Michael KreponCareer Counseling

Over the years, I’ve experienced great satisfaction watching former students, RAs, and interns sprout wings and assume responsible positions working on nuclear threat reduction. My career counseling often involves answering familiar questions, over and over again. I suspect some ACW readers about to enter the job market are asking the same questions: How do I get a job working at…? Or, how do I become a … ?

My advice, freely offered, is: Don’t make your job search harder than it needs to be. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself.

Instead, try to ask a different set of questions about the job market. What skills do you want to develop? Which opportunities will help you develop one or more of those skills? By opening the aperture and by focusing on skills rather than outcomes, more opportunities are likely present themselves.

Aspiring Wonks: Believe it or not, every job has some value when you are getting started. Your workplace will teach you what you are good at, and will help you hone these skills. Or it will teach you what want you don’t want to do or aren’t good at. Both kinds of learning experiences will help you on your way.

A few years ago, I wrote down some of my life lessons. Most of these axioms are about dealing with serious illness, but a few of them distilled what I’ve learned about the world of work. Here’s one:

The best careers are growth experiences, and growth usually starts with chores. As you grow further, you will discover what you are good at doing, and what you would prefer that others do. As your capabilities become more evident, you can slough off chores. Later on, you can choose to shed responsibilities that you can perform well, but not enjoyably, to focus on what you excel at and which makes your heart sing.

Put another way, as Mark Twain said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.


  1. Clayton (History)

    I’m curious but how does one get into the field?

  2. MK (History)

    Start by taking courses in history, physics, international politics, regional studies, critical languages… whatever. You can get into the field from many different directions. Foreign travel is always good, especially to regions that matter in this field. During school and after graduation, seek internships that will give you a sense of what happens in a workplace and what goes on outside of it.

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