that we hope to submit to newspapers as an op-ed piece. This internship has done wonders for my research skills, which is exactly what I hoped for. Along the way, I’ve also developed as a communicator and gotten very good at keeping about four projects under control at the same time. 

This experience has been an eye-opening one; as anyone who’s taken classes in politics knows, if you study any system long enough you’re bound to discover a ton of problems with it, and ours is no exception. Thankfully, I also discovered that there’s still plenty of room, both within politics and outside at places such as think tanks, for motivated people with good ideas to make a difference. I’m certainly motivated to continue on in my studies and keep looking for that policy "niche" where I can contribute in that way, and I hope that my fellow students in politics will do the same. 

I hope that my experiences at AEI have shown other students that an internship doesn’t have to be all "busy work." There are internships out there that offer students the opportunity to do substantive work and really contribute to the life of the organization, although you’ll probably still have to make copies occasionally. They’re not always the easiest to get and you really have to start early (I applied for this job in early February,) but it’s worth the effort, so be sure to take the time to look!