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Olin Hall, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Graduate Career Services

Alumni Spotlight - Alice Wheet

Current Job Title -  Research Analyst
Name of Organization -  National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
Undergraduate Degree -   Sociology and Spanish, University of South Carolina
Graduate Degrees - Master in Social Work and Masters in Public Policy

Floyd Cobb


What does your current position entail?

I work in the Environment, Energy and Transportation Group of the State Policy Research Division at NCSL. My main duties are to research state law and legislative proposals from around the country to write a variety of policy papers and reports for state legislators and legislative staff. My research focuses on transportation policy and military and veterans' issues. I also plan and conduct national meetings related to toxic waste clean-up and tribal renewable energy development for the U.S. Department of Energy.

How did you get your current position?    

I started working at NCSL as an intern through the Graduate School of Social Work. After my internship, I was asked to stay on and work part-time while I finished my second degree in Public Policy. Then, the summer after graduation, a position was available in my department and I was hired full-time. I continued some of the work I was doing in transportation policy research, but have taken on many other responsibilities and policy issue areas.

In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?    

I did not know that I would end up working at NCSL full-time after graduation. I started searching for jobs in the fall before my June graduation. I was applying and interviewing for jobs for close to 10 months before I had an offer.

In regards to the job search process did anything surprise you?

I had an unpaid internship outside of my required field placements that I often thought was a complete waste of my time. Some days I spent filing documents and editing spreadsheets. There was a big administrative component. But I stuck with it because I was passionate about the organization, and I knew it was temporary. When I was applying for jobs later, I talked about the experience from this internship more than any other. I was surprised by the amount of practical skills and experience I did acquire by organizing events and getting out into the community, even though it often seemed dull when I would be in the office. I also still keep in touch with my supervisor and volunteer with the organization's public policy committee, which is great professional experience to add to my resume.

What recommendations do you have for current students?

Keep in touch with classmates and peers in your field, professors and past employers or internship supervisors. These are the people who are going to serve as a reference. In my job search experience, a couple of my contacts were also huge advocates for me. They passed along open positions and directly sent my resume to someone they knew at an organization.

What's the strangest interview question you were ever asked? How did you respond?

I was asked once, what was the toughest criticism I had ever received, and how did I react to it. I responded with the first thing that came to my mind, which was a difficult experience several years back. I still wish I had responded with a more thoughtful answer. I've also been asked what I had done to prepare for the interview. I later learned this is so they could see if I would be a good researcher and able to find out what I didn't already know.

Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?

I would say that working with many different types of people and populations over the years has been the most valuable. Building working relationships has taken me beyond where I would be if I focused only on improving expertise. I do this with intention, which I learned mainly from my Social Work concentration in organizational leadership.

If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?

I don't know that I would do much differently. In retrospect, I would have explored degree programs that offered concentrations more tailored to my intended profession (such as a program in social policy, or one offering specialty policy concentrations). But I ended up in Denver, so I don't have any regrets!

Any additional comments for current students?

When looking for jobs, put yourself out there. It can be exhausting but it is worth it. The worst that can happen is that they don't call you! Every application and interview is, in the least, a learning experience to discover what you really want from a job and employer.