Works and Days

Ten Things to Know About A U.S. Senate Internship

I wanted to intern with the Senate to get an inside look at our federal government, and dip my toes into real-life policy work. And thanks to a Summer Internship Grant from CLBR, and a grant from Senate’s SOS program, I’ve gotten to do all that, and more. But here’s all the stuff I didn’t expect.

  1. The weather is no fun. Washington, DC is still a swamp in many ways, and that includes the 95-degree heat and the sticky, soupy humidity. Wear breezy clothing but bring an umbrella and a poncho!

  2. Business formal could not be more different from Reed College attire. No docs, no glitter, no dark lipstick, not even sandals. Yes to skirt suits, dark tights, sensible shoes. Nothing in your closet will do. Take out your nose ring and dye your hair back to a normal color. And go buy a blazer!

  3. There’s great art in the Congressional office buildings. The Rayburn tunnel under the House buildings features visual art from every state-- all by winners from Congress’ annual high school art competition. Plus, Alexander Calder’s final sculpture, Mountain and Clouds, is displayed in the atrium of the Hart Building.


  1. The food’s not bad either. There are cafeterias and coffee shops sprinkled all over the Capitol complex, like a big college campus, with sandwiches and sushi and burgers and pasta. There’s even a Dunkin Donuts and a Subway in one of the basements. All pretty cheap, too! Pro tip: don’t bother with the food on the House side. Most of them come over to the Senate cafeteria for lunch instead.

  2. There’s a huge variety of work. Whether it’s working on policy, collecting press clippings, giving tours, attending briefings, or writing letters to constituents, you’ll do something different every day. One day, I attended an animal caucus event sponsored by the ASPCA, complete with adoptable puppies and kittens. Another day, I ran (literally ran) talking points for a Senator’s floor speech down to the Senate chamber.

  3. You’ll see famous people all the time. Besides the hundred Senators, you’ll see Katie Couric in the hallway, your Representative in the Capitol, a presidential candidate in the cafeteria. Try not to freak out. I can proudly say that I did not scream when I saw Hillary Clinton in the Capitol (though someone else did).

  4. The workflow is a lot like Reed. Everyone around you feels like a thesising senior, and has more work to do than seems humanly possible. Until the summer recess, when everyone can finally come up for air. Before then, there’s a lot of coffee-drinking and commiserating. But ultimately, everyone is there for a reason, and that keeps them going.

  5. Security is serious. Just coming to work is like getting on an airplane! Avoid wearing belts and metal jewelry, unless you want to take them off several times a day. And coming to work a little early is worth it, just to avoid sweating in the security line outside.

  6. The intern lecture series is incredible. From NASA administrators to cabinet members, Paul Ryan to Nancy Pelosi, the lectures can be inspiring or interesting or hilarious. And it’s put together just for the interns, for free-- a pretty great perk. It’s worth going to all of them. My (unexpected) favorite was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who shared stories of Kevin Spacey shadowing him as research for House of Cards.

  1. The work is so rewarding. Whenever I see a letter that I wrote get sent out to a constituent, or a memo of mine get signed off by the Senator, it feels like a victory. Whether you’re doing research for a legislative team, doing daily press clippings, or even naming a bill, it’s incredible to feel like you contributed to the work of the U.S. Senate just a little bit.

Tags: summer internship grant 2016,