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Nuclear Bunker Busters

Careers in Science From the Field

Theresa Hitchens, Vice President, Center for Defense Information (CDI), Washington DC, also Director of CDI's Space Security Project.

Bachelor of Sciences In Journalism -- Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 1981 magna cum laude.

Editor of "Defense News" from 1998 to 2000, Ms. Hitchens has had a long career in journalism, with a focus on military, defense industry and NATO affairs. Her time at Defense News included five years as the newspaper's first Brussels bureau chief, from 1989 to 1993. From 1983 to 1988, she worked at Inside Washington Publishers on the group's environmental and defense-related newsletters, covering issues from nuclear waste to electronic warfare to military space.

She has long had an interest in security policy and politics, having served internships with Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels. Most recently, she was director of research at the British American Security Information Council, a think tank based in Washington and London.

Besides her duties as CDI vice president, Ms. Hitchens continues to write on nuclear and conventional arms control issues for a number of outside publications, and serves on the Editorial Board of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. She is also a member of Women in International Security and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

What is your profession?

Researcher/Manager for a NGO [Non-Governmental Organization]

What are the responsibilities of your position?

I am responsible for managing CDI's staff and helping them manage their projects; editing CDI products; public relations; and I am the director of the Space Security Project, which involves organizing conferences, writing on military space issues, giving presentations, and running a list-serve. I also have administrative duties as vice president.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

This is hard to do, as my weeks vary a great deal. Much of my schedule is determined by current events related to the topics CDI researches. I edit something for the website or publication nearly every day, as well as answer press calls and direct them to the proper researcher or speak with them myself.

I am likely to be researching and/or writing my own report or presentation or giving a presentation in any given week. I usually have at least two conferences or outside meetings a week. And then there is at least one administrative-related crisis to attend to every other day, such as a failed copier.

What are the most important personal satisfactions connected with your occupation? dissatisfactions?

Working for an NGO allows someone to exercise their political views and be involved in public policy-making on issues they care about. The biggest downside is financial, since salaries are generally low and maintaining funding for an organization is time-consuming and difficult.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

I love the issues I work on, and it is highly satisfying to feel as if your work is making a difference. The biggest challenge is not having enough staff or money to implement all the great ideas, and constantly struggling for time, people, and power to do the things most important.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

The greatest benefit is the personal satisfaction of doing something I love. It also has better hours than journalism!

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

Again, funding is the critical issue.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

You need to be a dedicated researcher, have excellent writing skills, and have excellent people skills. Interestingly, while academic background in an issue area is usually helpful, it doesn't always guarantee success in the public policy arena.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

Do as many internships as possible, at a government or international agency, an NGO, or in Congress.

What type of educational background is required?

That is a difficult question to answer. Some NGOs and think tanks
practically require a PhD. Others do not. Currently, many organizations are looking for staff with scientific backgrounds -- because public policy issues are more and more technology issues as well. Another good background that makes a candidate desirable might be business or economics--someone who can "do the math." There are a lot of political science and international relations majors out there, so having some different skill sets helps.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

The best entry level jobs are usually as a research assistant, and also often for public relations/organization type jobs. It is hard to say what entry level jobs are best; it really does depend on the organization.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

Entry level can be quite low, even for a PhD, in the 20-30K annual range. A senior analyst can make in the 40-60 range. Top managers, anywhere from 60 to 100K. Interestingly, it is hard to move up as well -- there are fewer mid-range jobs than one might expect. And senior-level jobs are often filled not by moving someone up but by moving someone senior from somewhere else. I do not know if there is a salary ceiling, to be honest. I assume top salaries vary wildly from NGO to NGO.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

Get to know people. Network, volunteer, do internships, write letters to the editor, or join an organization related to your issue area. Certainly in Washington, connections

Submitted by: Matt Merker, Susquehanna University, 2003 Fall Intern