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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Megan McPhee

The top young thinkers in economics, education, political science, and more.

In the spring of 2014, then 25-year-old Megan McPhee found herself drafting the United States government's first response plan to the Ebola crisis. When the crisis erupted, McPhee was working at the U.S. Office of West African Affairs as part of her two-year fellowship with Princeton University's Scholars in the Nation's Service Initiative. Her team happened to be short-staffed, and McPhee stepped into a leadership role.

In her new position, McPhee struggled with balancing short-term goals, like transporting masks and gloves to affected areas, with long-term goals, like addressing the epidemic's major economic impacts. Seeking to meet all these goals, she regularly worked 16 hours per day. "I was constantly aware that delays had direct and immediate consequences on human lives," McPhee says.

Despite the job's challenges, working on the Ebola crisis convinced McPhee that she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy. "I am motivated by the feeling that this work matters, that every day holds the promise of doing things that truly make a difference in real people's lives," she says.

McPhee comes from Sudbury, Massachusetts. "Growing up in such a historical area helped fuel my love of history, but it also made me curious to learn about things outside my small hometown," she says. As a kid, McPhee dreamed of faraway places. She was a big fan of the Indiana Jones movies.

We'll be publishing profiles of this year's list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of March. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day at Pacific Standard.

McPhee's early career has already helped her realize her childhood dreams of adventure. Before her appointment with the Office of West African Affairs in Washington, D.C., McPhee worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali, for six months.

Now, McPhee is looking forward to traveling to Saudi Arabia for her first assignment as a U.S. consular officer. In preparation for her June departure, McPhee is intensively studying Arabic, which she says is "extremely difficult." When we spoke with her two months into her Arabic training, McPhee said: "Today I wanted to say, 'Europe is facing a difficult choice.' But instead I said, 'Europe is facing a difficult cucumber.'"

McPhee often travels with her violin in tow. In addition to a bachelor's and master's degrees in public affairs from Princeton, she holds a certificate in musical performance. "Public policy is, at the end of the day, about people, and music has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never otherwise would have," she says.

One of McPhee's most memorable experiences abroad was watching the musical duo Amadou & Mariam play their first concert in Mali since the start of a wave of conflict in the country in 2012. Mali had just endured a coup d'etat and a countercoup. Violent extremist groups had effectively banned all music in the areas of Mali that they controlled in 2012. "In all this turmoil, it was incredibly powerful to see celebration," McPhee says.


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