Carnegie Mellon University

Oliver Bauer with a view from the top of the Capitol Dome

January 19, 2023

Interning at the Office of Senator Schumer

By Lindsay Marcellus

Don’t be afraid to reach out to as many people as possible, and do it as early as possible.

Editor’s Note:

Oliver Bauer is majoring in Economics and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and is one of the nineteen students who participated in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP) last semester. During this experiential learning program, CMU/WSP participants develop professional and networking skills, explore how coursework connects to the real world, learn to give and receive constructive feedback in the workplace and classroom, and intentionally reflect on their learning and growth. Below is an interview with Oliver about his internship experience in the Office of Senator Chuck Schumer. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why did you apply for the internship?

I applied for my internship in Senator Schumer’s office because I was interested in learning more about the policymaking process at the federal level. I had also spent the summer in his district office in my hometown of Rochester N.Y., so I was especially interested in seeing the differences between the district office and the D.C. one.

What surprised you about your experience?

I was honestly most surprised by all of the work that our office does outside of policymaking. That includes both the logistical “making the trains run on time” but also constituent services such as tours and flying flags above the Capitol for them (which I didn't even know was possible before this semester). Some of my favorite parts of this internship were those logistical elements, especially the more challenging situations where we had to manage multiple, and completely different, moving pieces at once. It seemed like we were scrambling to get everything together, but we always managed to fit everything in together without disaster in the end.

What were some skills you needed to carry out your duties?

The answer that might seem most obvious to this question is writing skills, and in many ways it is correct as writing memos (whether of hearings or more abstract research) was a large part of my work. However, I think an often overlooked answer to this question is skills related to data analysis. These do not have to be particularly advanced skills such as proficiency in Python or R -  even just the ability to slightly modify (or simply replicate) code for excel can be incredibly helpful to the office’s operations. Furthermore, having that skill can also help differentiate you from other interns, who most probably have excellent writing skills, but are much less likely to have data analysis skills. An example where this skill was particularly useful for me was related to my office’s analysis of phone calls. We received hundreds of phone calls on an average session day this fall, and we tried to track the zip codes of the callers along with their comments. I worked with another intern to modify some of his existing code to create a heatmap (both of all the different counties in New York State, and of the different states in the US) tracking where calls originate from about specific topics. We used this code multiple times to create these maps for senior staff, and the response was positive. We became the top people that everyone turned to when they needed any data analysis.

How did you develop professionally and personally over the course of your internship?

I definitely got more comfortable with networking throughout the course of my internship. Our office encouraged us to reach out to staff in our offices, in other senatorial offices, and in the House. The more I attempted to reach out, the better I got at reaching out the next time.

What advice would you share with future interns?

My advice is similar to my response to the previous question: Don’t be afraid to reach out to as many people as possible, and do it as early as possible. Not only can these quick 15-30 minute “coffee chats” be helpful for building your network, they can also help you determine which aspects of policymaking you are most interested in, give you a better chance to be involved with interesting projects, and can provide you professional opportunities in the short and long term.

Photo credit: Oliver with a view from the top of the Capitol Dome

Note: This internship spotlight was first published on the website of the Institute for Politics and Strategy (IPS).  The Institute for Politics and Strategy has now evolved into the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy & Technology (CMIST).