Rebecca Heywood (she/her) is a former public servant and an advocate for improved government services and technology focused on the needs of people. She is the founder of the #PublicSectorJobBoard, a mostly weekly newsletter of tech and innovation new and job opportunities in government across the U.S. that provides a stepping stone for those interested in transitioning into public service. 

Rebecca also leads the Governments team at U.S. Digital Response, a non-profit organization that provides pro-bono support to governments across the U.S. to improve their digital services. She builds partnerships with governmental and ecosystem partners to strengthen service delivery and digital maturity in government and build community among public servants dedicated to innovation and digital transformation. 

Prior to her work at USDR, she worked for the City of New York and the MBTA focused on changes to behind-the-scenes government operations to allow for improved policy and service delivery. She has also worked in transportation planning and engineering in the US, India, Brazil and Germany. She received her B.S. in Civil Engineering, M.S. in Transportation and Masters of City Planning from MIT. 

How Rebecca’s post-PhD plans changed from the beginning to end of graduate school

Before graduate school, Rebecca worked in international development and started her program at MIT thinking that would be what she focused on after graduating too. While international development has remained an interest, Rebecca’s graduate research was focused on New York City and this sparked an interest in understanding how cities in the United States worked. She also had the chance to work with local government in Massachusetts through courses taken at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government while pursuing her Masters at MIT and this experience helped shape her career goals.

How Rebecca found her first position out of graduate school and what she’s doing now

Rebecca’s first position out of graduate school was as a transportation planner in New York City. She found this position through a connection with a friend at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and the position fit what she wanted out of her first job: it was in government and in New York City.

In this position, Rebecca saw problems with how the governments were able to deliver their services but she felt like few other people were questioning these systems. Now in her current position with the U.S. Digital Response leading their Governments team, Rebecca is in a position to understand and improve how governments can more effectively deliver social services to people. The “systems side” of policy is a thread that connects Rebecca’s graduate work to her current position.

The sources of mentorship and advice Rebecca relied on in her career

The career Rebecca is charting in government/non-profit work isn’t a typical path, and this has made mentorship both harder to come by and important to her success. Her peers, many of whom are also working to shape their career around their interests, have been a source of mentorship. Additionally, Rebecca’s graduate research mentor at MIT gave her the space to shape her research thesis. With her unique path, Rebecca looks to folks making similarly unique choices in their careers for inspiration.

The soft skills Ruthi developed during her PhD that have been useful in her career

At MIT, Rebecca started an organization called Graduate Queer Women aimed at fostering a community of queer women across MIT with support from the Institute. This experience helped shape Rebecca’s sense that so much can be accomplished when you simply put an idea out in the world and this approach to the world has come up in her work. Rebecca also believes that graduate school is a unique moment where there are so many opportunities, both at MIT and in the larger community in Boston and Cambridge. She encourages current graduate students interested in careers in government/non-profit work to reach out to alumni (including herself!)