November 19, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Courtney Joslin

When Courtney Michaluk Joslin (MA ‘15) started as a Mercatus MA Fellow, she was serious about public policy, but she wasn’t sure of what particular direction she wanted to go. Her bachelor’s degree in accounting planted the seeds of her interest in economics, as she found herself intrigued by learning “not just the rules themselves and compliance, but how they influence outcomes.” After graduating from college, Courtney worked in Washington, D.C. before applying to the MA Fellowship. She was drawn to the fellowship because of the unique opportunity to study economics through an institutional lens while living and working close to those same institutions. For the next two years she worked toward acquiring her master’s degree in economics from George Mason University, while providing research assistance to policy scholars at the Mercatus Center, and participating in workshops and reading groups, all as part of a small cohort of students who became friends while immersed in the same classes and ideas.

Part of being immersed in those ideas meant gaining experience as a research assistant at the Mercatus Center. Mercatus scholars work in a variety of policy arenas, from technology and innovation to corporate welfare to trade and immigration, and MA Fellows have the opportunity to work alongside them on multiple projects. “[I] got such broad exposure to so many policy areas that nothing has felt like it was off the table for me,” Courtney says. “That was really impactful for me, to have the ability to figure out what I wanted to do while I was there without feeling like I needed to be pigeonholed into one thing.”

[I] got such broad exposure to so many policy areas that nothing has felt like it was off the table for me.

She advises anyone thinking about applying to the MA Fellowship that “if you want to have the most optimal exposure to economic ideas and thinkers and discussions, if you want two full years of just absorbing everything, then that’s the way to go,” she says. “You’re not just taking in information. You're also writing and working with scholars and thinking of ideas, and that's really a crash course in what a career in policy is.”

The flexibility to gain experience in several different policy arenas took Courtney’s career in a direction she hadn’t envisioned. When she entered the fellowship, her policy interests included neither healthcare policy nor regulation. “And now I work in deregulatory medical research,” she says, laughing. Her official title is Resident Fellow, Commercial Freedom at the R Street Institute, where she leads R Street’s birth control disintermediation project in addition to other work on general medical disintermediation. Her job has both legislative and research components. While state legislatures are in session, she reaches out to policymakers and other think tanks, providing commentary and testifying. For the rest of the year, she focuses on research and writing, including a recent Mercatus Center policy brief on how state-level regulations might affect the uptake of a future coronavirus vaccine.

“Having exposure to the economic way of thinking and having two years to really apply that to policy has shaped the rest of my career in terms of how I think about public policy,” she says. In particular, Mercatus’s emphasis on humility in policymaking, its institutional lens, and its interdisciplinary approach have all impacted her current work. The concept of humility in policymaking “has been a huge part of how I’ve approached my job,” she says, pointing out that no matter how much knowledge you have about a particular policy area, “you can’t really predict how individuals are going to act in various policy scenarios.” Likewise, she describes the ability “to shift between looking at specifics of policy and policy reform....and the 30,000-foot view of how the institutions can affect that policy reform” as a crucial piece of her framework. “In public policy, people can get so narrow in their focus that they kind of lose sight of the idea that every policy decision has unintended consequences,” she says. “So many things that I see in my public policy debates today are so narrow-focused when really, if you pull the lens out, you see that it’s really about the institution itself.”

Having exposure to the economic way of thinking and having two years to really apply that to policy has shaped the rest of my career in terms of how I think about public policy

Asked to share an impactful quote, Courtney cites F. A. Hayek’s assertion that “nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist.” Without the MA Fellowship’s interdisciplinary approach, she says, she might have focused only on economics. “Having that interdisciplinary approach has helped me stay open to other social science aspects, to make up the whole circle of policymaking.”

In the future, Courtney plans to continue her medical disintermediation work. She’s particularly interested in continuing to research telehealth, which took on new urgency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year when the pandemic hit, she and her colleagues “got to shift into telehealth policy and do some really cool rapid-response work on how to best help patients during a quarantine and getting them to get the care that they need,” she says. “I'm really excited about digging more into telehealth and thinking about how those state regulatory regimes should be molded from what they are now.”

The MA Fellowship...is really a crash course in what a career in policy is.

Reflecting on her experience, Courtney advises anyone thinking about applying to the MA Fellowship that “if you want to have the most optimal exposure to economic ideas and thinkers and discussions, if you want two full years of just absorbing everything, then that’s the way to go,” she says. “You’re not just taking in information. You're also writing and working with scholars and thinking of ideas, and that's really a crash course in what a career in policy is.”

Her advice for current MA Fellows flows from her own experience with finding a policy path by gaining experience in several different fields: “Don’t be afraid to ask people questions. It would be rare if you would always have the opportunity to turn the corner to someone’s office who’s worked in the FDIC next to the office of someone who’s worked as the senior economist of the Joint Economic Committee,” she says, adding, “Be open to everything that you are exposed to…I don’t remember ever having an idea of something I wanted to do and being told no.”

For more information on the Mercatus MA Fellowship, and all of the other Mercatus Fellowships offered to graduate students at George Mason University as well as other universities around the world, visit students.mercatus.org.