UCL Careers


Transcript: Connecting with UCL Alumni Working in International Development

UCL Alumni with experience at the Red Cross, Global Partnerships for Education, ACTED Nigeria and the World Health Organisation share their career journey and the steps they took to work within International Development after they graduated from UCL.


organisation, internship, field, ucl, people, role, job, question, work, languages, opportunity, sophie, skills, students, programme, create, bit, experience, international development, lila


Jo Budd, Nasima Bashar, Nischa Pieris, Sophie Kostelecky, Lila Carree.

Jo Budd  00:06

Hello there, everyone and welcome to the UCL careers podcast. My name is Jo Budd and I'm a careers consultant here at UCL careers. This episode brings you a panel discussion on ways to connect with UCL alumni as part of our international development themed week. This discussion will focus on the importance of creating and maintaining professional networks, surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, and letting your curiosity lead you to find out about roles and projects you didn't know about. So let's get into it.

Nasima Bashar  00:38

So without further ado, Nischa, if I can start with you, please. Um, can you tell us a bit about what your role as a Gender Specialist involves and what a day to day looks like?

Nischa Pieris  00:50

Yes, thanks for the invitation. It's good to be back at UCL. It's been a while. So um, I mean, I can give an example of what I'm doing right now to be more specific. So part of the work that we do is to disperse COVID grants that provide relief and response to communities and in developing country. with our partners, we haven't we have about 66 partner countries within the partnership, who's within within the within their education systems they've been very stressed with with trying to deliver COVID response and then deliver learning and education while schools have been closed. And then when they reopen, bringing kids back to school. So one example is, when the schools were closed, and we were given we were giving disbursements of we had about $500 million that we were dispersing. The question was, how does the school closures? How do they affect girls and boys differently? So for example, when schools close girls were at risk of gender based violence, early pregnancies, forced marriages, how do we create the conditions for the grants to reach the girls differently. And then in terms of convincing communities that it was it was worth to keep girls in school or work to send them back to school when they open. So doing social programming around messaging around like changing social norms or addressing social norms, and creating safeguarding mechanisms so that girls who are in danger of gender based violence or or forced marriage can be reached by by the by the system, so that they can continue learning. That's just one example. That sort of an external example. And an internal example, which is what another project that I'm doing right now within the operations of our organisation is, we've made a promise to make gender mainstreaming throughout every project programme and operation that we do. So I'm also rolling out a gender course to all of the all of our staff. So I'm working with plan International, and we're trying to get everybody to have gender equality as part of their results agreement and to understand how gender works throughout their projects, programmes and activities. So it's quite a broad, a broader field gender, it's a cross cutting field, and there are loads of different ways that you can apply it. That's just two examples.

Nasima Bashar  03:21

But that sounds like a really, really rewarding role. And there's lots of different things going on, which is fantastic. Once you completed your degree at UCL, I understand you joined a non profit working with young people. Can you tell us a bit how you found that transition? What skills you felt you had implemented from your time at university? And perhaps if you feel like you still implement those skills?

Nischa Pieris  03:47

Yeah, it feels like such a long time ago. So reflecting back on that, I think, if you know, and and this has something to ask, you know, when you're when you're graduating, what is it that you want to do in terms of your immediate, your immediate goals and your long term goals. And I think my immediate goal was to understand how local communities were affected by certain social issues. And so one option could have been, you know, to do a, to do graduate programme on social work or something like that, but I kind of want to do something very, very ground level. And so this was an opportunity to work with and for very disadvantaged children, and to understand the dynamics of their disadvantage, and try and create some change that was small but impactful on the ground. So I think the skills I took them University were, you know, obviously the communication around you know, how to solve problems, how to how to communicate effectively, how to deal with kind of some advocacy and outreach. So it was a lot of like, because I did languages and then I did a Latin American Studies. So that was more of a topic that I wasn't applying so closely in my day to day but because I knew that I wanted to eventually go into something more development focused getting a Some sort of ground level work is really important. However, I did when I, I knew when I was going into that role that it was only going to be a short term opportunity. And I stayed there for a year, knowing that I had the decision was to leave London and to move abroad. So it was just I think, when you go into these first roles after you leave University, sometimes you feel like it could be long term, longer term, if it's a graduate scheme. And sometimes it's more of just a, an opportunity to get some really ground level work experience. And that's what it was for me. And I think working with effective communities is something that I was able to do when I left as well. So we can talk about that another time. But like, I think, really getting to grips with what it what your values are, and being able to understand how police brutality was affecting these kids. For example, that was one really inspiring way of understanding how communities affected by these brutality. And I and I then went back and worked on that later on.

Nasima Bashar  05:57

Just talking about values sort of leads me on to my next question, which is you continue to support the regional Working Group on women, drug policy and incarceration? And that's something you've co founded? Can you talk us through what type of things you work on any specific challenges you face and how you overcame them?

