TPP selects Emily Caragay ’22 (EECS) and Whitney Zhang ’21 (Economics) as Presidential Fellows
TPP selected MIT students Emily Caragay and Whitney Zhang to participate in the Presidential Fellows Program run by the Center for the Study for the Presidency and Congress. This program aims to inspire students to become public servants.
Each fellow writes a 10-15 page research paper along with an op-ed and policy memo. The fellowship culminates in a spring conference in DC where fellows from across the country come together and hear from those active in public service. TPP funds travel for each year’s fellows.
Below, Emily and Whitney share some of their experiences and how this opportunity has impacted their careers.
What did you get out of the experience?
Emily: I’d say I have two main takeaways from the experience. The first is I gained a lot of experience in research, specifically policy research. I had never undertaken a long-term research project that culminated in a concrete output like a 15-page paper before, so I learned a lot in that process. I also have only done technical research previously and learning how to think about policy research, where I’m not building something, where there isn’t always concrete data, was a big part of this process. The second takeaway is the relationships I built during the in-person conference. Just in the few days I was in DC, I feel like I met people who I’d be able to reach out to if I were ever in their area or looking for a job or just to check in.
I got so much out of the experience! I made new friends, learned about pressing domestic and foreign policy issues, and gained new insights about the inner workings of the federal government. I am especially grateful to have been able to connect with the invited speakers, former fellows, and current fellows.
What was it like (before, during, after)?
Emily: Before the conference, the fellowship was mainly working on my research and attending virtual online sessions. I share more about what the experience was like while in DC below! After the conference, I’ve kept in contact with a couple people I met there.
Whitney: The spring conference experience was incredible! I had been looking forward to attending the whole year, especially since last year’s fellows program was fully remote due to the pandemic. During the conference, I met a lot of amazing people, fellows and panelists alike. As an economics PhD student, on a day-to-day basis, I mostly interact with others in the economics field. It was great to immerse myself in the perspectives of students studying law, international relations, and political science, as well as professionals in both the public and private sector. After the conference, I connected online with many of those who I met and reflected on my experience. I feel more driven to think critically about how my economics research can be of service.
What drew you to this experience?
Emily: At MIT, I realized that policy is an area that I am interested in! I took 6.805, Foundations of Internet Policy, and realized that my technical expertise and policy interests can intersect. I specifically wanted to apply for two main reasons. One was that I wanted to do serious research and felt that being in this fellowship would provide the structure and motivation to do so. The second is that I wanted to meet more peers who are interested in policy and to generally explore policy fields. I have found that the more people I meet who are interested in policy or are working in policy, the better I can understand my own interests. Together, these two things made me want to apply to the fellowship!
Whitney: I saw an email from Technology and Policy Program Graduate Administrator Barbara DeLaBarre about the program, and I thought it would be a great fit for my interests in policy. I also asked the previous year’s fellow, Anoushka Bose, who I had met through the MIT Washington D.C. internship program, about her experience. She said that the program was incredible and that she really valued being able to hear from the speakers and meet people in DC. Her testimony was very motivating — and definitely rang true for me!
What was it like to be there?
Emily: Being at the conference was excellent! The best part in my opinion was getting to meet so many other college students interested in policy. Especially as one of the only fellows with a technical major and coming from a place like MIT, it was so fun getting to meet people studying political science, philosophy, and things like that! In terms of how we actually spent our time, most of it was spent in different sessions on a variety of policy topics. We also spent some time getting to know each other more casually, especially in the evenings, and exploring the city. All the days were extremely packed!
Whitney: My fellowship experience consisted mainly of meeting other fellows and attending fireside chats. At every fireside chat, fellows asked excellent, thought-provoking questions. Two highlights were the alumni dinner and the CSPC annual awards dinner, at which Senators King and Murkowski were honored with Publius Awards. At the dinners, I engaged with a wide array of professionals, including journalists, foreign service officers, and policymakers.
What are your future plans?
Emily: Next year, I will be pursuing my master’s in computer science here at MIT. My research project is going to be at the intersection of computer science and policy, looking at how we can make software more accountable to policy and law. Right after my masters, I will likely be going into the industry tech world. However, one of the reasons I wanted a master’s is so that I can take that industry and academic experience and apply to technology policy fellowships in the future!
Whitney: I’ll be at MIT in the near term, completing my economics PhD program. My fellowship mentor, Nic Pusateri, was a great help for my senior thesis, which I’m now polishing up and trying to publish. Additionally, I’m currently doing some early-stage ideation on projects, and the fellowship was definitely inspiring to think about what would be valuable to work on.