Name: Katie Rush Age: 29 years old Job: Special Assistant to the Director at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health Time in Government: 3 years
Katie Rush went to graduate school at the University of Georgia for a communications degree. She was on track to become a professor when she decided that wasn’t the path for her.
An information session at her university’s career center introduced her to the Presidential Management Fellows program. She was accepted in 2008 as a PMF at the National Institutes of Health and stayed with the agency after her two-year fellowship. She is currently the president of the Bethesda chapter of Young Government Leaders.
What are your job responsibilities as special assistant?
[When I started], the hardest thing for me was to figure out my role. The role of special assistant to the director at my institute didn’t really exist before I came on board. Not only was I trying to figure out what my responsibilities were and how I could best contribute, but other people were trying to figure out who I was and what I was there for. So that was a challenge for me.
Since I do have a communications background, I see a lot of my work through a communications lens. I gravitated to projects that involved assisting with presentations or helping with website stuff. I think those things were appreciated so I did more of it. I also was really conscious as a young employee that I needed to prove myself, and so I would work really hard to prove my worth to people and to show that in my role as a special assistant, I wasn’t here to be a roadblock to people in the office of the director but to be more of a resource and facilitator.
What do you see as the differences between how your generation works compared with older generations?
When I came into government, there were a number of talks I attended about the differences in the generations, and I’m sure there’s something to that in a lot of ways. But I also think that the differences among employees boil down to a lot more than the generation they’re a part of. It’s a lot more about their personalities. I’ve met people who are in more senior generations who are just wild about technology and very innovative and really leading the way. And then there are young people who hate tweeting.
Young people can bring an eagerness for career development, but their jobs might not provide the mentoring and training they need. What should these young feds do?
A new concept that I learned about when I came into government was that concept of managing up. I never had heard of that or knew what it meant. But it’s basically the idea of making things easier for your boss, letting him or her know what you need, laying out the options, doing a lot of pre-work so they can then react to your work and make decisions. I think with professional development, young feds need to do that. They need to say, “I’m trying to grow my career here. Here’s an area I see as a weakness potentially, and here’s some training opportunities I’ve identified that might be helpful for me. Do you agree?” A lot of training opportunities don’t necessarily cost money.
Any other advice you have for young feds?
I’ve learned in this job the importance of having outside activities too, where you can express yourself in another way. This year, for me, that’s been improv theater, and it’s been completely separate from anything I’m doing in my real world job. But it’s also taught me a lot of things I’ve used in work, which has been an unexpected benefit.
For example, in improv you learn it’s not about the star of the show, it’s about contributing to an ensemble, and I think that really applies in the workplace too. It’s also made me more aware of how an idea that someone brings to the table – if it’s in a scene or in a workplace – is a gift and a contribution. Rather than rejecting it outright, you can think of the value in it and how to improve upon it and make it better and turn it into something else.