Nischa Pieris  06:16

Sure. So that group was founded with a senior colleague of mine who was really inspirational to me. So I think one of the first pieces of recommendation I would give is surround yourself by people who inspire you, because when I started that group, I was, you know, as about five years ago, as a first sort of thing that I had been had set up from scratch, but working with people who inspire me, she was senior to me, and we came up with this, this idea together when we were on a work project, and together we pooled our, our network of experts and work well together as a group. So. So um, I think, what what's really important, what was really important to me was to, despite not having necessarily a plan for it, we knew that we wanted to do advocacy work, we wanted to get people together in one space to discuss the issues that were important. And so one of one of the issues was there was that women were disproportionately incarcerated for drug crimes and Latin America. And so we created the we created some advocacy tools, we did a policy guide for decision makers on how they could create policies that were more humane and effective and human rights focused. Some of the challenges were that when we came up to governments who were more punitive in their approaches, we had to convince them of the benefits of seeing from another perspective, which is that incarceration doesn't create social doesn't create the conditions that you're eventually looking for, which is peaceful, inclusive societies, incarceration, destroys families, incarceration separates, separates communities as well. So how how do you how do you sort of reframe a problem? drug policy is a is another issue that is, you know, has a huge development focus. But often, the developer or development community don't want to look at it. So we tried to bring a topic that was considered more security topic into the human rights and development space. So that was a challenge. But and we're still working on that. So even though I'm no longer working on a day to day, I did a panel about a month ago on it with a partner group in Argentina. So it's now I do it on a on a voluntary basis. And it's still like, a very important and dear project to my heart. So making sure that you keep up with it as important as you as you move on. Whatever you whatever you want to keep doing. Just hold onto your network, I would say is a really important part of moving forward.

Nasima Bashar  08:45

That's really, really helpful advice. Thank you. And that just leads into the next question, which is, for the students in the audience today. Also, who are interested in working with area, what advice can you offer? And is there certain things you'd be encouraging for them to be doing or getting involved with at the moment,

Nischa Pieris  09:02

really honing in on what it is that you think your issue area is going to be? Because development is such a broad, broad, sort of career base, you can you could work on poverty reduction, violence, prevention, climate change, if you have a sense of what you're passionate about, look into it, reach out to organisations, either London based or internationally based and that's one of the I think, one of the ways that the pandemic has, has almost provided the opportunity to, to open up our network. So you know, you don't have to be restricted to your London community if you if there's an organisation outside of London and you know, even a field based organisation that you could do some research assistance for from your home, and reach out to people. Get yourself get yourself sort of communicating with those people who you've identified that are doing the work that you're interested in, and then ask yourself how do I want to work Do I want to work in a large multinational inter governmental institution full of bureaucratic systems where I can do you know, this certain kind of operational project and this kind of implementation? Or do you want to work in a more humanitarian setting in the field, and in which case, there are amazing opportunities to plug in, you can, you know, start starting your career, I think is a wonderful time to go to the field, because perhaps you haven't yet started, you know, family, or you're not ready to do that yet. So getting out there into the field as soon as you can, if that's something that you want to do, not everyone does want to do that, and that's okay. But if you think you want to get some ground level country, you know, deep field experience, I would say, get out there and do it as you know, as soon as it's possible to do so since it's safe to go try and do that. And I would also say, you know, this, just as more of a general recommendation is like, really, really use the UCL Career Centre, because, you know, UCL careers is a wonderful, wonderful resource, everyone is so qualified to help you and I really benefited from it myself. So, so continue to engage with UCL careers.

Nasima Bashar  11:07

Thanks, Nisha, you know, you sort of touched on the benefits of this pandemic and sort of remote delivery and Nischa is actually joining us from the States. And our other panellist Sophie is also joining us from Argentina. So it's absolutely amazing that we can have panellists from, you know, basically over the world. Thank you so much, Nischa. On to Sophie, Sophie, you are consultant at the Partnership for mental Maternal Newborn and child health. And that's hosted by the World Health Organisation. Can you tell us a little bit about what that involves?

Sophie Kostelecky  11:43

I think you'll see that I'm actually in Barcelona to clarify.

Nasima Bashar  11:46

Sorry about that.

Sophie Kostelecky  11:48

So I do a lot of different things. And I'm still at the really early stages of my career. So I started working for kmch in August. And as a consultant, I kind of do a lot of different tasks. And at the moment, we're working on an adolescence and wellbeing initiative. And that kind of role, I'm actually doing a research paper at the same time organising events in order to post this, like amplify its initiative. So I'm doing background research, writing, organising events, then doing some stakeholder management. So really, the role is quite broad, and do me a lot of opportunity to learn different things. And I also just as an Nisha was saying I have a really good mentor. And that's really important at this point for me, and I really am excited to see how this journey continues.

Nasima Bashar  12:32

It sounds like to me sort of like your role dipped into a lot of different skill sets you mentioned. So stakeholder communication, you know, event planning, all those sort of things, which is great, because a lot of our students who are in the audience today will be from various different disciplines. And so just being able to adapt their skill set and apply it to the industry, I think is great. And you were involved in volunteering, and also undertook a few posts at UCL. Can you tell us a bit about this? And what do you think of volunteering and work experience? So what value do you think has added that has added to your career so far?

