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  • Rupa Palanki

WLP 2019 Week 3: What's Your Story?

What’s your story? Most WLP events begin with some iteration of this question. It’s a smooth transition into the start of a panel. It’s a way to get to know the speakers better. It’s a neat summary of their (very impressive!) lives into several inspirational sentences.

What’s my story? I’ve always struggled with this question, but I think DC is starting to show me some answers.

There’s been so much to see. A friend joked the other day that I’m “always at a museum,” but it’s hard to stay in my GW dorm when I live in a city that breathes history. In the last week alone, between work and WLP events, I have wandered through the National Portrait Gallery and the National Postal Museum, window-shopped in Georgetown, and fed ducks at the Torpedo Factory Pier in Alexandria with my baby cousins. DC has quickly turned from a fun summer internship setting into a city I could actually see myself working and living in.

I’ve never felt alone here, and, in large part, I have WLP to thank for that. From shoe-shopping in Maryland to deep conversations on long walks to Foggy Bottom, I have enjoyed getting to know the incredibly intelligent, confident, and caring women in my cohort, and I look forward to spending the next five weeks with them.

There’s been so much to do. Every day of my internship in the Office of Business Management and Transformation at the Department of Health and Human Services is a new adventure. I am grateful to have such kind coworkers, who readily chat with me about life paths, ask me to sit in on meetings for exciting projects, and take my input seriously. On Wednesday, Aziz and I attended the HHS Global-Domestic HIV Meeting at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Hearing from the heads of HHS, CDC, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH, and SAMHSA, I was inspired by the great strides that have been made in addressing the HIV pandemic over the last few decades and their agencies’ efforts to end HIV transmission by 2030. While I am still uncertain of my exact career path, working at HHS over the last few weeks has made me more certain than ever that the answer will involve public health advocacy.

There’s been so much to think about. Through this week’s WLP events, I was able to explore careers that I previously had not known existed and was encouraged to embrace life’s uncertainties. On Tuesday, our cohort had the opportunity to eat the most gourmet cafeteria food of our lives at Facebook’s DC office and hear about careers in tech policy from some really cool speakers (including WLP alumni Prem Trivedi and Probir Mehta). I had always thought that working at a tech firm meant coding or designing products, so it was a particularly eye-opening experience to learn about how the speakers utilize communication skills and public policy tools to protect Facebook’s users and work with marginalized communities. Listening to the panel, I was able to envision a role for myself in tech, something that I had never before thought was possible for me.

On Thursday, we visited Meg Shah’s house, where she talked about her unconventional journey from working at a law firm to teaching special education at a charter school. Meg gave us valuable advice about taking the time to really develop our goals and interests before pursuing graduate school and finding the courage to try alternate professions if we don’t “get it right” the first time. Meg also stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, from sustaining strong support systems to practicing self-care. This event was perfect for alleviating my anxiety about the future; although Meg’s story had its twists and turns, it was heartwarming to see that she ended up with a career that she loves and an incredibly cute family.

So, what is my story? I am a girl who often has her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. I am a bright-eyed DC summer intern, a blue dot from a very red state. I am a college student who doesn’t yet know what she wants to be when she “grows up” …. but I think I’m starting to figure it out.

Rupa Palanki

Department of Health and Human Services

University of Pennsylvania

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