Bright and early on a Saturday morning, I clocked in at my work-study job and opened the Student Union Info Desk. I walked throughout the building to unlock doors and check on event set-ups, and then sat down at a work table and pulled out my laptop. After having completed most of my tasks, I finally had some free time to chip away at the mountain of homework awaiting me. Routinely, I checked my e-mail, and saw a subject line about a Women in Law & Legal Advocacy Seminar. As a senior looking for a start in health policy and considering law school for the future, it caught my eye. It turned out that the deadline to register and apply for funding was only days away.
I dropped everything else. For the rest of that morning, I hammered out my application. On Monday morning, I walked into Dr. Kelly’s office, nervous to ask him for a recommendation letter on such short notice. One of my favorite professors and a strong supporter of my endeavors in the past, he agreed to write my recommendation letter despite the tight deadline, and made a point to let me know it was a good letter, too. He knew what my aspirations were and the motivating factors behind them, and understood that the PLEN seminar would be a wonderful opportunity for me to explore what a career in policy or law might look like.
The seminar was an excellent experience, better than I had anticipated. All the panels featured women in various stages of their legal careers, women from various socioeconomic, racial, regional, cultural backgrounds who were more than willing to share their stories with us. I was surprised by how candid they were, offering words of encouragement and advice, while at the same time revealing the deep challenges they had faced to get to where they were today. I heard from women who worked for domestic abuse survivors, in large law firms, in cybersecurity, as a healthcare lobbyist, as an attorney at the ACLU, the Department of Justice, and formerly in the Obama administration. PLEN allowed me to hear from these successful women in law and policy, and to establish a network of professional women in the D.C. area, and gave me an idea of the opportunities and versatility a career in policy or law could offer.
In addition to the wonderful network, the PLEN seminar also equipped me with important professional skills, including networking practices, interview preparation, and salary negotiation. These professional development sessions were geared specifically toward women, and how to navigate sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable situations as women to come out of those situations successfully, without having to compromise. An entire half-day focused on an advocacy and bill legislation exercise on criminal justice also taught me important skills about collaboration and coalition-building in politics.
More than having taken away certain pieces of advice or lessons, I came away from the seminar feeling empowered. The women who I met through the seminar are intelligent, high-achieving, and doing quite important work, but they were also approachable and generous with their time and advice. The fact that such impressive figures expressed an interest in my studies, or my plans and aspirations, and took the time to share their stories and listen to mine, humbled me and empowered me to nail the job search of senior year, nail my future career plans, nail my studying.
This three-day experience gave me the tools and connections to be successful in whatever direction I choose. During my senior year I am open to many different opportunities in health policy and research, and to the possibility of attending law school in the future. The seminar, while it did not necessarily steer me into a particular direction, gave me more knowledge about what various fields in policy and law look like, and provided me with a network of resources that will help me along that path.