Sophie Kostelecky  13:09

So I undertook a couple different things that you see how I was a transition mentor. And my third year I remember I was also a volunteer at the UCL grant museum as well. ology, I did some volunteer at the Alzheimer society. And then I was social secretary of scuba diving society. And finally, I was the community engagement officer at the UCL swimming club. And on all these different kind of roles I held, I definitely think they helped me get the internship and then the job that I have now because they gave me the experience, I kind of needed on my CV to also kind of show my interest in international development, I definitely think the UCL swimming club role that I held, I was able to organise events with different charities, different NGOs around London. And just by just getting my foot in the door with different organisations, I was able to really develop some skills, but also connect with different people. And so from I think, definitely early on, some of those people I'm still connected with. And I definitely think that was worth it

Nasima Bashar  14:03

That just goes back to sort of what Nischa was mentioning earlier about sort of mentoring and keeping your network and that sort of thing, which which is invaluable. And you touched on sort of some of the internships that you took. And I know some of the students may be concerned about not going into a sort of full time permanent role straight after graduation. And with the current climate, what are your thoughts on taking an internship rather than what is sort of advertised as a permanent role post graduation? What would you say were the benefits of your internships? I know you touched on a little bit of that earlier.

Sophie Kostelecky  14:36

Yeah there's definitely a lot of benefits. There's also negatives, I definitely wouldn't say one is better than the other. I have some friends who did two years of work experience and really even an unrelated international development field and then were able to transfer their skills from an unrelated field to an international development field. So there's definitely something to be said for that. And also just know I mean, not all internships are paid. So definitely, if it's not something that's for you, then you You know, I don't want to say that you should take one one or the other. But for me personally, I was fortunate enough to be able to do some internships that were unpaid as well as paid. For me, it allowed me to definitely explore different areas of international development, which is what kind of Nischa was saying is you should definitely hone in on where you want to go. Because it's such a broad field, I think I did one environmental one in mental health, one an HIV and AIDS. And definitely, it was definitely a good experience in terms of breadth. And also, I did different roles, which allowed me to kind of eliminate what I didn't want to do. And what I kind of wanted to focus on doing that, by the time I did that, you know, you end up having different roles, and you need to make sure you don't do too many internships to kind of show that you're not serious about what you want to do. So I definitely think it's good to really, you're interested in research, maybe do a lot of research internships, or no one or two, but don't, you know, go across the board too much, if you want to get in front end position, but definitely, I would definitely, like I said, I definitely don't think they're for everyone, if you are not able to. And I would definitely not say one or the other. But given the current job market if you're not able to get a job straight away. And internships are the only way I would definitely not say no. But definitely, I think it's individual decision as well.

Nasima Bashar  16:08

Absolutely. Well, you just sort of mentioned around, sort of having different experiences, but also being able to identify what you you don't enjoy or what you're not so good at and when you might need to upskill I think that's something that our students may not sort of comprehend as much like, Oh, I'm just going to go give it a try. But they don't realise that actually, I'm going to get sort of know what I don't like as a result of that experience. So definitely, you know, if it's from what Sophie said, is, try, you know, try something you never know if you like it or not. But yeah, especially in the current climate. Which brings me to my next question. What advice would you give to the students in the audience today? What should they be doing with their time lost in the pandemic? So obviously, international travel is restricted significantly, for obvious reasons. But you know, what should they be doing with their time that's gonna really advance their CV or give them the chance to sort of get their foot in the door within the industry?

Sophie Kostelecky  17:08

I say there's a couple things, I definitely think first of all, focusing on school is really important. I think, for me, personally, I would have this opportunity to probably do some extra reading, or read that ask not just the abstract at the time, and definitely kind of dive into different areas, which allows you to kind of also explore interests in a different way. But I definitely recommend all the resources we have out there, we have a chance now to take online courses, you know, learn some Excel, if you are interested in statistics, you know, you have a chance to really take courses and kind of put a lot of energy into developing skills that you maybe necessarily wouldn't have time for. But I definitely think even just know, I mean, it's hard to stay motivated. That's for sure. The pandemic, even for myself, I struggle to get up sometimes. And I know it was students, it's not going to be any different. But I definitely think is opportunity to kind of push ourselves through and find kind of the online communities that have volunteering opportunities, even for myself. I definitely volunteered during the pandemic online. And it's allowed me to meet new people, and which is really important. It's also made me through meeting new people made me feel like I'm moving forward, even though it seems like the world is standing still. So I definitely think it is a really great opportunity to level up your skills. Also, as Nischa was saying, find what you're interested in while you now have this time to do so. So you don't maybe take an internship that you're not necessarily interested in, and or job that you're not necessarily interested in. So you just kind of you know, focus on that a little bit more. But definitely be kind to yourself, but also push yourself. That would be my final note.

Nasima Bashar  18:36

I really like the way you put that in the sense that the world is sort of standing still. But we as individuals can propel ourselves forward, given this newly found time where we're saving, you know, some of us are working from home, or we're saving on community commuting time sort of thing. And sort of just yeah, being able to take courses online and upskill is Yeah, great advice. And if I move on to Lila. Lila, you are a project development officer at ACTED. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what your role involves?

