You get so wrapped up in the political atmosphere,” says Hannah Farrow, a 20-year-old economics major, who recently spent 10 weeks working at MIT’s office in Washington, D.C., studying the role of bioscience on the U.S. economy.
Because federal funding for scientific research has been in jeopardy, she says, her research examined government spending patterns during a recession. “I’m thrilled to put that on my resume and take off the babysitting.”
Often, she adds, a higher-up would want data fast. “I had to know where to go for information, and I couldn’t just go to Wikipedia. I needed good sources. I had to be precise about fact checking, and I learned who to call.
“I’d go to Congressional hearings and they’d be tossing around references to legislation that passed three years ago. I had no idea what they were talking about. I wrote down everything and looked it up later. I learned what to ask and not ask. I learned the subtleties of the political arena. It’s not something you can just sit down and study.”
UROP, she says, gave her a chance as an undergraduate to glean insights. “It was great to examine the role of the research funding. And I had a chance to take a hard look at what I would be doing as an economist. I also learned that I would never want to run for office.”
Farrow, who was born in Washington D.C., and raised in Cleveland, says she now has doubts about majoring in economics at all. Since she returned from Washington, she has been thinking about switching her major to brain and cognitive sciences. “Being able to try out different fields is a great part of UROP.”
Clearly, though, she says, a great thing about Washington is it’s a wonderful way to get a recommendation.
“I learned that networking is huge. If you want an appointment at the World Bank, and you know someone whose wife’s brother works there, that may be the only way you can get an appointment. And networking is a great way to get references.
“In Washington, if you need to call in a favor, people are happy to do that. Because someday in the future, they know you will be doing a favor for them.”