Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Donna Quinn

Politics and Parliamentary Studies | 2009 - 2013

Photo of Donna Quinn

About me
I am now in the third year of my Politics and Parliamentary Studies degree and have spent the last semester on a placement in the United States Senate, working for Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland which has been the most incredible opportunity and amazing experience.

My motivation to study Politics
I heard about the PPS course from past Sixth Formers at my school and had always wanted a place on the programme; largely due to the opportunity to spend a placement year in both Washington DC and London. I’d also been up to visit Leeds a couple of times before I applied to the course so had a relatively good idea that it was a great place to live as a student  where the social side of things were concerned, and for me being in a city was also pretty significant.

The more knowledge I gain in my subject area the more I understand and enjoy it.  The fact that every day when you turn on the news there are new developments, new policies and proposals, new scandals and even disasters shows how relevant and important politics is.

Student support
The staff are very much the core of the POLIS department in Leeds. They are very willing to help with any queries and questions that arise academically, and work hard to make you feel part of a student community within POLIS.

Each student has a personal tutor to work alongside and approach for advice within POLIS and I think this particular facility has been indispensable to my studies at Leeds. Developing a personal relationship with a member of staff who is easy to approach and willing to help really does make you feel part of the School, and as a valued student rather than just a number.

Personal tutors, as well as seminar tutors within POLIS all strongly advise students to visit them within certain hours of each week with any queries they may have and I’d definitely urge future students to take advantage of this.

Outside of study
There’s an endless list of activities that students can take part in outside their academic studies. Many politics students get involved in some of the extra curricula political activities on offer such as joining a political party and volunteering for them with other students, or joining Amnesty International, Green Action, Socialist Students, the UN Association, Medsin, or the Palestine Solidarty Group for instance.

There are also huge numbers of notable politicians and other figures that give talks and briefings at the university which also prove very interesting and offer students a broader knowledge on a particular subject area or a topic of current relevance.

Students can also get involved in countless charity initiatives, sports and dance societies and even the great student newspaper, television and radio station. Leeds has been continuously voted as having one of the best student unions in the country where there is something on offer for everyone and is something all students should fully embrace, explore and make the most out of.

Outside of studying I tend to spend some time at the Edge, the new university gym where there are lots of classes to get involved in, as well as meeting up and socialising with friends. As a fresher I tried out a few clubs that the university had to offer and went to Amnesty International and well as a few Leeds Student Radio meetings.

During my time at university I have got involved in several charity events with RAG and was also the second year Course Rep for PPS where I worked alongside other students and staff members to form links between the two and discuss any issues and new initiatives that the POLIS department may have.

Leeds Uni also offers many trips abroad and last Easter I went on an incredible ski trip to France with the Leeds University Snowriders, an experience I’d recommend to anyone!

City life
Leeds is a fantastic city that is completely catered around its huge student population. Unlike many universities, I think one of Leeds strongest selling points is that the university buildings are within a campus and this really creates a sense of community amongst the students where it’s hard not to bump into someone you know throughout the day.

The city of Leeds itself also has an amazing nightlife with clubs catering to any genre of music, great restaurants and decent shops. Hyde Park is an amazing student place to live in second and third year but Headingly is also a really good location with loads of bars and restaurants.

Washington DC
During my second year I was lucky enough to have been selected to spend half of my third year placement year in Washington DC, and half in London. I have just returned from spending the semester interning for Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland’s office on Capitol Hill.  I am now about to embark on an internship with Lorely Burt MP for Solihull in her Parliamentary office.

My time in Senator Ben Cardin’s office involved a wide variety of administrative duties with responsibility for organizing and drafting constituent mail responses as well as direct interaction with constituents visiting the office. Putting together weekly binders for each of the Senators Committee Hearings was another regular task for the other interns and I, and bringing proposed Bills to the cloakroom at the side of the Senate floor was also a regular duty for us.

Researching and summarizing proposed legislation, attending hearings and briefings, and providing memos for congressional staffers also took up large chunks of my days.

Our intern supervisor thought that each of the interns should leave the office at least once or twice every day to get a full and rounded experience of working life on the Hill so I was often sent to committee rooms to attend various Congressional hearings and briefings on a wide variety of domestic and international issues ranging from topics such as the Fukushima disaster to the Greek Debt Crisis.

This was an excellent opportunity as it gave us as interns the chance to network with Capitol Hill staff and politicians, while establishing an even greater sense of professionalism and networking skills.

Each Tuesday morning during our placement we had a 9 o’clock meeting where each intern had to have a ‘highlight of the week’ ready to share with the group… although narrowing it down to just a few is pretty difficult!

I think simply walking around the Senate building, running errands or even heading to lunch, surprisingly provided for some of the highlights of my experience. The overall atmosphere and buzz on the Hill was something that shall definitely remain with me for a long time.

Bumping into Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain on quite a regular basis in the Senate corridors, waiting for elevators or for the underground shuttle, always proved a very surreal.  Having a special lunch in the grandeur of the Senator’s only dining room surrounded by so many names and faces was also quite something.
The opportunity to meet and talk to the NASA Space Shuttle astronauts who had spent 134 days in orbit was an amazing experience  and definitely fulfilled a childhood dream of mine; especially meeting Sandy Magus the only female astronaut to partake in the mission.

Having the chance to tour the West Wing of the White house , and watching  Obama  turn on the White House Christmas tree lights and Michelle read a Christmas Story with Kermit the Frog is also something I’ll definitely never forget.

Learning experience
I’ve learnt more than I could ever imagine. Not only has the placement year broadened my knowledge of different political issues in the UK and US today, but it has also given me a much greater insight into the workings, functions and day to day life of politicians and political institutions in action, and probably most interestingly, how time, priorities and money are spent.  

Apart from the obvious political knowledge and experience that I gained from the placement year, I think one of the most important skills that I’ve learnt is being part of a team in the office and working alongside colleagues.

Working fixed hours in a 9 to 6 job also taught me a lot time management wise,  and after a couple of weeks I really enjoyed the routine element of the internship. I definitely hope to transfer this skill to my individual study hours during fourth year and plan sensibly in order to get the most out of my days.

Spending a year in the working environment definitely will be pivotal to my attitude in my final year. Being in an office environment has improved my confidence in my ability to a greater degree and developed certain important transferable skills such as time management, performance under pressure and organisational skills and I think such skills will prove vital in fourth year, especially where my dissertation is concerned.

I think I shall return to Leeds in September eager and focused to do my very best and achieve the highest grade possible in my degree. Beyond this, I think the placement year has provided a great step between university life and the real world. It has set me in good stead for the start of my career, and I am very much looking forward to the future opportunities and prospects that lie ahead of me.
My future
As I’ve been lucky enough to have a gap year where I spent some time travelling, and experienced interning aboard during my time at university, I think that during my final year of university I will spend some time applying for grad schemes and hope to get onto the job market shortly after finishing university.

At present I’m still keeping my options open in relation to which specific career angle I wish to take, maybe something linked to politics within the business or industry sectors, perhaps  a political analyst. A degree from POLIS opens up a great variety of career paths and finding something I hope to be passionate about and want to base my career on is something I’m really going to explore and focus on both this year and during my final year.

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