Lila Carree  19:10

Okay, so so as a project development officer, I'm basically developing all of the projects that we have here in Nigeria, so I work for ACTED, which is a French humanitarian organisation, and I'm based in Borno state, My degree is in Nigeria. So we have like a lot of projects, basically life saving Assistance Project and some resilience one as well. And I'm managing the project, developing all of the activities in collaboration with the programme teams while I'm on the field like 24 seven. And part of my role is actually also to like, get to know the context very well and actually go on the field on a regular basis, which I really liked. It's really like a half of my time is like kind of like office work where I write a lot. So it's like a lot of writing proposals, being the focal point, we do also do like the grant grant stuff as well. But also to actually take the time to get to know the context, understand the activities on the field and have like a really good idea of what's happening. So yes, when when we can be at the office, and just like writing like proposals, proposals like just these like, like those weeks, because it's like the proposal season to get all the budgets for 2021. But then like, the next week, it will be on the field to actually see the activities. So it's kind of it's kind of broad as well, I would say. Because I'm also like the coordinating with all the teams. So we have like, a lot of people here. And I'm actually the one also, you know, when we write proposals, we need, like the effort of all the teams like programme, logistics, finance, everyone. So it's like kind of also bringing everyone on board, which is interesting, challenging, sometimes, but interesting. And the last part, I would say, is more of like a kind of like generic job, which I really like, actually, I didn't expect it in these jobs. So this is a good surprise is to basically have some time when I have the time to actually go on the field and then do some interviews, right. And this is of communication articles for for the HQ. in Paris. So that's like, how the job looks like, basically,

Nasima Bashar  21:27

I particularly sort of picked up on how everyone who's spoken so far has got a very varied role and sort of lots of skills going on. And it's really amazing that, you know, you're able to go on the field and see how these sort of activities are undertaken and get involved in the interview process and that sort of thing, which is really amazing. You also took an internship straight after your studies similar to what Sophie was involved. And you did that in Vietnam. How was that? And how was the transition from university?

Lila Carree  21:57

Um, so yeah, so basically, when I was studying at UCL, I was volunteering at the same time, during the whole year. So I think this was very, very good, actually. And then I really connected with some people during the master's degree, I mean, friends that are still friends. So network is very important. But it was actually it was not like a calculated thing. We just like, got along, and there was this girl, and she was doing this internship I had done like this internship in the past, at the EU delegation in Hanoi, in the human rights section, and I was like, Okay, that sounds like super interesting. So right after UCL, I actually, yeah, I managed to, to get the internship as well. And I did it for six months. So it was, um, I think it was a good transition. I was not paid. Like most internships, but at least I mean, it was Hanoi, it was like, I don't know that it was quite cheap. And I was, you know, I had, like, managed to save some money in the like, the month before, just after you said, I actually worked for a few months to save money. And so it was interesting. It was a bit frustrating for me, because it was a lot of like diplomacy. And I saw that this was not really for me. I mean, at least he was a good way to discover that. Yes, he was super interesting, like in terms of content. But for me, the realisation was too big. It was like a really, really big question. So yes, it was good. But, but then I knew also that I didn't want to get into like very, very big organisations. And I'm actually now kind of like, on our side, because like, equal division, particularly with eco, is that good or no, so I'm in touch with them. But, like, from the other side. So yeah, so it was, it was a good, it was a good experience. Yeah, personally, and also professionally.

Nasima Bashar  23:51

Again, the theme comes up sort of getting experience to something that you think you might want to do longer term going in and realising actually, well, maybe this isn't what I want to do, or discovering things that you know, bureaucracy and that sort of thing that you like, or maybe I don't want to be in a such a large organisation, which is great. And, you know, especially that you found that early on straight after graduation. I think that's absolutely fantastic. And you plan to continue your studies in law this upcoming summer. Can you tell us a bit about this? And what do you hope to do in the future?

Lila Carree  24:23

Yeah, so basically, I've been working like in the development and now humanitarian sector for for like, a few years now. And I was feeling like, it was both like professional but also personal experiences in the workplace that really made me want to like add like another skill. And just like, you know, become a barrister, but like really specialise in human rights. I don't know which field like within human rights yet actually like international human rights. Maybe it's going to be international human rights law, maybe like focusing on refugees or women. I don't know. But I thought it would be I was feeling that this would be like a very useful tool actually to, to defend some, some people, you know, victims of human rights abuses. But to be fair, so I basically applied and I'm supposed to start in September of 2021. But I have to say that, like, right now, the situation here is like, kind of, you know, it's kind of changing, like, overnight, everything can change overnight. I mean, it's the case with COVID-19 in the world now. But I think like a lot of security restrictions here, like attacks happening, like every week with our teams and stuff. And I'm actually wondering if I can stay a bit longer here on this mission, because like, I actually have, like, more and more, you know, like, a more and more independence in my role, I get to do the context very well, which is like, very rewarding and actually very interesting. So I might, I think I will for sure, like, study law to become, I mean, I already studied law, but just like, due to the PTC to become a barrister. But this might happen in 2022 or 2020. When I'm trying to be like to trying to be flexible and I think like a lot of people learn how to be flexible in those times. But I'm, I was just explaining that the security restrictions and challenges here are kind of like increasing this, you know, feeling of like, need to like be flexible and adapt to the situation. But I do feel that one day Yeah, we really want to have become a barrister. Maybe do it for like 10 years or forever. I don't know, maybe just having like the skill and use it in, in my job.

Nasima Bashar  26:47

Sounds amazing. Can I start where are you based at the moment? Lila?

Lila Carree  26:52

Yeah, so I'm based in Maiduguri. I don't know if you say it's the capital of Borno state. So it's like north east of Nigeria in the Sahel region. So it's basically like the where, like, where Boko Haram is. So it's like it's it's an interesting context. Because we are like, basically in like, with kind of complete almost complete lockdown most of the time. Except when we go on the fields, but like, with, like very high security restrictions, but actually, you learn quite a lot on like yourself, and yeah, it's interesting, I think it's something as Nischa was saying, like, it's so I'm very glad to be in the field. And I know that it is not something that I do for like, 10 years, because it's kind of draining as well, but you get like a lot out on it. So I think it's the best period of my life to do it.

