Friday, November 20, 2009

Pickering FAQs

The main purpose of making this a public blog is to help out other people who are either applying for the Pickering fellowship or have already received it and want detailed information. But because no one wants to sift through endless blog posts I decided to paste the most basic information here. I started it back in 2010 and now that I've joined the FS myself it may be getting a bit outdated, so if anyone has better info do let me know. And if you have a question, leave a comment, I love to hear from other fellows and pre-fellows!

Who gives out the fellowship?
Who is eligible?
What is the Pickering Fellowship?
What exactly do you get?
What exactly do you owe?
What if you don't pass the FSOT?
What if you don't pass the FSOA?
What's the timeline?
Is it easier for Pickering Fellows to get into state?
How are fellows chosen?
What is the interview like?
How do you prepare for the interview/written test?
How do you prepare for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment?
What about the internships?
Where can I get more information about becoming a foreign service officer (besides this crappy blog and the Department of State's website)?
Why do I have to wade through all of your personal stories about cooking and youtube videos to find information about the State/Pickering/Foreign Service stuff?
What about the security clearance?
What about the medical clearance?
What happens with A-100?



Who gives out the fellowship?
The Pickering Fellowship is offered by the Department of State and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. I don't understand the exact relationship between the two, but it seems to me that WW handles disbursement of funding and State handles the Foreign Service Requirements.

Who is eligible?
See the WWNFF website, but basically, anyone applying for grad school in the US or in their sophmore year (I believe) of undergrad.

What is the Pickering Fellowship?
It is actally two fellowships, one for undergrads and another for grads. Since I'm a grad I'll skip to that. Pickering fellowships pay for just about everything involved in attending grad school, to the tune of $50k per year. They require the recipient to join the foreign service and serve for 3 years after graduation.

What exactly do you get?
$20k per semeseter (for 4 semesters) plus $10k per summer for 2 summers. The $20k goes first to tuition. If there is any left over, it goes next to pay for housing ($1000/month limit), then food (they will only pay for whatever you would have spent on a school mealplan), then books (only course books, no office supplies!), then one flight between your school and your home per year. If the $20k runs out somewhere before you've paid for all this then it comes out of your pocket. If there's extra money that didn't get spent you don't get to keep it.
*Note: Tuition bills go straight to WWNFF but otherwise State asks you to front the money and get reimbursed. Keep that in mind, especially if your bank account is low. I, for example, got my fall housing stipend in mid-October, so I needed to cover all those costs in the meantime.

What exactly do you owe?
You are required to 1)keep your grades at or above a 3.2 at all times 2)complete the medical and security clearances - they walk you through this process 3)research, apply for, and then complete two internships - the first at State in between your first and second years at grad school, the second overseas at an embassy, right after you graduate 4)register for and take the FSOT - you are responsible to make sure this happens 5)take the FSOA as well. You also need to make sure you aren't working more than 20 hours per week, although why anyone would want to on top of full time grad school is beyond me.

What if you don't pass the FSOT?
You can try again (and again, and again...) And/or you can apply to be a 'diplomacy fellow' which I understand to mean that you skip the FSOT and move straight to the oral, but to be honest I don't know much about this since I passed the FSOT. (yay!)

What if you don't pass the FSOA?
You have your time in grad school, plus five years after A-100 in which to pass this. If you haven't passed it before you graduate you'll enter the FS under a limited career appointment and whenever you pass it you switch to a career conditional appointment. If you don't pass then at the end of your limited appointment you're out. Also, you can take the FSOA every 6 months, and you don't have to start the process over like everyone else if you fail, so there will be lots of opportunities.

What's the timeline?
I can only speak for myself, but...

