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Student’s research fuels debate in British Parliament

Photo courtesy of Catherine Mahan

It’s not every day that one walks the halls of British Parliament. In fact, for Catherine Mahan, it was only Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Mahan, SSH’18, spent a semester in London working for Baroness Jennie Jones of Moulsecoomb, the only green party politician in the House of Lords. Through Northeastern, Mahan earned an internship with the Hansard Society of Scholars Program, during which she took class at the London School of Economics and did research on environmental policy for Jones.

Some of Mahan’s research—on the financial consequences for English and Welsh schools that have installed solar panels—made its way into the House of Lords for debate and into the British press.

“That was really exciting,” Mahan said. “It was a proud moment for me to see the product of what I’d been working on for several weeks discussed on Twitter as a real issue and hear Baroness Jones read it in the Chamber to fellow members of the House—the whole experience has been really fulfilling.”

The appreciation went both ways.

Jones said, “Cate was wonderful! She combined competence and flexibility in an impressive way, especially for someone young. She was my first intern here in Parliament and she was of such high quality that I will be very happy to have further Hansard interns.”

Living in England during an eventful period in the country’s recent history meant that Mahan learned outside the walls of school and work as well.

She was in the country during its historic “Brexit” vote, which made the U.K. the first country to begin the process of leaving the European Union since its inception. Mahan was also in London when Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election, which was held last week.

“There was real history happening there, and I was right in the middle of it,” Mahan said. “These were phenomenal processes to watch unfold.”

It also gave her a unique perspective on American governance. One of the more surprising differences she noticed was Britain’s lack of a codified, written constitution. “It was so interesting to see the flexibility they have with their constitution as opposed to how often we refer directly to ours.”

She said her experience further supported her desire to pursue a behind-the-scenes career in politics. “I don’t think I necessarily want to be a politician myself—my career goal is to do all of the work and get none of the credit,” Mahan said, laughing. “I really enjoy doing research, and all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating public policy.”