Nasima Bashar  27:47

It sounds super rewarding, you know, challenging, but, you know, thriving environment. Also, you know, if there's something that individuals thrive on, in more you than me, but you know, that's the fantastic work, and it must be so, so rewarding. And I hope that you're able to start your nptc this September. And final question Lila is, what's your top tips for students hoping to get into international development? And what do you wish you had been told as a student?

Lila Carree  28:17

So I think it's important, like, apart from obviously, like developing academic skills and get to know like, for example, for me was like the Human Rights myself degree at UCL. So I learned a lot on my academic point of view. But at the same time, I remember people like Gordo, and he kept telling me, yeah, you have to network network, and I was really tired of it. Because for me, it was like, Okay, this doesn't feel natural. But actually, I understood that it's actually being like, super curious and honest and just have like, the courage like they're sending messages, you know, sometimes people won't answer obviously, because they are busy, but sending reminder and just trying and I think that's how you actually create a very interesting relationship. And so I would say network, but not in the way like to force yourself to, to get something out of it, but just like, try to just be curious, who knows and ask questions to people and actually trained to see if it's, this is a job that you would like to do because sometimes you have an idea about a job but actually, you know, it's kind of like illusion. So I think that's something I would I would recommend and yeah, and keep like great relationship with with the friends you make, I think we it's sometimes difficult to to socialise because we are like very focused on like, I getting grades and stuff and even though it's important, I feel like the links I developed during this year even though it was only a year were like very endowed, they're still very important honour like, like friendship level, but also, we still support each other we still give you know tips to each other in our like, you know, daily lives and like walk and our So I would really, really advise to get volunteering, obviously, but really be curious and create. Like, connect with people.

Nasima Bashar  30:10

Thank you. I really am sort of like the bit about when you said we have an illusion of what career path we want to take or like, you know what a job entails. But when we actually get these very different, which is even more so, you know, encouraging from all the panellists so far have said, sort of get involved, see how it goes, if you enjoy it, great. If you don't, then you know that you don't, which seems to be the take home message here today, talking about sort of getting on the field and lots of different experiences. I'm going to turn to our panellists. Mark. The final panellists, thank you for being so patient. And so Mark, you're currently working within the civil service. But before this, you worked with the Red Cross. Can you tell us a bit about what your work involved what your journey was, like? How your interest sort of began because your original degree was in sort of French and politics and languages sort of thing? Yeah. Tell us a little bit about that.

Mark Thomlinson  31:03

Oh, hi. And maybe to pick up something you're saying earlier about different roles, different professions. Yeah, I did French and politics. But there's roles for medics and engineers, logisticians, interpreters, all that sort of thing. So but in my case, the French and politics turned out to be quite quite appropriate because the International Committee of the Red Cross, I'm going to be saying ICRC, and it's based in Switzerland. So it's a Francophone organisation at heart. And it works in situations of armed conflict. So you're kind of embedded in in a very politicised environment. So that came in quite appropriate, I think, but maybe to answer about what what my role was split into two, there's one element was in management, and another which was more than what they call it a delegate so you're working more in the field. And in the management side, it's a lot about negotiation with community leaders, or officials, or the people with guns, so that the teams can do the job that they're there to do. And you're also setting priorities in a geographical area, motivating a team and the other side with the delegate. But I think maybe give example from I was working in, in Nablus, West Bank. And so on one hand, I was doing detention work that so going into Palestinian run places of detention, prisons, interrogation centres and things to monitor if they were respecting international norms. And then on the other half, it was associated with the occupation. So that's the same monitoring if the Israel defence forces were respecting international law. And as you just say that the Red Cross is, is mandated by the Geneva Conventions to do that kind of stuff. So you get a bit of oomph to have those those conversations. And so in all those cases, you're you're basically trying to find out what's happening on the ground, you're talking to people, you're talking to the decision makers, or if you're not, then your boss is. So it's very, very diverse, though. And I, there are other roles for doctors and engineers as well. But that's probably quick framing, for how it was for me.

Nasima Bashar  33:32

Brilliant, thank you. That just sounds like really diverse, but it's definitely really rewarding, which is something that I've picked up on. on all of our panellists experiences so far, is there a particular project that comes to mind that was really rewarding or quite challenging Mark, that you worked on?

Mark Thomlinson  33:52

quite a quite a lot come to mind. But a lot of the time, in my case, when you're dealing with, with prisons, or with the behaviour of armed forces, you're not allowed to talk about it. Otherwise, they won't tell you anything in the first place, or let you in. So I can't talk about any of those. But there's one example I can think of, which is in the northern part of Afghanistan, we were going to, to help some some displaced people with sort of pots and oil and rice and stuff you don't take from your house when you're fleeing. And we got there to do that. And then we found out about this, this nearby town that was basically situated on the front line. And the problem was that it was the planting season for the agricultural area. But that planting area, that agricultural area for them was was the front line, so they were much too scared to go out and do what they needed to do. So basically, because I've dealt with have access to land issues before. I thought, well, maybe we can do something here. Because we're neutral, we're not involved in this conflict. And so I organised we had two contacts with the government officials and police in it. And then also on the Taliban side, we have that communication, we explained to them that maybe you can do a ceasefire, these guys need to plant stuff in their fields. Because if they can't, then they won't have any food, eight or nine months from now. And you know, it's not particularly easy to do. But we got there, everyone agreed they had a three day window. And I think it's also good to remember that when you're doing aid, it's not just about dumping blankets, but it's also about what you can bring, as outsiders especially, is unlikely, you know, a Brit, who's not a medic or something, sometimes it's your status as an outsider that comes in helpful.