February 2010 I applied for Pickering.
April 2010 I heard back that I was a finalist.
Before the month was out I was flown back to DC for an interview/written test. And 1 or 2 days after I flew home I got the email saying I was a fellow.
May 2010 I signed a contract and submitted the security clearance paperwork, including fingerprints which was an adventure in Sri Lanka!
June 2010 Fellows in the US were flown back to DC again for an orientation, but those of us who were abroad didn't have to go.
July 2010 I had the most thorough medical exam of my life and submitted the medical clearance paperwork.
August 2010 I got my worldwide available medical clearance.
September 2009 Registered for the FSOT. Applied for summer internship with state.
October 2010 Took the FSOT and found out that I passed.
November 2010 I got my top secret security clearance. Found out that I don't have to submit Personal Narratives (apparently the fellowship application process takes the place of these)
January 2011 I got my internship assignment for the summer and all my paperwork regarding the summer housing. Also sent an email to the OA people to request a test date.
February 2011 I got a list of dates to pick from for the Oral Assessment. I picked one.
March 2011 I started a study group for the OA and put together all the paperwork to bring to the test.
April 2011 I took but didn't pass the OA. I began the 6 month wait before I can take it again.
May 2011 I started my domestic internship.
August 2011 I finished my domestic internship.
October 2011 I applied for my overseas internship and registered for the OA.
November 2011 I took and passed the FSOA. I was also offered a list of A-100 dates to choose from. Ironically only one works with my grad school schedule, so it wasn't a hard decision. (We indicate a preference only.)
February 2012 I heard where I was going for my overseas internship. (Bolivia! My first choice.)
March 2012 I did a lot of coordinating back and forth with the travel agent to get my flights set for the internship.
May 2012 I finished grad school and headed to Bolivia.
August 2012 I finished the internship and had some time off.
September 2012 I started A-100!


Is it easier for Pickering Fellows to get into state?
Undecided. It is hard to get to be a Pickering Fellow in the first place, so I'm inclined to say no. Most of the finalists were pretty outstanding individuals, who I'm confident could have gotten in anyway. However, there are some easier parts. We don't have to wait on the register and we don't have to start over if we fail a test. And there's also the possibility I suppose that you could fail the FSOT, become a diplomacy fellow, then spend 5 years not passing the FSOA, but I've heard no fellow has ever failed to meet the entry requirements.

How are fellows chosen?
The website emphasizes that the purpose is to encourage women and minorities to join the Foreign Service and there were certainly a lot of females and minorities at the interview in April. Also the crowd seemed very smart, well travelled, accomplished, and well rounded.
**From what I heard at last year's interviews there's an intermediate step here that I didn't have to go through. I think it has something to do with an online writing test that happens before finalists are chosen for the interview.

What is the interview like?
From all of the applicants, 40 are selected as finalists and flown to DC for an interview in late April. Those who are overseas complete the interview via Skype.  Finalists were split into 4 groups, the first two interviewing one day the next two the second day. The day starts with the whole group getting a pep talk/behave yourselves talk from people from State. Following this, the groups are split up, one group tackles the interview itself, while the other takes the written test. (The written test is new since I got the fellowship, I don't really know much about it.) Then they switch. The interview itself was actually really short, and since each finalist was interviewed separately there was a lot of downtime in that half of the day. Most of my group just sat in the breakfast room talking nervously. For the second part of the day finalists were driven to FSI where we had a tour, heard a presentation about consular work, and then took a written test - I think the FSI stuff is no longer a part of the interview day though. Unfortunately I have no idea how much I can say about that so I'll just not say anything. I remember signing a non-disclosure agreement at some point... From there finalists part and go their separate ways. 20 are selected as fellows.


How do you prepare for the interview/written test?
My advice is to do everything you would do to prepare for taking the oral assessment. Know the 13 dimensions and a story from your life to illustrate each of them. Be prepared to talk yourself up!
And dress for success. I thought that meant 'business casual', but luckily was saved by a FSO friend-of-a-friend, who was right on the mark when she said that only a suit (matching!) will do. Also I was advised to be very conservative in my dress, so close-toed shoes only and minimal jewelry/make-up.

How do you prepare for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment?
My advice is to join the yahoo group. Do all the practice exercises for case management and have someone give you feedback. Put together a study group and work through the practice exercises for the group exercise. Have someone who gives good feedback help you practice the interview questions under the yahoo group.
There is a ton of good information available on the web, so a quick google search should turn up more than you will need. *Also, make sure to contact WWNFF or the student programs office at State to get hooked up with a mentor who will help you practice for your oral. I found it useful even though I had already taken the oral once.

What about the internships?
In the fall of a fellow's first semester he/she is instructed to research which bureaus he/she is interested in interning with during for the domestic internship. Fellows pick two bureaus and within each of those bureaus three separate offices to apply to, ranking them by preference. They write a summary of their applicable skills for each office and also submit their resumes. Being an overachiever I also went ahead and set up an interview with the office/bureau of my choice to try to stack the deck a little. Fellows aren't guaranteed their first choice, but they do get priority, so they submit applications early (ie, in September.) And again, not necessarily representative of everyone's experience, but I was given my first choice placement in the absolute best office/bureau at state.

