2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Robert Schwartz

Rob Schwartz
Robert Schwartz

Internship Location: Congressional Research Service (CRS)

Journal Entry #1:

Hello, my name is Rob Schwartz. I recently started my internship at Congressional Research Service (CRS), in Washington, DC.

CRS is a part of the Library of Congress, and its mission statement is "CRS serves the Congress throughout the legislative process by providing comprehensive and reliable legislative research and analysis that are timely, objective, authoritative and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature." The organization is staffed by individuals from all different fields: this is because Congress requires expertise in many different areas. Staff at CRS answer questions, write reports, and give Congressional testimony.

My cubicle is in the Resources, Science, and Industry (RSI) division, and I will be focusing on science and technology policy. I will contribute to written reports for Congress, and I hope that my work will help Members and their staff better grasp some of the complex socio-technical issues that we face today.

One of the best parts of my job is when I spend time learning from my coworkers. I have had the pleasure of hearing from analysts who focus on especially complex technical issues (including 5G regulation, the pros and cons of daylight savings time, and fire prevention). They often mention that one of the most important parts of their work is accurately and clearly communicating scientific information to offices of Members of Congress. I have also faced this challenge in the course of my internship at CRS. Yet I am certain that my efforts to clearly convey technical information have helped me become a better writer and communicator. I believe that strong communication is a particularly useful skill for engineers, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to cultivate this trait over the course of the summer.

Journal Entry #2:

As I’ve spent more time in DC, I’ve started to better understand the role that CRS plays in the policy-making process. In particular, I’ve had the chance to learn more about the legislative uses of science and technology research.

One of the most useful concepts I have learned is described in the 1977 paper “Research for Policy's Sake: The Enlightenment Function of Social Research.” The author, Dr.  Carol H. Weiss, explains that “The policymaking process is a political process, with the basic aim of reconciling interests in order to negotiate a consensus, not of implementing logic and truth. The value issues in policymaking cannot be settled by referring to research findings.”

This is a terribly important concept, and I admit I didn’t fully grasp it until this summer. I think this is in part because many engineering and science students believe that scientific conclusions are the best way to make decisions. Yet by valuing science above all else--and not the needs and desires of political groups--we do ourselves a disservice. We cannot make top-down scientific decisions on behalf of people who disagree with us. That is a recipe for dissatisfaction and eventual political failure. If we want to make science a cornerstone of policy, we must instead work to integrate it throughout the political process. We need to learn to devote our attention to individuals outside of the scientific field.

Journal Entry #3:

My internship at Congressional Research Service has been productive and fulfilling. I conducted research on a variety of science and technology policy issues, and I have been lucky to work alongside experts in their respective topic areas. I’ve also adopted some of the habits and philosophies used at CRS because I believe they will help me in the future.

In particular, my project management and negotiation skills improved over the course of my internship. I credit these developments to the trust placed in me by my mentor. He expected me to work in a similar capacity as an analyst at CRS, which allowed me to benefit from the implicit rights and duties that are part of the job. In terms of project management, I was expected to conduct research, review edits, and meet deadlines just like other staff in the office. This freedom gave me the ability to test out a research style that worked for me. It also helped me determine how I could most effectively plan monthslong, self-directed projects.

My negotiation skills similarly improved. This occurred because I was expected to justify every one of my ideas and to seek feedback from individuals with different opinions. I found the peer review process especially beneficial. CRS emphasizes that the point of peer review is to create a better final product; it was a pleasure to adopt this mindset and to work with others who shared it.

I appreciate that I had the opportunity to work for the government in an unpaid capacity. I also hope that the work I completed over the summer will help policymakers better understand science and technology policy, even if my research is only used in a minor capacity. I would like to thank the staff at CRS, my fellow interns, the UVA Policy Internship Program, my professors, and the UVA Parents Fund for this experience.