Link Tanks: An Indispensible Resource

Link Tanks: An Indispensible Resource

Ever since our last seminar ended at NESA, the other interns and I have been spending most of our weeks going to the various think-tank events and academic seminars that DC has to offer. This however, would be entirely impossible if it wasn't for, a subscription-based website that posts tons of think-tank events and free seminars going on around the city. The topics of the seminars vary, but generally tend to be political or economic in nature and are put on mostly by think-tanks, graduate schools, political clubs, and the occasional restaurant. For anyone who wants to eventually come to DC I highly recommend subscribing to the free service, which sends out an e-mail every Sunday with a list of the coming week's events; all you need to do is RSVP in time. Just this week we've been to an event on minority groups in Syria, the economic outlook for Pakistan, multiple events concerning Iran's accusation of a nuclear weapon, and the Arab Spring, just to name a few. These events are great for networking and meeting new people, and the speakers in my experience have always been very willing to speak with people afterwards and are practically passing out business cards at the end of the events. However, there are a couple things one should watch out for when looking for events to go to, as a few simple pointers could go a long way.


Event Tips

While the list of events on DC.linktank is comprehensive and covers a wide range of issues, it’s very important to check out the institution that is actually putting the event on. For think-tanks in D.C., putting on events is their sole job, so when you come across the likes of the Carnegie Endowment, Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, the Middle East Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, and other think-tanks, you can be reasonably sure that it’s going to be well organized and well executed. Conversely, many of the graduate schools in the area put on events too ( John Hopkins School of Advanced International Service (SAIS) and Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service most frequently), which, while they may be covering an interesting topic, are simply not as experienced with putting on events as the local thinks tanks. This is not to say that all events put on by the grad schools are bad, but in my experience, events put on by think-tanks are more interesting, better organized, and tend to have better speakers. This is no fault of the grad schools either; the speakers at graduate school events tend to be PhD candidates undergoing a mandatory research session for their dissertation, or a professor lecturing on a favorite topic. The difference is in the presentation, as think-tank events generally unfold in the manner of a robust discussion between a group of expert panelists, whereas a grad school event generally takes the form of a university lecture. The moral of the story here is that you should research the organization putting the event on before you decide to take the couple hours off from work to go to a lackluster event. I write this not to discourage against attending any grad school events as there are some positives, for instance the audience there is usually a younger, college-aged crowd, which makes the environment less intimidating for asking questions, but as with many things, there are trade-offs to both; I simply want people to be cognizant of the differences in quality.


It’s also very important to network at these events. As anyone will tell you in DC, networking is extremely important for making contacts and eventually finding a job, because as true as it is in real life that "it's not what you know, it's who you know", this is even truer in DC. The people attending these events are often going for the same reason you are: to hear an stimulating conversation about an important issue and to meet other people who share these similar interests. The Washington Center provides its students with business cards and optional weekday workshops on networking, so be sure to take advantage of these resources and opportunities available to you, go to events, and most importantly, be sociable, as seminars are a great way to meet people and make connections.


Finally, while these events and conferences are definitely stimulating, one of the best parts is the food. I'm pretty sure that if you played your cards right you could go weeks without grocery shopping with all the free food at these events. You will find pretty quickly that it is generally the well funded think-tanks that have the best food, with Brookings Institute, the Heritage Center, and the Carnegie Endowment all contending for first place in my opinion. They mostly serve sandwiches and wraps, with the occasional ethnic speciality, but they are often catered (Brookings often has Starbucks products) and everyone knows that nothing is more delicious than free food. Personally, I haven't packed myself a lunch in over a month, which should be a testament to how serious these eats are. Anyway, here are some pictures from the events the gang has gone to thus far.



Outside the Heritage Foundation after an event with James P. Farwell, author of "The Pakistan Cauldron"




Not sure if you can tell, but that's the back of Hillary Clinton. I apologize for the unimpressive angle, but we barely caught her coming of the stairwell on her way to a House Committee on Foreign Affairs session regarding sanctions on Syria. Needless to say, we were unable to get in.





My homeboy, the Majesty of Law



These past couple pictures are outside the Rayburn Building which is right across the street from the Capitol. It is the largest congressional office building and if you end up interning for a congressman, there is a good chance you could end up seeing a lot of this building. Unfortunately for us, Secretary Clinton's address to the House Committee was advertised on linktanks and consequently the small room reached capacity before we were able to get inside.



View of the Capitol from the Rayburn Building




Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Permanent Observer to the UN, addressed a crowd at the Carnegie Endowment (although the event itself was organized by MEI) about his recent efforts in trying to attain statehood status from the United Nations, an action that the US, as one of the permanent five of the UN Security Council, has indicated it would ultimately veto. He gave a very compelling argument in favor of UN recognition of the Palestinian state, stating that over 130 of the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly have recognized a legitimate Palestinian state, a feat that many countries have not succeeded in when declaring legitimacy. Also, to my delight, the satirical stylings of John Stewart and John Oliver were able to address the Palestinian statehood situation as the Daily Show got a hold of him later on in the week.




National Press Club event on humanitarian issues in Afghanistan



Paul Ross of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spoke about the future economic outlook for Pakistan at Carnegie



The Bipartisan Policy Center held an event regarding the presidential primary system and democracy



Lobby of the Inter-American Development Bank. I suggest looking into this organization if you are at all interested in Latin America, and international development in the region in particular.



Many of the think-tanks are around Dupont Circle, so Clint and I often hang there after events. The fountain isn't flowing yet, but it can only a matter of time considering how unseasonably warm it has been here. And if you're lucky, on a good day you can catch this guy killin' it on the sax.




Robert Kagan engaged in a discussion about the importance of the US military in the world



Robert Kagan clearly not interested in taking a picture with me.


For those that don't know, Robert Kagan is a prominent neo-conservative, as well as the foreign policy advisor for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, although his new book, "The World America Made" is influencing both Republicans and Democrats alike, as President Obama has stated recently that he has been influenced by some of Kagan's ideas. I haven't read the book myself, but the panel at the American Enterprise Institute seemed to really enjoy it, so check it out if you get the chance.


Anyway, that's all I have for this week's post. Until next time folks.

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