Fellows find out in January where they will intern. They're typically given free housing at George Washington University during the internship, which is 10 weeks long. They also get a stipend and a return flight between their home or school and DC. Fellows who are already in DC are given the option to remain in their current housing and get a daily rate to be spent. I hate to give exact numbers about the stipend and daily rate, since they are constantly reminding us that $ is based on availablity but drop me a line in the comments if you really want to know. (I can assure you, however, that both the housing $ and the stipend are pretty generous.)

As for the overseas internship, fellows apply in October (the semester after the domestic internship) for 2 different regional bureaus and 3 countries within each bureau. The regional bureaus are AF (Africa), EAP (East Asia, Pacific), EUR (Europe), NEA (Near East), SCA (South - Central Asia), and WHA (Western Hemisphere). The process is essentially identical to the domestic internship application. Fellows don't apply for positions exactly, only for countries. (In other words, they don't apply for political/economic/etc jobs.) There are 2-3 limits.
1 : No danger posts - this means any post where FSOs receive danger pay (even 5%).
2 : There has to be housing available. Some posts don't keep extra housing for interns, so fellows can't apply. (Other interns can apply because they find their own housing.)
3 : Many, but not all, posts have a language requirement/preference.

*Fellows might hear early about their internship placement. Several in my cohort heard as early as November, but others (like myself) waited until January. It just depends on the embassy.

Fellows arrange their own flights with the designated travel agency and the flights are covered by State, as is housing while in country. There is, once again, a very generous stipend.

Where can I get more information about becoming a foreign service officer (besides this crappy blog and the Department of State's website)?
Good question!
Since there are tons of blogs written by people going through every stage of the process, I would refer you to them. You can find a link to all of the foriegn service blogs that I've ever heard of at Life After Jerusalem. A Slow Move East also has a google reader list that you can use. Needless to say there is a ton of information out there.

Why do I have to wade through all of your personal stories about cooking and youtube videos to find information about the State/Pickering/Foreign Service stuff?

Because.

Because I refuse to let my job be my life (especially before it actually is my job). It is one aspect of my life, and it is important to me, but so is everything else. As the blog title is meant to imply (and no, it is not a reference to the musicians) this blog is about the journey of life and not the destination, and even if it were about the destination, it'd be a pretty short blog if I considered the FS my final destination. ;) So there you go.

What about the security clearance?"
Where do I start? For me this turned out to be 72 pages worth of very detailed information about my life. If you're anticipating a security clearance in the future you can get ahead by collecting all of your old addresses, contact information for all of your foreign friends, birthdates and middle names of everyone you plan on listing (foreigners especially), and try to figure out specific dates for times when you've been overseas. They didn't seem to care much for answers like 'March-ish'.
*My clearance took something like 8 months to come through, so get started as early as possible.

What about the medical clearance?
I can't stress enough that you should have insurance before you get this done. Also, if at all humanly possible, see if you can arrange to get it done in DC, at State. I have personally exchanged about 50 calls with my insurance company trying to get things straightened out with them in order to have State reimburse me for the expenses -(and it was expensive! Mine total $820.67 - which was fully reimbursed, but took a lot of back and forth) - so I know that of which I speak. Have insurance, bring your insurance information with you to the appointments. Follow-up immediately.

As far as the tests themselves go it's all available online somewhere, form DS-1843 if you're interested. As I recall they took blood, I had an x-ray, there was the typical check-up routine... I think that's it.

What happens with A-100?
In November or December 2011 fellows were asked to indicate their preferred A-100 date. Undergrad fellows had considerably more leeway here, since they can join any of the summer or early fall classes. Grad fellows need to pick early fall classes since they will be overseas finishing their internships. These are preferences only. State reserves the right to place people in classes based on the needs of the service.
*And just a note, since I saw on the A-100 board that people are worrying about it. I imagine that most undergrad Pickerings will be in May or June classes and most grad Pickerings will be in the early fall class because they all follow the same basic schedule. Also, most of the fellows I've met are Political coned, with Public Diplomacy a distant second. I've met exactly one each from econ, management and consular (that's me!) So this information matters mostly for the Pol and PD people.