Kaitlin Love MPA ’13 is a vice president for Ipsos Public Affairs in the U.S., where she leads the international research team in studies to help government, nonprofit, and private-sector organizations answer complex research questions and evaluate their impact. The following interview, part of a series conducted by Ahmad Jamal Wattoo MPA ’21, has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What are some of your fondest memories from your time at SIPA?
What I really loved about SIPA was how it brought people together, both from around the world, but also from all different career backgrounds and personal backgrounds. I enjoyed getting to know people who were diverse in so many ways.
When I was at SIPA I also led Follies. That was one personal experience that was really fun, and that I really enjoyed.
I want to ask you about academics at SIPA. Which courses did you enjoy most? And what do you recommend to current SIPA students?
I took a class on entrepreneurship. You developed an idea, put together a pitch deck for it, you made a short commercial, and put together a budget, and then everybody had money, so to speak, to invest in other people's ventures. I really enjoyed that kind of thought process.
You were also co-president of the Arab Students Association and vice president of SIPA Women in Leadership. Do you have any fun stories or insights you can share from your time at these student organizations?
When I joined Arab Students Association it was primarily a culturally based organization. My co-president and I tried to pivot the group to also include more programming that would help people network or get jobs. During this time, we put together a Middle East- and North Africa-focused career panel where we brought in people that had been working in and around the region. We tried to facilitate an atmosphere that was a little bit structured, but still allowed people to build those connections. I really enjoyed that effort.
At Ipsos, what projects are you currently focusing most of your attention on? Do some of these projects entail working with public-sector stakeholders?
We do a fair amount of work for the public sector, and most of it is for the UN or for the World Bank. Right now, we’re running a very large study to understand the social norms and behavioral drivers of harmful traditional practices. That's a new type of investment for the client— going beyond just measuring prevalence of behaviors to really understanding what is lying beneath that. Organizations have been working for decades to try and shift specific behaviors and there is a hypothesis that perhaps more progress is being made than is currently captured. But because we're not measuring all the steps that it takes to get to the final behavior change, there's a missing middle.
We also do quite a lot of work on humanitarian crises and migration, focused a lot in the Middle East, which was one of my areas of concentration at SIPA.
What are some of the most significant skills which you have acquired, or lessons you have learned at your current job?
I think the biggest lesson I have learned is understanding what I don’t know. Research is a little bit technical in that way — there are statisticians and PhDs, qualitative researchers that have studied methodologies for quite a long time. There's a lot of information to learn. For me, there was definitely a process of learning everything I could, and then recognizing which are the parts that I don't know.
If a client asked me about something very technical, I am confident in saying I don't know the answer to that. I think that kind of acceptance of imperfection and humility has been really important.
One of the more practical things that I've learned is that project management is a great skill to have. Managing a project to time and to budget is an entirely different challenge, especially when you work like I do in professional services. We have a certain number of hours that need to be allocated to the project and it's always a struggle between how we make sure we're delivering for clients and how we make sure that our projects stay financially viable from a company perspective.
If you could re-live your time at SIPA, what would you do differently?
I had lived in New York before SIPA, and I loved it, so I stayed there during graduate school, even though I knew the opportunities post-graduation were more limited. This made hunting for a job a little bit difficult, because there are only so many available jobs in New York City in the type of work that SIPA students want to do. That's how I ended up in D.C after SIPA.
I think putting a little bit more thought and effort into post-SIPA life, and what that was going to look like and what I could do to advance that along the way while I was still at SIPA — I would have done more of that and more proactive networking and reaching out.
Do you have any parting advice for SIPA students that are currently looking for internships or full-time positions in public affairs?
I've always cast a really wide net in terms of the type of work that I would apply for or be interested in. I always knew that I wanted to work in international development, and specifically in the Middle East. However, I graduated college right when the stock market crashed so I spent a few years really just doing anything, any job that I could get.
Right before I came to SIPA, I was a paralegal at a labor union law firm. In retrospect, I learned so many skills in that job that I still use today, including organizational skills, attention to detail, and project management, though it had nothing to do with what I knew I was interested in.
People should really view their career as a process and not as an outcome. Have faith and have confidence in yourself, and don’t spend too much time focusing on other people. I think there's definitely a propensity to look at my LinkedIn profile and be like, Wow, that's amazing. But it was pretty messy getting here along the way. Don’t put too much stock or too much weight into comparing yourself to other people, because everybody is on a path and it never looks as perfect as it does on LinkedIn.