European Union Policy Studies

Alumni Spotlight

Geoffrey Skelley (EUPS ‘11)

Geoffrey Skelley FiveThirtyEight


Current EUPS student George Vergara recently interviewed Geoffrey Skelley (EUPS ‘11), an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, about his life’s path since graduating from EUPS. In this interview, he talks about the type of work he does, important skills he uses on the job, and his advice for EUPS students after their time in Florence. Here is what he had to say:

GV: Could you describe your professional journey following your time as an EUPS student? Why did you take the path that you did?

GS: I'd always been interested in both domestic and foreign politics. Given my interest in Europe, I had gone into EUPS thinking I would get a job at a firm dealing with transatlantic relations or an NGO with a similar focus. But, life takes funny turns. When I returned to the U.S., I spent the next few months checking job listing after job listing and writing cover letter after cover letter. But, it's never good to be idle, so I took a position with an election campaign for the Virginia General Assembly in the meantime. One day, a position at the University of Virginia Center for Politics popped up on a job blog I followed and I applied. I had interned there one summer as an undergraduate, so I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to apply. It was an entry-level post, but I knew I enjoyed analyzing elections and had plenty of subject area knowledge about American politics. It wasn't what I planned, but I ended up getting the job a couple months later and fell in love with it. The rest has sort of been history. I found something I enjoyed doing and was good at, and I think if you find that, you should really consider sticking with it even if it wasn't the original plan.

GV: What are the skills you learned from EUPS that have been most beneficial to you in your professional career?

GS: By its very nature, the EUPS program challenges you to take in a lot of information very quickly without ever really slowing down. After all, the EU is a labyrinth of institutions, issues, and actors, and you're trying to acquire a high level of knowledge in a one-year master's program. You must become comfortable juggling many topics at once and rapidly synthesizing what you've learned. I always sing the praises of the dossier course because it forced me to quickly acquire knowledge about a challenging topic and then try to work through potential solutions to address a problem or at least aspects of a problem, whether it was rail policy or bringing Turkey into the EU. That is a real world skill that I routinely use. For example, if something notable occurs, I may have 24 to 48 hours to dig into some data, research relevant information, and put together a draft of 1,000 cogent words on the subject that satisfies my editors’ expectations!

GV:  Do you see any similarities between the policy analysis work you did as an EUPS student and your current work as an election analyst? What are the biggest differences?

GS: Each necessitates an analytical approach -- you absorb information on a topic and then try to make sense of it based on some things you already know and new things you've learned while trying to understand what's going on in the first place. Both require assessing quantitative and qualitative evidence. Lastly, politics obviously play a role in analyzing a policy or an election, so you have to take into account different trends, interests, and actors that might influence an outcome.

The main difference is that my work is generally focused on elections and developments in politics -- not really on the potential consequences of a policy idea. That is, I spend a lot of time looking at the horse race and less on the policies that may eventually result from an electoral outcome. Regardless, I still have to be well-versed on the goals of a candidate, debates within a party over a given policy, and party platforms because those are parts of electoral politics, so policy considerations remain an aspect of my work.

GS: Is your experience with European politics still relevant in the current work that you do, even though it is primarily American-based?

I was studying the EU in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, so, in a way, I feel as if I got an early glimpse at where politics was headed in the western world. There was dissatisfaction with aspects of the EU prior to the debt crisis, but the difficulties in Greece and other EU nations led to a spark causing an unease that I think has burned over much of the western world in the past decade, fanned by other events like the migrant crisis. Frustration with elites, a lack of faith in institutions, and identitarian politics help explain not only what's going on in the EU, but also the U.S.

GV: What is the biggest advice you could give EUPS students as many of them prepare to enter the working world for the first time after the program?

GS: Be flexible. Maybe you won't immediately find a job that you want, but you can still learn useful skills in a related field or you can be like me and accidentally stumble upon something you'll love doing. Also, don't be afraid to reach out to people who might be a helpful connection -- the worst thing they can do is say no. But, more often than not, they will probably try to help you.

To keep up with Geoffrey’s work covering U.S. electoral politics, follow him on Twitter @geoffreyvs

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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