Is public policy right for me?
March 19, 2011 11:31 AM Subscribe
How does an English major start working/going to school in public policy? Bonus: is public policy really what I’m looking for? (Kind of a snowstorm inside.)
I’m 24, finished my bachelor’s in English at a (known in academic circles, not name-brand) liberal arts college two years ago, and have been working for a year at a women’s health clinic. Before my healthcare job, I was a union organizer; before that, I was in school, working various irrelevant on-campus jobs and doing on-campus political advocacy. I’ve done a lot of organizing through political fellowships, running on-campus groups, and working long hours at the union, and I now know that I’m not cut out for organizing full-time: I’m functionally an introvert, and--though I’ve been told have a knack for connecting with people--it exhausts me to try to move people to action, even for a cause I believe in.
The part of organizing I’ve always loved, and the part that kept me coming back long after I started getting burned out, was the planning and research. I love sitting or pacing with other committed people and figuring out a plan of action, integrating information and research into our planning, and developing strategies to make smart, effective social change. At the end of a really successful planning session, I feel energized and excited, in a way that I experience in very few other spheres. The way I explain it to friends is that I love figuring out what resources are and how best to use them: when I was a resume consultant, I enjoyed helping people understand how their disparate, seemingly unrelated experiences could make them great candidates for X job; when I was a sexual assault advocate, I was best at finding people community resources and making plans for “next steps.” My commitment to progressive/radical social change is one of the few constants in my life, and I’ve been considering public policy as a good fusion of my passion and my skills.
I have never, however, done research outside of the academic (and literary) sphere. I have not studied economics or statistics, and my experience utilizing research in organizing is relatively limited, though obviously influential on me. I’ve also taken this past year off from significant political involvement to recover from burnout and try to see past the smoke from said burnout, figuring out what I want to do, so my resume is a little less impressive right now than it used to be. I’m signed up for the GREs in a few weeks, but beyond that I’m not sure what I should do, where I should go, or who I should talk to to figure out a) if public policy is right for me and b) what I should do if I want to get an MPP in the next few years. My alma mater doesn’t have a public policy department.
So, after all that, my questions: 1) Based on my self-description here, is pursuing a degree in public policy something you think would fit my needs? What would I expect from studying public policy with my limited background, and (extra points!) is there anything special I should know if I’m particularly interested in labor and gender issues?
2) Is there a name for the type of work I outlined in the second paragraph? As I look for a job doing this work, what should I look for?
3) Are public policy programs looking for someone with my background, or should I be doing a lot more to be awesome and savvy before I even consider applying?
Thank you so much.