A Summer at the U.N.

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Benjamin Fogel, CAS ’17

fogel2I had the incredible opportunity this summer to attend the entirety of the 26th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. I worked for United Nations Watch, a non-governmental organization with Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). My responsibilities included closely observing the progress of the Council, following debate and tracking the resolutions that the Council ultimately adopted or rejected.

Working this summer at the UN was an extraordinary adventure and an invaluable experience. It is not uncommon for students to open a textbook and read about international relations or hear a harrowing tale about the plight of others around the world but to be able to live global diplomacy and speak directly to victims of grave human rights abuses is something that I will never forget. I learned that despite living in the hyper-connected, globalized 21st century, misconceptions about the UN and the world as a whole are ubiquitous. