The Keys to a Successful DC Internship, From Alumni Who Are There

Duke students learned how to get the most out of their DC internships from a panel of Duke alumni.
Duke students learned how to get the most out of their DC internships from a panel of Duke alumni.

Maximizing one’s summer internship in D.C. requires learning how to work in an unstructured environment, a panel of alumni told Duke students interning in DC this summer. Convened to share networking and internship best practices at the Duke in DC office, the evening panel of four Duke alumni opened up about their own experiences and how to excel in Washington’s professional world.

Four alumni joined for the panel: Bernadette Mcfadden Stout (B'12), associate partner at McKinsey & Company; Sandeep Prasanna (T'11), counsel for the House Committee on Homeland Security; Sarah Stone (T'09), chief counsel & senior adviser to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney; and Jeff Harris (T’07), is director of Duke in DC and assistant director of Duke Government Relations.

The conversation tackled topics from how to reach out to alumni via email, talking at a coffee chat and keeping track of connections to being respectful of people’s time.

In an internship, it is important for the intern to find deliverables for her supervisors, said Stout and Prasanna. These opportunities aren’t always obvious, but something as simple as taking notes at a meeting can help drive value for supervisors, she added.

Reaching out in cold emails, to alumni or non-alumni requires some careful wordsmithing, Stone said. Never assume one is entitled to another’s time; the cold email is all about highlighting a connection between the two people and doing whatever it takes to work around the recipient’s schedule.

For many of the attending students, these internships are some of the first unstructured learning time they have ever had, Harris said. By working to meet alumni in D.C. and finding or creating valuable projects in their internships, Harris added, the students interning in D.C. this summer can gain real professional growth and not just a line on a resume.

Although much of the panelists’ comments warned the students about possible oversteps and mistakes, Harris took a positive note about the value of the evening’s program.

“Hosting [the students] in the Duke in DC office at the start of the summer sets the tone that even here in Washington, D.C., the Duke community is open and welcoming,” Harris said. “We hope the students take full advantage of all the programming on offer this summer and come back to visit us as well as stay in touch.”