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Letter: The public policy internship is rigid by design

Alicia Sun’s Dec. 2 column addressed a challenge faced by many of our nearly 500 public policy majors: meeting the requirements of the major while also exploring career options in other fields.

Sun is right—the rules do constrain students to some degree. That’s on purpose. More than 40 years of feedback from previous majors and internship sponsors inform the current requirements.

We require internships to occur after the core courses to help ensure the experience is substantive and valuable, both for students and supervisors.  Employers choose Duke interns because they know our students are well prepared to contribute proven policy writing and analysis skills. Students use their internships to make their elective course decisions and career plans upon returning to campus.

The requirement that internships have a clear policy component is central to Sanford’s academic program. Majors know this going in, and Sanford provides two highly-regarded advisors to help them navigate difficult choices. We also offer summer stipends.

After taking four core courses, public policy majors can apply for permission to complete the internship. Some students can then complete their public policy internship after sophomore year, and then can do another internship after junior year. For majors with private sector career goals, Sanford staff can help them approach their supervisors to negotiate their qualifying tasks, and sometimes it works.

A 2018 student, who interned at an investment bank, used his public policy skills to analyze federal workplace safety policies. He said: “I walked senior management through the high-level aspects of OSHA policy, allowing them to understand the difficulties of bureaucratic implementation.” He then became the “go-to” analyst among the summer interns for policy-related assignments.

Last summer, students interned in both the public and private sectors, in organizations as diverse as UNICEF, Out Leadership, Black Rock and Morgan Stanley. These internships had clear connections to public policy.  We welcome the chance to make these same opportunities available to other public policy majors.

Donna Dyer is the assistant dean for career and professional development. Christina Gibson-Davis is the director of undergraduate studies for Sanford and is an associate professor of public policy.


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