By Shalini Rao
My first day as an intern at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C. surprised me in the degree to which it fulfilled intern stereotypes: my ‘office’ was an emptied storage closet (cleared out just for me–should I feel honored?) with no windows, limited connectivity to Wi-Fi, and a quiet hum from the electrical unit located behind me. However, this seating arrangement did entice lots of people to come to visit me and chat as they were curious as to what this new intern room was, so it wasn’t all that bad.
Despite my lonely intern room, the office was a very open, friendly environment where I could learn about relevant issues. I loved attending our team meetings where the economists and project managers talked about the team’s latest projects. I worked for the Consumer and Community Development Research Team, and our goal was to research financial issues concerning low and middle-income communities and how economic policy affects communities as a whole. People researched mobile banking–does it benefits those who can’t reach a bank physically? How does the informal ‘gig’ economy work? We had seminars with experts on discriminatory lending, minority banking, and the landlord-tenant dynamic in inner-city Milwaukee.
What inspired me the most from these discussions was the accountability everyone showed to these communities we researched. The economists did not limit their work to looking at the numbers presented to them, making some charts, and calling it a day. They constantly asked each other, is our research question asking the right thing to get the information we need about these populations? How can we refocus our survey questions to come back to the populations we’re supposed to be focusing on? How can we work with and learn from other organizations that are asking similar questions?
Leaders hold each other accountable not only to themselves but also to their followers. Working at the Fed exposed me to the level of leadership in the public sector–the work they do is for the public benefit, and I saw first-hand how passionate these people are at making sure they don’t lose this accountability. Working in D.C. reinforced my goals to work and study public policy, and I owe it to the wonderful team that taught, inspired, and pushed me to be my best professional self.