Compared to other areas, international relations (IR) often has less opportunity for internships and work experience. It can appear that our choices are limited to think tanks, universities and the few niche commercial industries that require a solid foundation in IR. Despite this, the expectation of many is that one has fulfilled some kind of internship during their tertiary education or shortly thereafter. As an internship coordinator for the Australian Institute of International Affairs I bear witness to the demand students have for some kind of experience and due to the competition for placement, one should be aware of what internship providers look for and what to expect as a successful intern.
The first step is to find an organization that suits you and provides an internship. Second, research the internship opportunity, the intake dates and the requirements/pre-requisites. Third, craft your application to address the needs and expectations of that particular organization and effectively express your suitability based on your studies, other experience or extra-curricular activities.
What do internship providers want?
This varies greatly. Whereas some internships will be more in the interest of the organization, effectively delegating tasks usually performed by paid staff to interns, others will exist almost solely for the benefit of the intern, with tasks focused on developing skills and experience in their relevant field. Identifying the kind of work you will be expected to perform is crucial, try and gather as much information as possible from exiting or previous interns on what their time there involved and how well it can be managed with work or studies. If you cannot manage your time to accommodate all your responsibilities, they will invariably suffer – often leading to a poor reference from your organization. As internship coordinator, I, personally, look for a few key qualities.
- Availability – This is an obvious, but often overlooked issue. Make sure the internship fits into your timetable and won’t adversely affect other areas of your life. The internship provider needs to be sure of this as well. If it appears one is overburdened by commitments it can be a discouraging factor.
- Demonstrated Interest – Someone who has already gone above and beyond their studies, has been involved in extracurricular activities related to IR, has written blogs or has an observable passion for a particular issue.
- Communication and Presentation – This is universal and almost goes without saying. However, the ability to express ideas concisely, both written and verbal is essential, consider your words, don’t ramble and when writing, be precise.
- Initiative -The degree of supervision varies between internships, some organizations simply don’t have the resources to make sure all interns are on-task. Looking for opportunity and proposing ideas is a great way to stand out and get the most from your experience.
What to look for in an international relations internship.
An internship related to international relations should have you doing some kind of analytical work and/or research. An eminent organization can help you not only on paper, but also by the figures it attracts, the possibility of tapping into their networks, or at the very least, soliciting their advice on careers. An internship is where you transition from university studies to real-world experience. Adopting a writing style, broadening your knowledge beyond what you learned in university and gaining an insight into career opportunities is what you should gain from an internship.
Internships at the AIIA NSW
The AIIA NSW runs an internship program twice a year. The first intake occurs between January and mid-June, the second from June to December. Previous interns have been published in the AIIA national office’s Emerging Scholars program and others have gone on to fulfill careers in intelligence, DFAT, international law and commercial institutions. The AIIA NSW holds weekly lectures on current events in international relations and interns are expected to help with the promotion and running of these events. In addition, interns produce briefs on the discussed issues and contribute to the research conduced by the institute. Currently being researched is the topic of food security in Australia, the parliamentary involvement for going to war and the Australian media’s coverage of international issues. Contact hours are relatively low, but occur over a longer calendar period. It is essential that Tuesday afternoon/evenings are available and a few hours a week to work on tasks remotely.
An internship at the AIIA NSW seeks to provide interns with the ability to think critically about international issues apply analytical rigor to complex issues and synthesize a concise piece of work to convey their findings and recommendations.
More information on the institute can be found at – http://www.aiia.asn.au/nsw-home
William Hobart is an Internship coordinator at the Australian Institute of International Affairs.