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When I applied to DukeEngage Washington, D.C., I hadn’t expected the amount of realism this experience would provide me. While in other programs students may witness the life of a refugee first-hand or see the effects of poverty, I was given the opportunity of living the life of a recent graduate, struggling to find a job in our nation’s capital.

I arrived in D.C. thinking that my position had been secured, just as everyone else had theirs secured. Walking into work the first day at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), I was filled with enthusiasm too intense for anyone going to a 9-to-5 job. But I was excited. I was excited to work in D.C. and gain valuable experience. I was excited to work with new people and pick their brains. I was excited to prove to myself that I was as good at real life as I am at academics. Alas, my excitement was all for naught. As I was doing the more in-depth background readings I had been given, my supervisor called me into her office to talk, I presumed, about my projects going forward. It turns out I was only half right in my assumption. We did indeed talk about possible projects for me to work on, but it seemed that a problem had arisen. She then explained to me that Human Resources (HR) needed me to be off the company grounds ASAP because of PCORI policies. Not quite understanding the implications of the situation, I happily took the rest of my day off since I had not gotten enough sleep the night before. After a quick afternoon nap, I woke up to an email from my program coordinator explaining to me the legal hiccup that I was in.

PCORI has a No-Gift Policy, in which the definition of a gift ranges from monetary compensation to services. Unfortunately, my services as a DukeEngage extern counted as a gift because I was an unpaid extern. In order to resolve the problem, PCORI insisted on transferring me into their intern program, which would offer a slew of benefits…one of which being monetary payment. My contract with DukeEngage states, however, that I cannot be paid for my labor done whilst in DukeEngage. This was the dilemma.

After half a week of emails and constant communication, the policies regarding payment from both organizations could not be violated. The only solution? To remove me from the offered position at PCORI. This was quite an unfavorable sequence of events, as the job that PCORI was doing on helping researchers implement their research into the real world was something that interests me. Nevertheless, I type this blog sitting at my new job working with the Government Relations branch of Duke in D.C., where the work I do range from vacuuming chairs to researching data privacy laws.

The important lesson I learned from this experience is that, while life will have its bumps, things will usually work out, sometimes for the better. Being flexible when obstacles present themselves can help to avoid them or speed up the process to overcome them. And since conflicts are inevitable, it’s better to face them with a positive attitude than a negative one.