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Psychology alum Amy Tsai, PhD helps shape Seattle’s legislative landscape as a supervising Seattle City Council staffer.

As a dynamic department home to alumni who go on to a wide array of careers, UW Psychology is proud of the impact our students have on our community after graduation and beyond. One such alumna is Amy Tsai (PhD 2000), who helps shape the City of Seattle’s legislative landscape as a Supervising Legislative Analyst for the Seattle City Council. Amy was recently honored in Seattle Met Magazine’s “Most Influential Women in Seattle” issue for her work on Seattle’s police reform legislation. Read on for more on how Amy’s PhD in Psychology drives her work and for her advice for students and fellow alums working to shape their careers.

 

Q: Congratulations on being recognized in Seattle Met’s “most influential women” issue! Can you tell us a bit about your background and career and how you’ve had an impact on the Seattle community?

A: Thank you – for almost ten years (I can't believe it has been that long), I have worked in local government, as staff to the King County Council and more recently for the Seattle City Council. Central staff support the Council in its decision-making by providing fiscal and policy analysis on the potential impacts, upsides, and downsides of legislative actions, and helping to draft or revise legislation as needed. Last year, I worked on legislation that strengthened the oversight system over the Seattle Police Department. Before that, I staffed areas for the County like public health and our regional wastewater rates, which directly impact Seattle residents. All of our Councils' actions affect the public in one way or another, and it is fascinating, educational, and rewarding to be able to assist the Councilmembers in their efforts.

 

You received your PhD in Psychology from UW in 2000. How has your degree affected your career path?

The teaching and analytical skills [I learned] have been useful in every job, and I think UW Psychology with its culture of learning and philosophy instilled in me a tendency towards public service and brought out the analytical geek in me. I was jointly enrolled in UW Law school while working on my PhD and worked in legal services for a while but have been an analyst ever since. I spent some time in Olympia in fiscal, criminal justice-related, and drug prevention work primarily, before becoming a legislative analyst for the County, based in Seattle. When I took the job with the City, I literally moved across the street.

I was telling someone the other day, that when we think of experiences we have had that define who we are and our views of the world, teaching classes as a graduate student and helping students in the Psychology Writing Center have been notable influences in my life. Among other things, they reinforced in me a strong desire to help others improve and to generate quality work. I do my best to apply and use those principles as a supervising analyst.

To digress briefly, I would add that the psychological principles I learned during my education also have contributed to my daily work, in terms of helping me to better understand and frame the dynamics of human behavior, thinking, motivation, and interaction. That subject matter benefit comes in handy in any profession, so Psychology students have an extra advantage!

 

Do you have any advice to current Psychology students on finding a meaningful career after graduating?

A meaningful career is the big question we all face. To me, I find meaning in a job well done, on a task that supports the greater good. I am always trying to refine what that means to me even though I've been in the same career for a decade. What types of things do you find meaningful? What types of work experiences are on the resumés of people who have jobs you might like? Some of the best resumés tell a coherent story of background and interest leading to and culminating in the job for which you are applying. You will not always be able to stick to your storyline and sometimes you just need to pay the rent, but it helps to have a goal. And feel free to change that goal when things aren't what you expected or you change your mind.

All that said, everyone travels a different path based on who they are, their experiences, the resources at their disposal, random chance, and any number of other factors. I would suggest that the Psychology degree is multipurpose enough that it doesn't necessarily steer you in a particular direction, but wherever you land, it helps you make the most of it. Having an advanced degree from a reputable university is an automatic leg up, and then through hard work and smart work, you prove people's assumptions right.