So, you want a job in policy?

Amanda Murdie and Kate Kidder

An often overlooked question for students embarking on studying within the International Relations field (or any other for that matter), and whether it be undergraduate or postgraduate level, is what next? If you have good enough grades progressing into further study is an option well catered for in both potential and advice. Government jobs throw up a plethora of graduate program possibilities also. But what if the area you envisage yourself working in is that which straddles the two, the policy world of International policy think-tanks? What follows is a response to a question posed by Amanda Murdie to her former PhD student, Kate Kidder, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security, asking for some advice for an undergrad wanting to get into the policy world. Originally featuring as a blog post at the Duck of Minerva, the advice has been reproduced here below with Kate’s kind permission.


The question to Kate:

I’m advising a really wonderful undergrad who would like a career like you have.  Could you give her some advice as to how to break in to the security policy community?  I think she is really interested in trade-offs between law school, PhD programs, and MA programs.

Kate’s response: 

1. I would say that the number one thing that ensures a “way in” to this town/field is an internship- which are typically unpaid and last about 6 months. Of course, that was my experience, so I also admit that my sample size is skewed :). I can add a few things about my experience, both as a former intern and now as the manager of an intern:

A) you don’t just interview for an internship; your whole internship is an interview (a lot of people make the mistake of becoming poor team players as soon as they’ve “secured” an internship, which is a bad move. While internships aren’t exactly paid in cash, they are paid in networks, and those networks are worth more than money.).

B) Recognize that the foreign policy and Defense communities are really tiny, and then refer back to point #1. Recognize the confluence of three things: tiny community+tinier points of entry+bad economy= the majority of interns are essentially overqualified. The key is not to act like it (I know, it seems fairly intuitive, but you would be surprised). Also, don’t let it get you down. It’s worth it. (There should be an “it gets better” campaign for interns).

C) All interns in this city are smart. Really. All of them. So there is a lot of competition about “who’s smarter than who” or “who produces more.” A little secret: one of the ways to get ahead is to take some of that energy and just be kind and helpful. Cleaning coffee mugs with a good attitude gets you noticed. Then people realize you are smart and read your stuff.

D) Building off of that: recognize that your 40-hours-a-week is simply the cost of entry. If you really want to leverage your internship, expect to work a lot more (though no one will tell you that, because I’m pretty sure that legally they can’t). So your 40 hours of stuffing envelopes, answering phones, cleaning coffee mugs, setting up for events, etc. buys you the credibility to then turn in a piece–op-ed, blog post, what-have-you– that you stayed up all night writing before heading back into the office to stuff folders all over again. I was fortunate enough that I could incur the cost of not earning an income for 6 months; some of my fellow interns ended up doing all of that and then waiting tables until 2am…crazy, I know! Just think of it as if you’re Andrea Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, except hopefully your boss is much nicer (mine certainly was!) and your shoes probably shouldn’t cost as much (though if you are in the market, here’s some worth investing in if you are going to be running around this city and want to look uber professional:

As far as educational paths, some thoughts:

1) First things first: Go with your passion. It will all work itself out in the end. If you are more passionate about the law, go that way. If that is your path, recognize that a law degree opens a lot of doors- and a lot of lawyers in this town don’t actually practice law (and prefer it that way!). Just think, Samantha Power never took the bar.  If grad school in a specific program is more up your alley, go that route.

2) In all reality, you don’t need a Ph.D at this town at first- though an M.A. is a near-must. I’m fortunate to work in a think tank that runs like a start-up and thus is willing to be flexible- I kind of threw a wrench in the existing system by being a doctoral candidate at 29. The people who need Ph.Ds are at the fellow level- and these are people who also have about a decade of government experience. Coming in with a Ph.D and no government experience means you price yourself out of the Research Associate market without the value added of experience. But I’ve also seen that internships-turned-jobs tend to go to the interns who started with a masters. If you start the job with a masters and really want a Ph.D., work there for a few years and then pursue the Ph.D portion- and there’s a likely chance that your employer will pitch in. Alternatively, with a few years of work experience, even if you opt completely out of the workforce to pursue your Ph.D, you still have something on your resume.

Some last pieces of advice:

  • Whichever way you go with grad school/law school/experience, start to carve out your own voice. Have a “thing” that you want to claim as your little slice of expertise. The strange thing about this town is that what you claim to be an expert on, your are perceived to be an expert on until proven otherwise (which can be a really good thing or a dangerously bad thing!) Read up on it- academically, in the news, on blogs, in its industry. Sign up for Google news alerts on it. Figure out who the players are, what the arguments are, etc. (For me, it’s defense personnel policy). The policy world needs people who are simultaneously flexible enough and educated enough on research methods that they can research any topic thrown their way, while also offering their unique perspective on a very specific topic.
  • Just as in Academia, publications carry a lot of weight. But the difference in Washington is that volume kind of counts for more than quality (I know…it makes me shudder). So start getting your name out there with smaller pieces- op-eds, pieces in smaller publications, etc. Of course, it never hurts to have a piece placed in or Foreign Affairs- but when in doubt, get something out there. And this is a great way to get an edge on your “expertise.”

Amanda Murdie is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri. Kate Kidder is a Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security in Washington DC, USA. This post originally appeared on the Duck of Minerva

2013 United Nations General Assembly Internship Program

Krystalla Pearce

Each year the Australian Mission offers up to six internship positions that run for the duration of the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The General Assembly begins in mid-September and continues until just before Christmas – running for thirteen weeks in all. The Mission’s 2013 UNGA Internship Program will commence on Monday, 9 September 2013.


