Rachel Burger joined Dexis in the fall of 2021 as the Intern for Dexis’ Center for Global Security and Stabilization. The Center advances Dexis’ goals in supporting our clients and partners with timely expertise, knowledge, and new programming in fragile states and communities in transition. It serves as Dexis’ nexus for sharing knowledge from Dexis business units externally and to test, refine, and offer products and services that meet and anticipate market and client needs in security and stabilization.
Q: What drew you to Dexis?
A: My long-term interest is in the foreign affairs arena, as a Foreign Service Officer at the State Department. I also have a long-standing interest in global conflict mitigation. I knew right from the start that internships at State are rare, and then there is the glacial screening process. While I applied to positions at State, I focused on think tanks and some highly technical foreign affairs-focused consulting firms.
What drew me to Dexis was the Center for Global Security and Stabilization, a unit that is deeply engaged with next-generation policy issues and, importantly, connected to work on the ground. The job description was clear, in contrast to some of the commonly found vague job postings, which applicants think of as code for administrative work. The Center is a blend of a think tank and a consulting firm. It is a blend that I find enjoyable and quite successful, tackling complex problems from more than one angle.
Q: How has Dexis contrasted with your prior experiences?
A: My prior experiences were with smaller nonprofits. One focused on higher education in Afghanistan. The other was a business coalition in the Europe/Asia region. I loved the mission orientation of both but was ready for a larger organization that would provide a range of challenging work in my area of interest and yet provide that feel of smaller, purpose-oriented organizations. Dexis checked off all the boxes: a wide range of interesting work, professional systems and access to highly technical people and corporate leadership. I could tell from the start, when Dexis responded very quickly after the application process. It signaled to me that all positions are equally valued. You get a sneak peek into the company culture, one where everyone matters.
Q: What options did you consider?
A: My initial thought was to work at a think tank since that seemed like the best foot in the door for foreign policy work, unless you want to go the legislative route and work your way up on the Hill.
When I looked closer, I noted that many people at Dexis have worked with the government and in the State Department. I figured these professionals can provide insight into what it is like to work inside the government. What I really love is being part of discussions on emerging trends such as outlooks in a region or a country say, in the next three to five years, and how a firm is preparing itself to be part of the solution.
Q: What have you learned so far?
A: Even just two months in, I have gained a lot of insights, notably from being a part of the meetings. Then there are the one-on-one interactions: chats with people just having coffee, learning about different projects, and getting involved in the Conflict Sensitivity Working Group. I have learned that there are a lot of different angles from which you can approach the same issue or the same project. What I have found myself enjoying is being part of pursuits to participate in new relevant work. For example, even hearing about what proposals Dexis is looking at or what bids, what projects to bid on, where we have some value to add, and so on, is immensely valuable. It is great to see a work environment where people use their own regional expertise and take a simultaneous bottom-up and top-down approach to a problem set. I have learned so much from some of the senior folks and am struck by their experience and connections in different countries.
Q: How do you take what you learn and apply it in a professional services firm setting versus, say, a think tank or the Hill?
A: You learn about the field of international development and foreign policy in your studies, where the government is engaged and why, the points along the development spectrum of countries. You learn about the diplomacy decision options and the ex-post impact of exercising some decisions. By working inside a professional services firm, I am learning the how: the nitty gritty stuff. Once we decide to prioritize development assistance to a country, for example, what are the wheels that go into motion? How is assistance delivered, by who and to whom, who are the actors involved here and there? Importantly, it is exciting to be one of the agents of change.
Q: So, you like the how, the details, you mean?
A: I do, but I also wanted to narrow down my scope of interest in foreign affairs, so I can really focus on the details of specific projects and initiatives. Many of my peers in the international studies major wanted to go overseas pretty much right away. I took a different approach, seeking to do more of the brainstorming aspect or figuring out the problems and piecing together all the complex factors of the problem. Working at Dexis, I am getting this panoramic view of the various problem sets, but you can decide on what you want to dive in on. I found this base structure to be extremely helpful. I think that has helped me shape my views, even change, what to focus on in my own work. For example, I find myself interested in the program design aspects within a proposal we may be developing for a client within one of the operating units affiliated with the Center, which is where I am based.
Q: What attributes have you found helpful in the internship setting?
A: There are several. The big one is communication, specifically even just person to person, the ability to connect with people and engage with them on a human and professional level. Another would be open-mindedness. This includes asking questions and seeing everyone as someone that you can learn from. There are a lot of different tasks from people across not only the Center, but different divisions, enabling you to help with trivial things here and there. Another is basic organizational skills. It is quite easy to get caught up or get behind on things, especially since tasks are also time-sensitive. In the case of Dexis, I would add a self-starter mentality and ability to work independently. This has been especially helpful given the remote work setting, where there is less supervision and where you are trusted with post-instruction tasks.
Amongst the hard skills, I would highlight reading comprehension because you are reading policies and understanding the context of situations. In a foreign affairs setting, understanding context is important because you might feel pretty lost otherwise. Additionally, the ability to take away key points of a lot of details or condense things into a few main takeaways when you are dealing with nitty gritty details on projects and meetings is extremely useful. Sometimes it is hard to know what to focus on without making things more concise.
Q: What are your words of wisdom to those that come after you?
A: I would say keep an open mind about your experience. We may have pictured things differently a couple of years ago versus during a pandemic. Take away as much as you can from an experience and try to engage with it as much as possible. Even if you know it might not be something that fits you the best. Of course, I feel like my experience with Dexis is something that fits me well but that might not be the case for everyone, and yet I feel like there is still so much to learn.
Avoid strict adherence to that vaunted five-year plan right out of college because sometimes you find things that fit better, by chance or by luck. Lastly, stay optimistic. Stay hopeful for opportunities. During the pandemic it was tough for a lot of people searching for jobs, but it is looking up in the next year or so and a lot of openings are coming up. Stay connected with relevant professionals and use your own network to support you and help you along the way. There are multiple avenues that you do not know exist when you are in college. If I were hung up on a specific organization and a big-name title to pursue, I think I would have missed some wonderful experiences. I chose to pursue experiences with an open mind, and I am better off as a result.
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