WWS Blog

What I got away with in my application to WWS

Nov 21, 2014
Published by:
Brandon Lewis, MPA '16

Here’s what I got away with in my application to the Woodrow Wilson School:

  1. Not having a degree in economics, political science, or international relations
  2. Writing my first ever policy memo
  3. Deciding to write that memo to the president, provincial governors, minister of mines, and chairman of the state mining company of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (I mean, Why not?)
  4. Prefacing my course list with the following statement concerning my true feelings about math: “Mathematics does not interest me intrinsically”
  5. Aspiring to study Development having spent less than a year of my life in developing nations

Obviously, my strategy worked!

Okay, enough with the self-deprecation. My point is not about me; it’s about you – you are applying to the Woodrow Wilson School, and that is an excellent decision! My point is that my application represents an obvious counterfactual to the conventional idea that in order to go to policy school, you must have a policy background. To be sure, I’d say most of my classmate-colleagues studied economics, politics, IR, or a related field. But even with my unconventional background as a geologist, I am in reasonably good company among classmates with degrees in engineering or the sciences.

So why am I here? This “rocky” question is common enough for me to answer it preemptively in the LinkedIn universe:

“I am a minerals and energy geologist studying international development. Why? Because "the failure to harness natural capital is the single most important missed opportunity in economic development." -Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet

I became an exploration geologist for the thrill of finding the buried mineral and energy resources that fuel our modern society. I knew that many developing nations were resource-rich, and that finding resources in these nations had vast potential for improving the livelihoods of their citizens. Of course it is not that simple. The big problem for the developed world might be finding (and conserving) more resources, but in the developing world there is arguably an even bigger and more complicated problem: managing the discovery and development of these resources so that net benefits accrue not only to end users and extraction companies, but also to ordinary citizens (not just public officials) of the nations whose non-renewable resources are being depleted. That this management has failed miserably and chronically in developing nations all over the world has led to what many call the "resource curse." I have seen it with my own eyes - many geologists have.

My goal is to help transform the incentives and institutions around natural resource discovery and development so that they translate into catalysts for economic development and human thriving.

I came to Princeton to dive head first into the world of policy and economics, and hope to eventually emerge with the tools to help me achieve these goals. It’s looking good so far. The workload is not for the faint-hearted, but that doesn’t matter when you love what you are learning and enjoy the amazing community of people learning alongside you. When I go to a small precept discussion for my “Comparative Political Economy of Development” class every Monday, and hear perspectives from classmates who are either from or have lived for years in Botswana, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, and Tanzania (yes, the USA too!), feeling any other way about being here would be difficult.

Good luck on your applications – I look forward to meeting many of you next year!

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