Nasima Bashar  35:48

Thank you, Mark. And you recently completed your masters here at UCL, it'll be great to hear how you found coming back to study following a number of years of work experience? And would you say that your professional experience has in any way helped you with your studies, whether that'd be time management, and just soft skills or organising your assignments, who to talk to having that courage to say to your supervisor, I don't understand or anything like that.

Mark Thomlinson  36:20

All of that. I mean, put it this way, I didn't, I don't think I did stay up late once, to make sure I got a submission in on time. which is not the case when I did my bachelor's, I think just I don't know if my colleagues here agree, but being in the world of work use of learn. A little bit better to prioritise. not always the case. But and I just for coming back to education is amazing. And found like in the day job, you just don't get much time to think or to read because you're just focused on on sorting out what's what's right in front of you. And I think also just appreciating availability of all of the lecturers and professors just all about knowledge and access to academic journals and stuff like that. Definitely didn't appreciate that. my bachelors really appreciated it. I went back to do the masters.

Nasima Bashar  37:23

Yeah, definitely. And just similar to what I've asked all the other panellists today, what advice would you give to students in the audience looking to start their careers or have an interest in this area? I know you and I sort of briefly discussed a distinction between humanitarian work and sort of longer term improvement. Can you just tell the audience a little bit about that?

Mark Thomlinson  37:44

Yeah so I'm only qualified to talk about half of that, that humanitarian side. But I think the in theory, at least it's seen that the humanitarian work is the sticking plaster, you're not solving anything underlying, you're just there to help with that incident and kind of emergency. And that can be conflict, or it could be natural disaster. And then on the other hand, you'd have development, which is trying to tackle longer term, quite tricky, systemic stuff, you know, like attitudes and agenda. That's that. That's traditionally how it would be seen, although it can be blurred, especially as most conflicts retracted, and don't disappear after a year. But that's certainly a distinction I wasn't aware of when I set out to do aid. And the other thing that I was thinking when I came to be interested in, do I want to do policy, or programmes, and I didn't really know what any of that was. And I think my advice would be just find an organisation that speaks to you, like, find out your passion, and just follow it. And it doesn't matter. If you're doing a job, that are not really what you want to do. If it's the right organisation. I think that's the main thing, because that's how you build your network. It's how you find out where the interesting jobs are. That's what I would say, and kind of echo what the others have said.

Nasima Bashar  39:06

Yeah, definitely. I think if there's anything that says, take home message from our panellists uses, network, you know, get involved, find out what you do, like find out what you don't like. And don't be afraid sort of thing just to send out messages on LinkedIn or, you know, some of our panellists today, I got in touch with via LinkedIn. So you know, it's not nice, it's an absolutely professional platform that is great to reach out to people that you may or may not know. And so definitely, you know, pick up on this and we're gonna open the floor to questions from the students. If you can please type your messages into the chat box. If your question is very specific. We do have the networking session to follow after this part. But I just want to say before we move on to the questions, thank you very much to our panellists so far in I think this one is for Lila Is it still possible to volunteer for acted now even though I I'm still in undergraduate studies from Aurora.

Lila Carree  40:04

Okay, can you hear me?


Okay, so I said I didn't do volunteerng escept those internship opportunities. And that's actually the way how most people I would say like 80% of my colleagues actually got a rule redacted. So it's not an internship, and then you know, they don't hire you like, if it goes well, basically, they hired straightaway after the internship, which is like six months. So it's, yeah, and it's in the field. Most of the time, I mean, HQ as a very short, it's much better in the field. So in terms of like doing it when you're undergraduate, so I think it's absolutely possible to send, like, send an application, so you just go on the ACTED website, and they have all the job opportunities with with internship opportunities, as well. So I think it's completely possible, then, as you know, like it's a French NGO, and in France, people get internships once they have like postgraduate degrees. This is like a very French system. So that would be maybe the only limitation. But I think I would say, you know, still try, I mean, you're, you know, you're gonna miss anythings are just right. And it's possible to get an internship, I think, yeah.

Nasima Bashar  41:26

Thank you, Lila. And there's a question for Sophie by Muslimah. Mulismah once the networking session starts, I think that's quite a specific question. With an answer, probably background, and you can take that up with Sophie. I think there's a question in the chat box around how to go about getting these opportunities. And I mean, it does anybody want to address that? It's not specific question to anyone other than LinkedIn that I've mentioned. But yeah, Would any of the panellists like to take that in terms of working students look for opportunities? In international development, essentially, we're getting into the field is this specific question.

