My 10-week paid internship with The Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF) has been very rewarding, and has been a hallmark of a summer marked by both career and personal growth. It is important to recognize that my growth didn’t happen on its own- it involved constantly setting, reflecting on, and adjusting goals. In my final reflection, I hope to capture what I learned over the course of my internship, describe how my leadership courses informed my understanding of the organization, and how the experience has altered my career trajectory.
In the fall, I mainly pursued healthcare/technology consulting or patent/intellectual property law internships, but found it very difficult to break into the business/consulting world given my limited office experience and business background. I was able to make a case to HJF, a military medical research non-profit, that my experience doing research and leadership focus made me a perfect candidate for their program management internship position.
I was very excited about receiving an offer from HJF. In my Site Description and Personal Contribution paper I wrote that the three things that I wanted to most develop were learning how to deal with difficult personalities, refining my professionalism in the context of an office environment, and making my voice heard.
I didn’t have as much client facing experience as I first envisioned, but I had plenty of opportunities to work within a group and as a liaison between teams. In these settings, patience, concise communication, and putting myself in my audience’s shoes was paramount to getting my contributions adapted. One project involved reconciling the differences between two organizational purchasing processes- the internal process conducted by HJF, and that of our largest client- the United Services University (USU). In this situation I worked closely with stakeholders from both organizations to understand the issue, design and implement a solution, and gauge its success. During these interactions I had to deal with delays in responses, recipients misunderstanding simple messages, and an entrenched resistance to change. I quickly learned that in a large organization such as HJF, tasks that seem straightforward in theory are rarely in practice. The more people involved in decision making and execution, the more possible roadblocks. It may take an individual “approver” five minutes to read and respond to your email, but they may have 50 emails in their docket. I learned that these situations require patience and persistence and having a system in which to remember to follow up with people is essential to keep projects from falling through the cracks.
I was successful in adapting to office culture, presenting myself in a professional manner, and received constructive feedback from my coworkers on what to improve on. In my last job, one thing that I was advised to work on was punctuality, and I am proud to say that besides rare exceptions, I made sure that I was early to meetings and completed my work on time. Before my internship ended at HJF, I requested from the primary individuals that I worked with (around 5 people) three positive things that I did and three things that I need to work on.
In these evaluations, I was praised for communicating well orally and in writing, patience and politeness, and contributing good ideas. Places I could improve on included attention to details, staying on top of projects I was less interested in, and waiting longer before asking questions. It was also brought to my attention that I fidget a lot in meetings, which can be perceived as inattentiveness or boredom. Attention to details can be addressed by double and triple checking work, especially forms with numbers or other important information. I definitely put more time and energy into the projects that I felt were most meaningful and interesting, but I have to make sure that none of my projects fall of the radar. This could be achieved by using a project management application, being more studious with my to-do lists, or doing more tedious or boring projects first, and rewarding myself with more interesting projects later- a metaphoric dessert. I expressed issues with knowing when to ask questions in my initial internship overlook, and the feedback only confirms these issues. I would love to know the rule of thumb for when to reach out to a superior and make sure that when I do that I convey that I have already done exhaustive work on the problem. Some of these issues, especially the fidgeting, are symptoms of my ADHD. For the most part, I choose not to be medicated because I don’t want to develop a dependence. I already have quite the coffee addiction- not trying to further complicate things. I struggle with whether or not I should communicate that I have ADHD to my employer. On one hand it seems like revealing a weakness, but on the other it could help explain that my fidgeting is just who I am and not from a place of disrespect.
Finally, I successfully achieved my goal of taking initiative on projects and making my voice heard. My ideas and contributions were respected and often adapted, and I was explicitly complimented for my ideas. I was trusted with doing a large part of the leg work on projects, including doing research, synthesizing my findings, and properly communicating what was important, keeping in mind the audience.
My Jepson experience informed my analysis of the culture and structure of HJF, allowing me to thrive within it. The course that was most influential was Theories and models. It helped my identify the different leadership styles, the importance of the narrative of the company, and subtle methods they used to gain follower loyalty. As I mentioned in my prior reflections, HJF has produced a corporate culture defined by openness and inclusion and a leadership style that emphasizes personal transformation and contribution to a larger progressive vision. HJF is a non-profit that was established by congress to advance military medical research. Their intimate relationship with the armed forces creates a unique culture of service, without the same structural rigidity as the service branches. HJF has a clear mission- to provide the best research support to the men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for our freedoms. This sense of being a part of something larger serves to motivate employees, some of whom acknowledge that they could be making more money elsewhere but choose not to. That being said, the corporate offices of HJF are far from austere- the office is brand new, offers free parking, coffee, and a plethora of other benefits. They are certainly more comfy than the military labs or battle field, and the company works to remind people of that. One flyer displayed in the break room reads “Bad day? Remember, you aren’t 6000 miles from home, in 120 degree heat, carrying 100 pounds of gear, in full uniform”. HJF’s unique relationship with the military and the federal government, but with made it very interesting to observe and study.
Transformative leadership defines HJF. The CEO makes it his duty to be transparent and approachable. He hosts quarterly town halls where employees can anonymously submit questions and concerns. The meetings and answers are then uploaded to the employee portal. The traditionally rigid corporate power structures are further blurred by the widespread use of first names and nicknames, this even applies to individuals with doctorates, military positions, and other prestigious titles. This made it much less intimidating and confusing to reach out to people. During our new employee orientation, the VPs came around to each table and introduced themselves. The CEO and my supervisors made it clear that this is a place for employees (not just interns) to grow and reach their full potential down the road, whether that may or may not be with HJF. During the course of my internship, I was able to connect with and gain invaluable life advice from many members of upper management over coffee or lunch. I analyzed in depth those lessons in a previous reflection. I don’t have experience with other large organizations, but I strongly believe that if it hadn’t been for the culture, executives wouldn’t be as open to meeting with me.
In Theories and Models we discuss at length the difficulty for women and people of color to rise to leadership positions, especially in corporate settings, due to gender incongruency theory and other implicit biases. I was surprised to find that at HJF this wasn’t the case- the organization embraces diversity and inclusion from top to bottom. There are more than 50% non-white employees, the executive officers are majority female, and the CEO is of Chinese and Puerto Rican descent. Jessica, the VP of Ethics, detailed many microaggressions and discriminatory comments that she experienced in law school and her prior companies, but said that the CEO and executives at HJF respect everyone’s contributions, irrespective of skin color or gender. I wonder what makes HJF different from many of the organizations I read about. How did this culture arise and does it have anything to do with the organization’s government affiliation? I know that the federal government, including state and local, regularly offer contracts that are only open to to minority-owned businesses, a designation given to companies with women or ethnic minorities in control or in ownership. What policy or changes in corporate culture could create similar levels of diversity the norm in private corporations?
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the company and line of work I was in. I specifically enjoyed the feeling of urgency around completing tasks on time, the interpersonal focus, and the ability to switch between multiple projects- all things that I found lacking in research settings. I learned a lot this summer and believe I accomplished the goals I set for myself. In addition, I am thankful for the internship because it greatly diversifies my background and will allow me to better leverage my way into a full-time consulting role. Going forward, I know that if I want to rise to a position of leadership in HJF or similar organizations that I will need an advanced degree- JD, MD, PhD, but believe that a couple years in private industry will allow me to find my niche and give me the revitalized thirst for education that will help motivate my advanced degree.