Kayla Adams is a Program Analyst at the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Office of Equity and Civil Rights. She holds an M.A. in International Affairs with a focus on Conflict and Conflict Resolution from the George Washington’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a B.A in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to joining the National Science Foundation, Kayla worked for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development as a Policy Analyst and Communications Specialist where she helped develop a program that recognizes Wisconsin companies that hire and retain veterans. She has also worked for the Wisconsin State Treasurer’s Office and a Wisconsin State Representative.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
When I was a Junior in high school, I studied abroad to São Paulo, Brazil for a year through Rotary International. That experience kick started my love to travel and learn about new cultures. I loved learning Portuguese, trying new food, and meeting people who grew up differently from me. From then on, I knew I wanted a career where I could work internationally. I started my undergrad at UW-Madison as an international business major, but after taking International Affairs 101, I knew that was the better career path for me. My professors were amazing and helped grow my understanding of politics in other countries and steered me into wanting to learn more about conflict resolution. I had always loved history in high school, and soon came to realize international affairs was basically learning from past historical events. Even after studying international affairs for six years, I feel like I am still learning something new! That is also why I love having a career in international affairs. There is always something new happening in the world! I also love writing and researching new topics, which is a majority of what I did during my graduate years.
Describe your current position and what are your favorite aspects of the job?
I currently work the National Science Foundation under the Office of Equity and Civil Rights’ Awardee Compliance Branch as a Program Analyst. My team is fantastic and was extremely flexible with my work schedule while I was a full time Graduate student. I have been in the position since January 2021, so about a year and a half. My office went through a transition from when I first started, so I have had the opportunity to work within many aspects at the office. I have had the chance to put on events for Women’s History Month, Black History Month, etc. and write articles about diversity and inclusion for the agency’s newsletter. Currently, I handle external discrimination complaints from the universities or institutions we fund. I also travel with my team to do onsite Title IX compliance reviews at universities. It has been a great opportunity to learn more about how policies are created and implemented, and I will get to lead in some small-scale reviews in the coming months!
I love that my office always encourages my career advancements, and they are always placing me on projects that I am interested in or can help me learn a new skill. Also, The National Science Foundation is a great federal agency, and I love learning about the newest scientific developments. NSF has interesting events where researchers can describe their research in Antarctica or even space! So, I love attending those events.
What are the current trends driving the future of your career field and what advice would you provide an Elliott School graduate student that is interested in your field of work?
I love how wide of a scope a student who studies international affairs has for a career path. Someone can work with an NGO, the government, a multi-lateral institution, the private sector, or whichever industry they have an interest in! My advice would be to not be afraid to try new job experiences and never say no to a new opportunity to learn a new skill, even if it does not align with what you thought you would be doing. Employers are looking for a variety of different skills, and you never know what skill will officially get you that job. For example, I helped with some web development as an intern with the Wisconsin Treasurer’s Office, something I had zero experience in, and ever since I learned that skill, it has helped me stand out as a top candidate for my last two jobs!
Also, it is a cliché, but networking is a great tool to learn about different career paths; however, go beyond “networking” and make genuine connections and friendships with people. They are a great resource to talk about types of jobs you are interested in and will keep you in mind when a job opportunity comes up that reminds them of you.
How does your current position compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your degree at the Elliott School?
I always wanted to work within the federal government, so that has aligned so far! Otherwise, I currently do not work within the “international” sphere, which is what I envisioned myself doing once I moved to Washington, DC. I was looking for jobs within USIP or other non-governmental organizations, or at least a part time internship while I finished my Masters. My current job at NSF has been a great steppingstone to meeting my career ambitions though. It is a great place to make connections and learn more about what the federal government has to offer in terms of career advancements.
When moving to Washington DC, I was looking for jobs in both the private and public sector. I have only ever worked within the public sector, so I came to Washington DC with an open mind for any type of position. It has been a great career path so far, and I am excited to see what more is to come!
What do you most value about your experience at the Elliott School?
The friendships I made, and the professors! I started my master’s program Fall 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. It was difficult to make connections with other Elliott School students during that time, but thanks to GroupMe, I was able to talk with other students and meet up! They are a great support system while going through this stressful time, and they are a great resource to talk about career ambitions and difficulties each other have within DC. The friendships I made while at the Elliott School are forever lasting, and I am grateful we were all brought together.
Also, the professors at the Elliott School are amazing and knowledgeable about the topics they are teaching. I was always learning something new and being encouraged to push myself to the next level with my academics. They were always available to talk about paper topics or just anything we needed in general. It made my two years at the Elliott School engaging, and my time flew by as a student!
If you could have any other career, unrelated to international affairs, what would it be and why?
Something in science! My dad is a biology teacher, so nature and learning about the natural world was always present at home. I love spending time outside, and as a kid, I loved collecting rocks and caterpillars in the backyard. Science was always my second favorite class in high school, next to History. I particularly enjoyed biology since it is less mathematical than physics or chemistry.
It would be amazing to study different wildlife and travel the world to do research. Also, getting to travel the world to study animals would be the closest thing to an international affairs career! It would be fantastic to be paid to study in the Amazon.
If not a science career, my dream job is to be paid to travel the world and eat food like those shows “Somebody Feed Phil” or “Parts Unknown.” But who would not want that to be a full-time job!
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.