Mark Thomlinson  42:07

I could go. I can only say what I did, which was I signed up for. I put my name on a bunch of names of mailing lists for internships, and I applied for loads of them. In a nutshell, that's, that's what I did. And also I did lots of kind of like a small scale volunteering, I remember, very passionate about malaria at one point, and I like basically captioning photos for some malaria organisation. So it's just you know, on a computer, but it's something you can then talk about, if you get an interview, or you even put it on your CV. It didn't feel particularly important, it probably wasn't, but it probably helped

Nischa Pieris  42:59

To people to maybe get their names on one of the UN rosters. UNHCR has a roster, they're all that it's not that you're guaranteed a position. But if you upload your CV to those rosters, when they have opportunities and your profile matches, sometimes you can get posted. And you don't need to have years and years of experience in international development. If you've done something, or if you've, if you're able to set your skills against the criteria that they that they include there, sometimes it does work out and it's you don't lose anything from putting your name on there, you're just your profile is up with them. So you could be on there for a while. And then you could get caught or you could just be on there and you can build from there. So look at the look at the UNHCR look at some of the other ones UN Women has one, two, and I think the Norwegian Red Cross has one so so it's just a way of sort of, it's also good practice to get your to see how you can craft a profile and get your skills up and, and create a create yourself a sort of story around your around your skills and your narrative, your experience.

Nasima Bashar  44:05

Thank you so much.

Sophie Kostelecky  44:09

There's a really good website called relief web that's out there that has a lot of opportunities. Not everyone knows about it. But it's quite popular for especially conflict emergencies and kind of humanitarian assistance positions. And they have a really great system, at least what used to be that you had volunteer, intern, job. And then you could really specify the number of years of experience you had, you can put zero to two. And I think for me, that was even just a good resource to see what is out there because there's so much out there just even just to get an idea. And you can also sort it by region, which is really interesting as well. So I could put in the chat for everyone if they want.

Nasima Bashar  44:43

That's super helpful. Sophie, thank you very much.

Lila Carree  44:46

Can I just add something to this?

Nasima Bashar  44:49

Go ahead Lila thank you.

Lila Carree  44:50

So everybody already very, like very good foundation to opportunities. And I think then it's also As you said, Sophie like the place to see which organisation exists which type of world they have. And you can also send I would advise to some organisations that you really likes and actually, sometimes spontaneous application, even though they don't have any, any openings, because you never know in the future and then maybe they will contact your opponent and you know, you can start as sometimes like, like volunteering, doing a few steps for them. And then when once they have an opening, then actually, they would think about you more than just like, like a random CV popping up in their mailbox. So that's what then as applications can also be useful.

Nasima Bashar  45:41

Definitely, I think that goes back to sort of mentioning about putting yourself on mailing lists, because you know, you've got nothing to lose essentially, just even by sending over your CV or letter of interest, you've got nothing to lose, other than sort of someone's going to reach out to you if they do get an opportunity, which, which is really, really good advice. And we've got a question here, how would you recommend we tackle our postgraduate degree and applying to lots of jobs and internships without doing worse than our degree? I think, and that's from Rebecca. And I think that that is a big concern for undergraduates and postgraduates. How do we manage job applications, especially if opportunities close quite quickly and early on in the year or just around exam season, so if any of the panellists would like to offer any advice on that, apply for jobs, you know, and also doing well at uni?

Sophie Kostelecky  46:27

I mean, I can take this one. So I did my master's part time, and I did it with a part time job and part time internships as well studying and I definitely think I stretched myself too thin in terms of my studies. And so I definitely think just advice is, your degree is the most important, and then do the other stuff if you don't have time. But definitely, if you don't can afford to take an internship and you have to do part time job, you can do a part time job that also gives you skill sets, UCL as I remember, has a really good, you know, student job centre, and you can build up experience, even if it's not international development, but you have something to show for yourself as well and put something on your CV. So definitely, in terms of studying and terms of balancing, and definitely, you need to be careful that you don't stretch yourself too thin, as well. So the only advice is, like, definitely think studying first and then the other stuff. That's my opinion.

Nasima Bashar  47:20

That's brilliant. Thank you. Would any of the other panellists have to add anything? Before I move on to the next question? We've got the theme of sort of languages coming up in the questions the number of students asking so is it worth learning a new language? If you don't know the language of the country that you're hoping to work in? You know, is that a problem? Would that be an obstacle? Would anyone like to take that? Because I know some of our panellists did a language. calendarbudget. Great, Nisha, thank you.

Nischa Pieris  47:43

Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is a thing for for the UK is that we don't learn languages. And so if we don't get a chance to like French, you know, in France, you learn more languages and different different countries in Europe, you do. But I think one of the, it depends, there's no good answer to this, you can go as you know, if you want to go and do a first job or an internship, somewhere where you don't speak the language, you can still go and you can do let's do language learning. At the same time, there are some jobs that will teach you how to learn, like, for example, for the for the Foreign Service, you can learn I teach you languages while you're studying to while you're preparing to go and be deployed somewhere else. I had Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. And so when I applied to the OAS, which is the organisation of American States, which is what brought me to DC, which was through an internship, by the way, it was it was it was desired, but not required. And so there were people who arrived with less less Spanish, and then learnt a lot along the way. And then there were others who didn't. And they, for example, they worked more on on the English speaking Caribbean issues. And so they sort of ended up focusing on those. So it depends, I would say, don't don't really kill yourself over that. I'm just I love languages, I've always taken to them. But there are some really amazing and inspirational development professionals who focused in on their issue areas and languages that they just learned. They've sort of learned along the way or they haven't. So I think I'm happy to talk about something specific if someone wants to ask me something. But I think, um, I think just definitely focus on your issue area. And if languages are not something that you genuinely are, you know, you know, take it so well, don't worry about it too much. Don't let that become a barrier to you going into international development.

