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Authored by IOP alumnae Rahul Prabhakar '09

At the beginning of my junior year at Harvard, I went to a panel discussion at the JFK Jr. Forum that included Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. I didn’t know Mr. Rutherford at the time – but I felt like he might have some insight on what was on my mind. So when most of the Forum had cleared out, I went up to him. 

I asked him a question that many of my friends and I faced in our final two years. Doesn’t it make sense to work for a little while at any one of the well-paying jobs that recruiters pitched on campus, save up some money – and then go into public service?  He sat down and thought for a minute. I wondered if I had offended him. He finally said, “That could make sense. Sure. Generally, I’ve seen people go down two paths. Some do things for the money, others do things they love. People who do what they love seem to be happier. And if you do what you love, the money comes anyway.”

Maybe that’s obvious to many people, and I had probably heard similar – if less eloquent – advice before. But in the midst of the endless recruiting sessions, social comparisons in the dining hall, and (needless) anxiety about post-undergraduate life, it was exactly what I needed to hear. And so I told myself that I would keep all options open. 

Exactly one year after my conversation with Mr. Rutherford, the investment bank Lehman Brothers failed, and the global financial system nearly collapsed. I found myself wondering why it happened, why no one saw it coming (or so it seemed), and what politicians and regulators would do next. I was fumbling for a thesis subject, and this fell into my lap. My senior thesis led me to graduate school for four years at Oxford, where I just finished my doctorate in international relations – and now to the Department of the Treasury, where I work on the same question: how do we ensure that the failure of a single bank does not cause the collapse of global finance?

Public service can be noble, a sacrifice, and a thrill – all at the same time. It’s easy to tune out the hyper-partisan rancor and negativity in Washington when you enjoy contributing your time, energy, and mind to an important issue. It feels less like a job and more like the Forum.  

I’m just doing what I love to do.  

Rahul Prabhakar is an international economist in the Office of International Banking & Securities Markets at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  He completed his doctorate in International Relations at Oxford University, where his research focused on the implications of domestic regulatory politics for global debates on financial stability.  Rahul has also worked at the Glover Park Group and the Office of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, as well as her presidential campaign.  In 2011, he was awarded the Deirdre and Paul Malone Prize in International Relations at Oxford.  Originally from Long Island, New York, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 2009 with a degree in Government.  At the IOP, he served as chair of the Forum Committee in 2006 and 2007.

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