Political scientists pursue wide-ranging and diverse career paths. This interview series, developed by the APSA Professional Development Program, highlights the many different ways political scientists carry their skills and expertise into the workforce. For more information, including resources on career options outside of academia, visit APSA’s career page.
Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is an Officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Michele has authored several publications on immigration policy and has appeared in English and Spanish-language media. Previously she worked as Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), a division of the American Immigration Council; Director of Immigration Policy Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); and Policy Coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She received her Ph.D. in 2002 in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Science from Creighton University.
What was your primary field of research in graduate school?
International relations. I focused on human rights issues.
What was your first post-PhD job? What did you do in this position?
Director of immigration policy research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). I began working in Washington, DC, at NCLR one week before 9/11. That week, the President of Mexico was in town meeting with Congress and the President to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate held a hearing in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, and NCLR all spoke in support of such reforms. I was on the Hill the morning of 9/11 to discuss immigration with Senate staff. After that day, my work changed quite a bit as immigration policy discussions took on new meaning and new challenges. Throughout my six years at NCLR, I worked on federal and state immigration issues, conducted public education events, wrote multiple reports, and advocated on behalf of immigrant communities. During such an important time in our country’s history, it was an honor to work with amazing colleagues on these important issues.
What do you do now?
I work on the Immigration and the States team at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Why did you choose to pursue a career outside the academy?
I had worked on immigration issues before getting my PhD and decided to return to the policy and advocacy world after graduation. I enjoy doing fast-paced, relevant, policy analysis and research.
How has your doctoral training helped you in your career?
My research and analysis skills are much improved. Moreover, my training has helped me to bridge the academic and policy worlds and to work with academics and use their research for policy and advocacy purposes.
Do you have any advice for PhD students who are thinking about pursuing a non-academic career?
There are many opportunities to do exciting work, but they may not be obvious. Many types of organizations (business, religious, labor unions, etc.) do research and policy analysis and need people who can conduct good, relevant research quickly.
Why are you a member of APSA?
To have access to journals, information about conferences, and to be a member of the Migration and Citizenship section. It’s important to be connected to the academic world.