Nasima Bashar  49:33

Thanks, Nisha. I'm just conscious of time. But there's sort of lots of questions going on about if you're not in a position to take an unpaid internship, which seems to be what a lot of students are facing at the minute, finding internships or placements that are unpaid. I know some of our panellists have discussed around volunteering, but is there anything else you'd recommend? Or any other resources that anyone's familiar with that would sort of say Students can reach to to get experience without being in a position to take an unpaid internship. Lila, can I pass that to you?

Lila Carree  50:08

Yeah I think, yeah, this is a very, very important question. Actually, we had like a debating, within our masters degree at, we signed a petition to refuse unpaid internships, and so because it's actually quite unfair, that people who can have support from parents or any, any other means can actually do have more experience. So I don't think there is like a very great solution right now. But what I would recommend is actually to either do the, if it's possible, like in the current circumstances, but to do the internship in, in another country, where it's actually way less expensive than London, because London is obviously pretty expensive. Same with like big cities like Paris, New York and stuff. And for example, acted by nitsa, your new organisation, actually, they pay their interns, so not much, but then everything is included. So for example, you go on the field, they will give you like an allowance of like, $400 per month, but you don't have to pay for anything, everything is covered. And then you gain experience. And you can either, you know, be hired with a paid position or just move to another organisation. So, yeah, I would, I would recommend trying to find some opportunities where you can, if you're not paid, at least, everything is fully covered. And you don't have to spend, you know, when you're low and then, but there is I feel like there is an in between after you graduate. And in between, yeah, your graduation. And the first proper paycheck for me was it was difficult, like I had like six months where it was really, really tricky. But I think then you need to if that's really where you want to walk, like the sector you need to be to be patient and really motivated. And then people were always telling me, once you have like one foot in the door, then it's fine. And actually they were right, but the in between can be very tiring and a bit discouraging something. But that's my, that's my advice to look for paid internship or at least everything is included.

Nasima Bashar  52:21

That's great. Thank you, Lila. Um, in terms of just a few more questions before we go into the networking part of session, which is quite interesting. He says that if we want to pursue a career path in humanitarian field, would you suggest to enter in the sector by master degree in law or master more specific specified in human rights? I'm just thinking, is there a particular panellist that would like to take this? No. Okay.

Lila Carree  52:56

So you can do both. So a lot of my colleagues did, like some very specific master's degree, about like humanitarian action in France and abroad as well. So this works for sure. But you can also access to different parts, I will, I would say that it's not like, very strict for the sector, like people come from, like different backgrounds. And it's more about like, concrete experience. So once you have the concrete experience, and you actually do the job, you basically day by day, so I would say you can do both. Yeah.

Mark Thomlinson  53:34

Yeah, maybe I can add to that. Completely, right. I mean, the lawyers who work for the ICRC they're not really the ones in the field, you do have some who are advising like on in the capitals. But I'd say their first work was not in the fields it as humanitarians often quite often. And in fact, I'd say that the main thing is about sort of enthusiasm and patience, not necessarily a specific Master's in X, Y, Z. My colleagues might contradict me on this, but I didn't have a Master's when I started. It was more about just showing that I was really passionate about the topic, and having patience.

Nasima Bashar  54:25

Great. Sophie, did you want to add anything? I noticed you're unmuted.

Sophie Kostelecky  54:29

I was asking to the previous question about internships. And I just was thinking, you know, I have a lot of friends who went into private sector out right, straight out what private sector unions, they just didn't go into a charity or an NGO, but they you know, they got marketing experience at a, let's say, a private sector firm. And then they took that marketing experience and transferred into NGO as well. And so I think there's a lot to be said, for the skills you can get in the private sector, throughout University, especially if you can afford to do an internship. I think you shouldn't be afraid to take a job that maybe isn't it The field directly. I know, friends who've done this, and then they've done volunteering at the side and the kind of the area that they're interested in. So one of them was working, you know, private sector for marketing, and then doing volunteering in a charity related to environmental health. So that gave them the kind of the interest level for their next job, but also gave them skills that they could bring to that next job, I definitely think there's, I shouldn't be students being, like, discouraged that they were not going to get their dream job straight out of university, I think there's a lot that you can do. And I definitely think if you get your dream job out of university, then maybe we should reevaluate it, I think, you know, you're just at the beginning of your journey. So I think, you know, sometimes you just do get a job that is still something you're passionate about, definitely not something you're not interested in. But definitely to get a job that will give you the skills for that next job, you know, so you kind of falling a path, at least, nothing's perfect, at least in my eyes at the moment. So you know, prepare your put yourself in the best position that you can put yourself in.

Nasima Bashar  55:58

Absolutely, I think, at least when I was a student, you know, I used to think you come out of university, you land the dream job. And that's that's it. And life sadly does not work that way. In most cases, if that is the case, for some. That's great. That's fantastic. But you know, as the panellists have said today, and I'm sure many of you will agree, that's just not the way it works. But, you know, scaffold, build up your skill set, just as you said, Sophia, and really transfer what you what they experience that you can get into whatever your next role is.

Jo Budd  56:32

Thank you all so much for listening to this episode. We hope the discussion points around using your time at university to explore your interests and gain a variety of experiences helped you think about what your next career steps might be. So thanks again for listening. And we'll see you next time on The UCL Careers Podcast.