“I wouldn’t have thought that a doctorate would help my career on Capitol Hill, but that has definitely been the case,” says Colleen J. Shogan (PhD 2002, Political Science), who was named deputy director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in August, after serving for several years as assistant director of the Government and Finance Division of CRS. “It is an unusual credential on Capitol Hill, and consequently it is generally well respected. Lawyers are a dime a dozen, but not staffers with doctorates. I’ve found that it’s opened many doors, including my recent selection as deputy director of CRS.”
In announcing the appointment, CRS Director Mary B. Mazanec said, “Colleen Shogan brings to this position broad management experience within CRS, expertise in public policy, a comprehensive understanding of legislative branch operations, and noteworthy academic credentials. The deputy director plays an important role in overseeing the service’s research and analytic support to Congress.”
CRS, an administrative unit of the Library of Congress, works for committees and members of the United States Congress. It provides research and analyses that are objective, authoritative, nonpartisan, and confidential, dealing with all legislative and oversight issues.
To succeed at CRS, “Analytical skills are fundamental,” Shogan says. “Can you think quickly and process large amounts of information? The ability to write clearly and concisely is important. I’ve been able to improve my writing skills over time, but I did a lot of writing at Yale, and that certainly has helped me succeed in the various positions I have held on the Hill. In my current job, I oversee all the research completed at CRS, so my strong background in empirical analysis and research methodology has carried me very far. The research methodology classes I took at Yale have been very helpful, and yes, studying for the Methodology field exam really solidified those fundamental principles in my brain. Just the other day, I was able to recall the fundamental assumptions of regression analysis when I was examining an econometric model, and I know precisely which class in Yale taught me about those assumptions!”
Politics and political science have been her passions since junior high school, she says. “I went to Boston College, and I was a Political Science major. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would study anything but politics.” She came to Yale to focus on presidential history with Stephen Skowronek, and he and David Mayhew advised her dissertation, which “examined how presidents have used moral and religious rhetoric throughout American history in an attempt to bolster their political authority.” After some revision, her thesis was published in 2006 by Texas A&M University Press as The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents.
“Most of my research was completed in the libraries at Yale,” she says. “When I finished my dissertation, I had the maximum number of books (200) checked out from Yale libraries. The day I returned all of the books, the staff at the front desk atSterling clapped for me! It was a great moment that I will never forget.”
Following graduation, Shogan was an assistant professor at George Mason University from 2002 to 2006. “I always thought I would enter academia and remain a professor for my professional career,” she says. “I had no ambition to work for Congress or government. But then I had an opportunity through the American Political Science Association Congressional fellowship to work in the Senate, and I never returned to academia. The excitement of being part of the policymaking and political process kept me on Capitol Hill.” After serving as a fellow and then as legislative staff in the U.S. Senate, she applied for, and was offered a position at CRS in 2008.
“CRS is nonpartisan and objective, and we provide research to all members of Congress. I did not know if I would like that aspect of the job, since I previously worked for only one Senator, but it turns out it is fantastic. If you don’t understand how both sides of the aisle view an issue, you don’t fully comprehend the complexities of a given policy problem,” she notes.
Shogan has remained closely tied to Yale since her graduation. She’s been an active member of the Graduate School Alumni Association for six years, serving as its secretary in 2011–2012, following three years as a member of the board and two as an advisory trustee. Among her many contributions, she moderated a panel on careers in government and the non-profit sector for the GSAA-hosted mentoring workshop for students, “Where Do I Go from Yale?” in May 2010.