The First Year Out: Avoiding the Sad Desk Lunch

I’m a recent graduate of the MPP program here at Sanford and am currently working as an education policy analyst in Raleigh. Prior to attending graduate school, I was a middle and high school teacher. While I’ve held down other internships and part-time work, my current role is my first full-time desk job and the experience has been illuminating. I wanted to share some of my reflections on post-graduate life and the things I’ve learned so far!

  • Managing Up: A few weeks ago, a coworker gave me a book on managing up and I highly recommend it. The book offers really good tips on managing several projects, persuading supervisors to champion your initiatives and working with new (or multiple) bosses. Managing up has especially helped me to think about how to be viewed as an asset within my organization, where people are much older and more experienced than me.
  • Sad desk lunch: Sad desk lunch is a public hazard. I get that we are all busy and juggling multiple deadlines and taking even 15 minutes for lunch seems like a luxury. But are you really working as you eat? I find that eating my lunch in the common room, away from a computer screen, or outside makes me less prone to distractions. I’ve even made a few lunch buddies!
  • Thinking local: Except for college, I’ve never lived in a city for more than two years. The the inevitability of moving again has generally prevented me from getting too engaged in the community. Since moving to Raleigh, I’ve made more of an effort to think and act local. Every morning, I take a few minutes to scan the local newspaper and get a sense of issues in the state. I’ve also committed myself to attending at least one community event (a local school board meeting, for example) each month. Other ways to get educated on local affairs include listening to WUNC’s State of Things or joining civic groups like the Durham People’s Alliance.
  • Work-life balance: The notion of a work-life balance is inherently a privileged one. As a teacher, I wasn’t accustomed to the luxury of being able to tune out work when I got home. But, with my current job, I’m able to draw boundaries around working over the weekend. I even have coworkers who don’t sync their work emails to their phones. The idea of being tethered to our jobs is very American-- and unhealthy. The stress levels coupled with the feeling of constantly being “on” when I taught had some pretty detrimental effects on my health. I do recommend that whatever work-life balance looks like for you, just remember to communicate your expectations to co-workers and supervisors.

Indira Dammu is a 2014 alumna of Sanford's MPP program, where she focused on education and health policy. She is currently working as an education policy analyst for North Carolina New Schools, a professional services agency focused on high-performing schools and high-performing school districts in the state.

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