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Double Duty: Graduate School and Capitol Hill

Can a staffer juggle Capitol Hill and graduate school? Former Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., pictured during his physics professor days at the University of California, Berkeley (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Hill staffers can do anything: pen legislation, autograph in lieu of a member of Congress, even run for office . But can they carry on the demanding, long-hours job while going to graduate school at night? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. My goal has always been to end up as a legislative staffer on the Hill. I'm currently a graduate student, and next semester, ending in May, will be my last. I've toyed with the idea of working a full time job in my last semester, but I will have classes that would require me to leave the office around 5PM twice a week. With the hours required on the Hill, is it safe to assume I would probably have to wait to graduate and don't have those restrictions to land a Hill job?
A. Yes, you can work full time on the Hill while in grad school, but that can be hard, even for those of us who can are efficient and effective enough to avoid being "overwhelmed." Many Hill offices will accommodate a class schedule. Provided your office has signed off, leaving at a set time is usually workable, with the understanding that sometimes all bets are off. If it’s your bill on the floor, you’re not going to be able to duck out for Econ 601, no matter how pressing the lecture may be.  

But given your interest in being a Hill staffer, and the schedule concerns you have, it might be worth looking into an internship . Yes, there are interns in graduate school, and often that sort of internship comes with more responsibility and work commensurate to your experience. The upside: With an internship, flexibility around school is understood, and you're likely to be given some leeway as needed. Also, you will be in a prime spot to land a full-time position once you graduate.  

The downside? Not everyone wants to intern. And internships are often unpaid . But if you’re looking for a foot in the door and have the graduate school schedule to balance, it might be a good compromise to ultimately land where you want.  

Where to begin? Start with your graduate school career office. If your program has alumni who have juggled both Capitol Hill and a graduate degree concurrently, ask to talk to them about the experience.  

Graduate school can be an excellent investment of time and money. Working on Capitol Hill is a fantastic job that is useful in many career fields. It’s possible to do both, but it’s not absolutely necessary to do so simultaneously.  

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