As a doctoral candidate and clinical social worker, I have received extensive clinical and research training. However, a missing piece in both my master’s and doctoral education has been training on how to translate my clinical and research skills into public policy. I was so grateful to receive a scholarship from the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy to be able to attend the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar and deepen my learning.
First and foremost, the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar gave me an opportunity to learn from public policy experts in a variety of positions, from non-profit executives and congressional representatives to federal lobbyists and grassroots activists. I particularly enjoyed the panel on Careers at Capitol Hill, as we were able to learn about the congressional public policy process that is often shrouded in mystery. For example, better understanding how to identify congress people on health committees at the state or federal level is a crucial first step to identifying opportunities for advocacy and collaboration. I also enjoyed learning about public policy from experts in a variety of areas from gender-based violence to voting rights. We learned that there are numerous ways to engage in public policy work at the local, state and federal level. I often focus my research on state and federal legislation such as Medicaid expansion or Medicare for all, but that may be a missed opportunity to engage in local policy work, which is the most accessible. PLEN also offered a plethora of networking opportunities, and connected me to leaders in several areas of health policy. I left the seminar feeling like I had already started to build a network of policy experts and potential mentors as I enter the job market in 2022.
Second, the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar provided me with the opportunity to offer peer support to undergraduate students who are charting their career path during a global pandemic. As someone who graduated with my Bachelor's degree during the Great Recession, I found myself relating to my peer’s feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty. As an undergraduate student in psychology, I remember feeling like my career options were limited, and this was mostly due to a lack of mentorship. PLEN is filling a gap in mentorship and training that is so desperately needed for building a workforce of women leaders in public policy and beyond. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my own (non-linear) path with several attendees, and offer myself as a resource to those considering the field of social work at the undergraduate or graduate level.
I was also impressed with the content provided to PLEN attendees, from salary negotiation to creating a strong LinkedIn profile. These were skills I was not equipped with as an undergraduate, and had to largely figure out on my own over the past 10 years. These skills are essential to addressing gender wage gaps that are only predicted to increase due to the pandemic’s adverse impact on women, particularly women of color. The networking workshop was especially useful in strategically planning how to leverage my social work, public health and public policy networks as I enter the job market in 2022. These skills will be essential to my career development as an academic researcher that wants to make a policy impact.
PLEN’s Women in Public Policy seminar affirmed not only the need for women in leadership, but also the role that women play in advocacy for equity and justice in public policy. PLEN consistently included a diversity of voices across racial, ethnic and political identities. I was inspired by the authenticity and tenacity of speakers as they talked about their lived experiences and dedication toward making a lasting impact in public policy. Particularly in our current social and political moment, I appreciated the honesty with which speakers talked about self-care, and maintaining hope in a scary and unpredictable time. I am grateful to be a part of the PLEN network and look forward to the doors that PLEN will open for leaders like myself as we forge our own career paths in public policy.
Liana Petruzzi is a doctoral candidate at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on racial and gender disparities in healthcare access, interdisciplinary healthcare interventions and social determinants of health. She attended the PLEN 2022 Public Policy Seminar. She anticipates graduating in the Summer of 2022 with her PhD in Social Work.