Alumni Profile: From Harvard Square to Parliament Hill

August 25, 2009
provided by The Harvard Divinity School

Margaux McDonald graduated in 2008 with a master of theological studies degree from HDS and a master of public administration degree from Harvard Kennedy School.

She is currently on leave from her position as a financial analyst in Harvard's Office of Financial Strategy and Planning to complete a summer internship under Martha Hall Findlay, member of the Canadian Parliament.

Can you briefly describe the experience of studying religion and policy at HDS and HKS? Were you able to take something you learned at one School and apply it to the other?

People are often surprised to hear about the combination of studying at both HDS and HKS; it's not necessarily intuitive. But when I explain what I studied—mainly religious extremism and its influence as a salient force on domestic and foreign policy—then the two degrees at the different Schools suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Fortunately, the two programs complemented each other and provided incredibly diverse and rich learning opportunities in their own right; however, each has a distinctly unique culture and ethos.

In my opinion, HDS provided me with a strong base in intellectual and philosophical thinking. My work there involved heavy research and writing on often challenging social and ethical issues. At HKS, the focus was on tangible, hands-on policy creation, with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning, statistical inference, and understanding the economic and social realities of an issue.

When combined into a dual-degree program, I had the best of both worlds of what proved to be an exceptionally well-paired and holistic approach to my areas of passion: religion and politics.

Why did you switch gears and accept a fellowship in financial planning?

The fellowship in financial strategy and planning was definitely a switch of gears. Even though I was quite convinced that any field involving numbers was not my forte, to my surprise, I discovered that I really enjoyed my quantitative classes at HKS on statistics and budgeting.

In the interest of strengthening these skills, I was encouraged by my budgeting professor, Linda Bilmes, to apply to the Harvard Management Fellowship Program and to a position in the Office of Financial Strategy and Planning. I was offered the position, and it couldn't have come at a better "learning" time.

A few months after I started, the economy began its decline and our office was catapulted into the center of a whirlwind experience where we had to act in real-time to deal with new financial realities that Harvard and its hefty endowment had never before seen.

I was challenged on a daily basis and, after a year there, I found myself energized at the thought of doing more of it. A couple of months ago, I accepted a permanent position with the office, so although the fellowship is over, I will be returning to Cambridge after all!

How did you secure the summer internship with Canadian Parliament member Martha Hall Findlay? What kind of work are you doing in her office and what do you hope to learn?

I was extremely fortunate this year to have been given the flexibility from the director of financial strategy and planning, Jesse Souweine, to participate in a Harvard program run through the Center for Women and Public Policy. The program, From Harvard Square to the Oval Office, accepts 40 women from across the Harvard community who are interested in running for public office.

The program is fantastic and provides summer internship support to selected participants. Hailing from Canada, I thought that a summer internship on Parliament Hill in Ottawa would be a great opportunity to re-engage with Canadian political system after four years of living in Cambridge.

I contacted a really dynamic female Member of Parliament, Martha Hall Findlay, and we agreed that I would spend my summer working with her on a book project on women and politics in Canada. It has been a great experience. I have met and interviewed a former Prime Minister, a cabinet minister, and many prominent members of the Canadian Parliament and the media. It has been a wonderfully enlightening opportunity!

Read the full article on the Harvard Divinity School's Web site.

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Margaux McDonald.

McDonald on Parliament Hill with her favorite mode of transoprtation. Photo courtesy Margaux McDonald.

"In my opinion, HDS provided me with a strong base in intellectual and philosophical thinking. My work there involved heavy research and writing on often challenging social and ethical issues. At HKS, the focus was on tangible, hands-on policy creation, with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning, statistical inference, and understanding the economic and social realities of an issue." - Margaux McDonald.

Margaux McDonald.

McDonald with Member of Parliament, Martha Hall Findlay, at the Ottawa news desk of CTV (Canadian Television Corporation). Photo courtesy Margaux McDonald.