Eight Science Policy Career Tips from a Presidential Management Fellow

Jordan Hibbs is a 2015 graduate of the Master of Science and Technology Policy (MSTP) program, now at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. She is currently serving a two-year appointment as a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, Building Technologies Office in Washington, DC. This post originally appeared on her blog.

I’m here to give an update on my first eight months as a Presidential Management Fellow in Washington, DC. Check out the eight tips below:

1. Be thoughtful about building your network.

If you dread networking events as much as I do, then this first tip is for you! As an extrovert, many people might be surprised that I am not a huge fan of networking events. The idea of going to a place where I do not know anyone and everyone wants to meet people freaks me out for some reason. Instead of trying to “fake it till I make it,” a mentor of mine suggested I go to more targeted events to meet people. Specifically, I now find organizations whose work aligns with my interests and go to events hosted by that organization. This way, instead of putting all the pressure on myself like I do at traditional networking events, I can connect with people who I know have common interests. This type of informal networking makes me feel less overwhelmed and the connections are more fruitful in the long run. That being said, I would not suggest limiting yourself to attending events only in your field – branching out to other sectors can be very rewarding as well.

2. Find a mentor, and another, and another.

Finding mentors is critical to success in any career. As a Presidential Management Fellow, I am required to have a mentor to satisfy the program requirements. My official mentor is fantastic and has so much experience to share with me. She introduced me to the book Unleashing Your Inner Leader by  Vickie Bevenour. This book is full of useful information for professionals. Bevenour’s chapter on mentors is a must read. One piece of advice she gives is to find a new mentor every 6 months. These short-term mentors can be extremely valuable for working on a particular skill or getting specific knowledge. In the past, I have found it a bit awkward reaching out for help from seasoned professionals, but I have come to realize that most people are more than willing to give their time to help less experienced people. To get the most out of mentors, be clear about time expectations and come prepared to every meeting.

3. Find a project to work on outside normal work duties.

Another requirement of the Presidential Management Fellowship is to work on a 4-6 month “developmental assignment”—basically a project outside of normal work duties. I have started a project on cybersecurity considerations for energy infrastructure and widget technology. Although I just recently started this project, I have already learned a lot and met a bunch of new people. Taking on a project of my own allows me to gain additional skills and when I complete the project it will bring value to my office (hopefully!).

4. Think about the big picture.

In today’s busy world, sometimes it can be difficult to step back and think about the big picture. But seeing the big picture is tremendously important. In my experience, the biggest inefficiencies and mistakes happen when people do not see or understand the big picture. Discovering how you and your office fit into an organization is critical to success. I continue to intentionally schedule meetings with people in other offices, departments, and organizations to see how our work impacts the other and vice versa. And when in doubt, just ask! This perspective is invaluable to organizations and can turn into big successes.

5. Say yes to most opportunities.

I have never been one to believe in luck. “Being in the right place at the right time” seems to ignore the fact that countless actions and decisions led you to that place at that time. And countless actions and decisions led others to be at that place at that time too. Everything is connected and being intentional will get you to the right place at the right time. Those who wait for opportunities to come to them will miss out on so much in life. But saying yes to everything can make it so you have no time for other important things, so make sure to balance what is important.

6. Never stop learning.

Like many people, I have met my fair share of people who think they know just about everything. And of course they don’t; no one does. There is so much value in continual learning. The world is a big place and things are changing all the time. For the Presidential Management Fellowship, I am required to complete 80 hours of training each year. I am about to finish up the Key Executive Leadership Certificate at American University which involves many more than the required hours of training. The things I have learned and the people I have met will be critical to my success throughout the PMF program and as I continue in public service. Outside of work, I am taking French classes with John (my boyfriend). We will be traveling to France in July and we are looking forward to using our new language skills. Whether it is leadership training, learning a new language, or gaining a new technical skill—continuing to learn will keep your mind sharp and will be valuable for the future.

7. Finding time for yourself is a must!

A couple years ago I took up running. I started out really slow, but I enjoyed the fresh air, vitamin D, and endorphins that came along with it. Since moving to DC, I have kicked up my fitness regimen and I am enjoying every bit of it. I also enjoy reading books and watching documentaries. Balance is key to success. Make it a priority to find time to do things you enjoy!

8. Take time to help someone else.

Having had some success in my professional life, I have had a fair share of young professionals reach out for advice on getting fellowships, internships, and other professional activities. I think it is so important to help others in any way that I can. I certainly did not get to where I am now without many people helping me throughout the way. Successful people build up others. Try your best to be there for those who need it.