An Alum’s Story

“How a Mercatus Center Fellowship Altered My Studies and Career Path” with Trace Mitchell

Mercatus Center graduate student fellowships provide exposure to, training in, and experience utilizing the foundations and applied policy implications of the Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington schools of political economy. Fellows interact with scholars and other students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, and are connected to a network of hundreds of alumni.

This is one alum’s story.

If I could give a single piece of advice to any graduate or law school student, it would be to apply to one of the Mercatus Center’s graduate student fellowships. The semester before I started law school, I applied for the Mercatus Center’s Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship. At the time, I knew very little about the Mercatus Center, and my familiarity with Bastiat drew me in more than anything else. I applied assuming that I had only a small chance of actually being admitted to the program. But sure enough, a few weeks later I received an email congratulating me on my acceptance into the 2017–2018 Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship. I had absolutely no idea how transformative this experience would be for me.

I fell in love with the Mercatus Center’s student programs right off the bat. To begin with, they gave me a ton of free books — and there are very few things I like more than free books. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. During my first semester of law school, I attended my first weekend colloquium. I walked into this beautiful hotel not knowing what to expect. I checked in and began talking with a few of the other fellows. Over the course of the year, these people would become some of my closest friends.

We began by listening to a lecture from the brilliant Dr. Peter Boettke on the Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington schools of political economy. I had read some of his work before, but having the chance to hear him speak in real-life was truly indescribable. His passion and knowledge were two traits that he shared with every speaker we heard from throughout the year.

The following day, the other Fellows and I sat around a table with Dr. Boettke and had the opportunity to engage in discussion surrounding some of the assigned readings. There were Fellows from Venezuela, New Zealand, and a number of other countries. They were studying topics ranging from public policy and economics, to education and architecture. I have always enjoyed round-table discussions but getting to hear such diverse perspectives made this one stand out above any colloquium I ever attended. Throughout the day we participated in open and honest deliberation, not always reaching agreement but always walking away with a more nuanced perspective than when we began. As I left the first colloquium, my mind was reeling with everything I had learned and all of the insights I looked forward to taking with me as I went back to my normal studies.

Over the next several months, I noticed my perspective on legal analysis change. I began to see things from different points of view and develop a more holistic understanding of legal institutions and the actors within them. I found it much easier to get through my assigned reading for class, and I walked away with a better understanding of my material. At the end of the semester, I did far better in my classes than I ever thought I would, and I attribute a great deal of that success to the growth I experienced as a result of the Mercatus Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship.

But intellectual growth is just one of the incredible benefits that come with participating in the Mercatus Center graduate student fellowships. Networking opportunities were almost equally valuable. Not only did I have the ability to network with other graduate and law school students, I also got the chance to network with esteemed scholars. In fact, at one of the colloquia I was introduced to a policy researcher who went on to become a mentor of mine. She later informed me about a job opportunity at the Mercatus Center that she thought would be a good fit for me. I applied, interviewed, and received the position. Almost a year later, I am still working within that role. I know for a fact that I would not have this job, this career path, or these connections, if it were not for my participation in one of the Mercatus Center’s student programs.

While I cannot promise that you will have the same life-changing experience that I had, I can promise you that you will be glad you applied to one of the Mercatus Center’s graduate student fellowships.


Trace Mitchell is a Research Assistant at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Trace is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, where he received a BA in Political Science. He is currently pursuing a JD at the George Mason University, Antonin Scalia Law School. He is also an alum of the Mercatus Center’s Frederic Bastiat Fellowship.