The job. The Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations works to support and advance Australia’s interests over a wide range of areas within the United Nations system. The Mission serves as the nucleus of the Australian delegation to the regular sessions of the General Assembly and represents Australia at a range of UN meetings that take place when the Assembly is not in session.

The work of the Mission is intense and diverse, requiring flexibility, analytical thinking and a firm understanding of diplomatic principles. The environment is complex and demanding but the work is highly rewarding for the right people.

Successful internship candidates will work under the guidance of experienced officers and will be expected to contribute to the regular diplomatic reporting undertaken by the Mission. They will primarily assist with policy work on the six main UNGA Committees – for example, attending committees and meetings and assisting Mission officers with negotiations of texts and resolutions. But there will also be a need for interns to assist with some administrative tasks associated with UNGA, and in particular the high level session.

Interns represent the Australian Government in a formal capacity in an international environment. Therefore social and cultural maturities as well as being a clear communicator are essential qualities.

The General Assembly. The General Assembly is a very important part of the United Nations calendar. During this period interns should expect to attend several formal and informal meetings a day. The daily meetings of the General Assembly and its main committees take place from 10.00am to 1.00pm and from 3.00pm to 6.00pm with regional and other groups often meeting in the morning, through the lunch break and at other times throughout the session. Be prepared for a busy schedule and working days that will often extend beyond these set times.

Key Selection Criteria. The Key Selection Criteria for the UNGA Internship program are:

• relevant qualifications and/or experience – with preference given to those who have completed tertiary studies in the areas of political science, international relations, international law, human rights, gender studies, environment and international development;
• clear communication and strong interpersonal skills;
• problem solving and analytical skills;
• proven ability to handle high pressure environments; and
• Desirable: prior exposure to, or demonstrated knowledge of, the United Nations system and Australian policies and priorities within the United Nations.

Our internship training. The first week of the UNGA internship program will include briefings and training on the workings of the Mission and the UN as a whole. Once the General Assembly is in session, the training provided to interns at the Mission is very much ‘on-the-job’. Interns will learn firsthand how the foreign service functions and gain a useful understanding of international negotiations. Over the course of the internship, they will develop a working knowledge of key UN departments and personnel and come to grips with the complexities of UN protocol and rules of procedure.

Conduct and Ethics. The Mission demands the highest standards of professional conduct from its employees. Ethical conduct by staff and interns contributes significantly to the efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace and to the standing of the Mission in New York, Australia and internationally.

In agreeing to participate in the Mission’s Internship Program and undertake duties as directed, interns are required to comply with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Locally Engaged Staff Code of Conduct, which takes account of the particular significance of the department’s representational role outside of Australia. They should be ready to accept direction and guidance from Mission officers.

Self-fundedThe Mission is not able to provide financial assistance to successful applicants. Interns are responsible for their own travel, accommodation and health insurance arrangements. The Mission will assist with visa arrangements.

Obligatory requirements 
To be an eligible applicant, you must:

• be an Australian citizen, or have been granted Australian citizenship by the end of May 2013;
• be available to re-locate to New York on a self-funded basis for the complete program from 9 September 2013 – 23 December 2013; and
• be willing to undergo a mandatory police check.

Key dates 2013– UNGA Internship

11 March 2013 – Applications open
11 April 2013 – Applications close
Mid April 2013 – Internship Committee meets
Mid-late April 2013 – Short-listed applicants interviewed
May 2013 – Internship offers extended to successful applicants
June 2013 – Successful applicants undertake police check clearance
9 September 2013 – Internship program commences in New York
20-24 December 2013 – Internship program concludes (exact end date is flexible)

How to apply. To apply, please send:

• a one-page covering letter indicating policy areas of interest;
• responses to the Key Selection Criteria detailed above – limit each criterion to 150 words;
• a CV of no more than two pages; and
• two references – names and contact details, written references not required.

Please adhere to the word/length limits stated above. Any responses over these limits will not be considered. Applications for the UNGA Internship Program must be received by email or post, with a preference for email.

Please send applications to:

Krystalla Pearce –


Krystalla Pearce
Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations
150 East 42nd Street, 33rd Floor
New York NY 10017
United States of America

For further information please contact Krystalla Pearce by email: or by phone: +1 212 351 6638.

Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations New York

INTERNational Security?

Bertram Holliss

Firstly, albeit slightly late, happy 2013 to our ISD blog readers.

I have recently had a few questions sent my way regarding internships and thought a post or two about internships might be a worthwhile endeavour to try and set up.


The types of questions I’ve been sent relate to: whether interns were able to complete or would recommend an internship while studying? How internships complemented studies or assists in the transition to the work place? What kind of skills interns gained, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t? What interns expected prior to commencing their internship and whether their expectations where matched, exceeded or fell short?

So, if you are an intern or have completed an internship or perhaps even work for an organisation that offers internship opportunities it would be great to hear from you. Of course, please feel free to explore other areas that you feel are important and might be of interest to our readers.

The posts or your comments, if required, can be anonymous. I’m also happy to link to organisations and internship opportunities/programs.

Finally, we are always on the look out for original blog posts so why not submit one today.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,