Government (Public Affairs Pre-Grad Intern) Junior Nickalas Bilotta

Nickalas Bilotta I sincerely believe what makes the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship program such an invaluable resource to the UT Undergraduate population is how undefined it remains at its core principle to allow for students to adequately adjust their own intern experience to what their individual uncertainties might be about graduate school. I am finishing my third year at UT and have from the beginning of my college career been serious about planning my future after my undergraduate education. I learned of the IE program during Fall 2008 almost immediately after I had decided I did not want to go to law school like I had planned on my entire life. It was a tough decision but I knew that my ultimate goal of working in International Relations could be reached by more avenues than just International Law. My mentor this semester, Laura Spagnolo, is a PhD student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs working on her doctorate for Economic Development. Laura was an amazing resource for me throughout this experience by giving me a solid idea of the realities about graduate school. The culmination of my pre-graduate internship came about with the unforgettable opportunity to attend my first academic conference this past April in Chicago when Laura presented a paper at the Midwest Political Science Association conference.

My initial conceptions about graduate school, were entirely based on the slim idea that it would help take me places professionally that law school would not directly help guide me. What I learned as a result of immersing myself into the culture of graduate school was that I could be completely satisfied living the life of an academic in the sphere of Political Science and Foreign Policy--something I would have never even thought of without seeing examples of such people with my own eyes. I began to understand that an academic life is even imaginable for students without a family background in academic studies.

This semester I also became familiarized with the standard graduate school application process including what was expected of a desirable applicant as opposed to what I had learned about the law school application process. Before I had the opportunity to hear the truth about things from Laura, I had the misconception that graduate school admissions were similar to the foreboding law school admissions panels that see applicants first as figures plugged into matrices of cut-off marks, eventually only dealing with the select few that meet the raw score standards. What Laura helped me to realize was that in graduate school applications, the process considers your application in a holistic way because what they are ultimately looking for is someone who matches their own academic mission; who would be an asset to their program. A quality of an applicant not always directly reflected in their test scores or GPA.

Looking forward to my own application process, I'm more confident I will be able to present myself as a worthwhile candidate. Before taking the IE Internship I didn't believe getting into a graduate program was a reasonable goal at all because of my questionable GPA, but there is so much else I have to bring to the table I am honestly looking forward to applying to different programs. I understand now that some of the most important aspects to consider about an applicant are how much they have done with their undergraduate coursework outside of the classroom and their statement of purpose reasoning why they want to pursue this degree in the first place. I know that as long as I am determined about getting my Masters in Foreign Policy I will be able to make a case that presents my intellectual passion for International Relations in a way that a transcript can't show.

Undoubtedly the most rewarding experience I will take from this internship was being able to accompany Laura to Chicago to see her present a piece of her own work at the Midwest Political Science Association conference. This was my first exposure to an environment that was completely devoted to one subject, one field of study, Public Policy and Administration. Political science has become my academic passion in college and it was an amazing experience to feel like I was a part of that crowd of minds. At the conference I was able to talk with graduate students and professors and other professional figures from around the world to get a deeper insight into the depth that political science affects our daily lives. What I was impressed to find out during the sessions going on was that it was not just graduate students and professors presenting their research theses but undergraduates were giving presentations as well. I had heard of undergraduate research before but had never really considered that to be something applicable to an undergraduate studying Government. I soon discovered the truth about the ample availability of research opportunities for undergraduate students. Next Fall I am hoping to get involved with either a research based policy class or something like the Social Entrepreneurship class offered at the LBJ School.

I have a substantially light course load planned out for my final two semesters with ample room for electives and extra-curricular side-projects. Regardless of what specific class or project I can find to get involved with for the fall, the important point is that I'm using opportune time now as an undergraduate to engage my own education and convey my enthusiasm for the subject I am ultimately hoping to be accepted into somewhere.

I never imagined when I registered for the IE internship that I would be travelling to Chicago for my first real academic conference. Throughout the semester I was confronted with many different issues related to life in graduate school I hadn't thought of before like time management for professional students and balancing coursework with personal obligations. I am indescribably grateful to the professors and graduate students that offer their time to make a program like this successful because I have now experienced firsthand the definitive affects it can have on an undergraduate thinking about graduate school. It doesn't matter if a student is the most dedicated undergraduate in their class; if you do not have direct connections to the world of graduate schools, it can seem like a lost cause finding where to even begin.

I finish this semester looking ahead to the years of school I know await me, anxiously ready for the new challenges and opportunities that came with a graduate school education in Foreign Policy. It is a rewarding feeling for students like myself who can perceive continued education with excitement instead of dread like the stereotypes lead us to believe.