Week 4: My First Week on the Hill

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Sunday, June 29, 2014


Benjamin Preis

Monday began rather slowly as I was told by the office to arrive at 10am, I suppose as to avoid the morning rush. I entered into a small foyer, greeted one of my two co-interns, and met with the legislative correspondent (LC) for my intern orientation. He is the staff member who is the first point of contact for all constituent correspondence that comes into or goes out of the office – a massive and important job. The intern coordinator with whom I had been in touch up until that point was back in the district for the week, but I was given clear instructions nonetheless.

Within minutes of the meeting’s end, I was whisked up on a tour with a local Illinois family led by the intern whom I had met that morning. It was a pleasant tour! Although I had gone on a Capitol Tour the previous Friday, I did not realize how much better a staff-led tour would be. In addition to the Rotunda, Old House Chamber, and Crypt, we get to show visitors the Old Senate Chamber and Old Supreme Court Chamber – an undeniably cool experience. In the afternoon I was put straight to work with the LC, and left at 6pm. The hours are quite long! When we’re in session, I work 8:30am-6pm; when the house is out of session, 9-5:30pm. There is a lot of work to be done!

The week continued to roll by. I drafted letters, wrote internal memos, and went to a hearing about the future of manned space exploration – the recommendation: go to mars! I am legitimately enjoying my time in the office, and the staff members are great. On Friday, we said goodbye to our science fellow, who was off to work elsewhere. It was sad to see the other scientist in the office leave, but it was a great going-away party!

This week was not without its challenges, though. As I arrived without the intern coordinator present, I felt somewhat unannounced. I am officially here to explore the world of science/physics policy, yet I am also just an intern. I was not sure what had been communicated to the office, and had to find a way to balance my interests with the reality of the position. Ultimately, I was able to arrange a meeting with the legislative assistant who deals with science/energy/environment policy for the following week which gave me something to look forward to.

There was definitely some adjustment to the culture as well. Coming from the world of the physics, I was surprised by my instructions on the first day: “It’s lunch time, go eat!” – alone, I thought? It was not personal, I know, just a surprise. Further, although I certainly work long hours, most days the staff are there before I arrive, and stay after I leave. I am glad I’m here for the summer doing this internship. The work that I am doing is just as important about learning about the culture. I am here to learn after all. Not only do I want to learn about science policy, but I want to learn about the life and culture of being a staff member on the Hill. Is this something I can see myself doing in the future? I’m not sure.

The weekend was rather quiet, but lovely nonetheless. I have a paper I need to write for school – due this previous winter break – and I headed to a coffee shop to spend Sunday working. My way of discovering things in DC: googling “best ___ in DC” and reading the Washington Post or other newspaper articles that appear. I found a slideshow of the 24 best coffee shops in the area, and want to try them all (except for the one that banned laptops)! After working a tad, I read in Meridian Hill Park while listening to a group play great music. What a lovely afternoon. I am very much enjoying DC, and can imagine living here at some point in my life. As the weekend drew to a close, I prepared myself for a slightly quieter week, as we were out of session.

Benjamin Preis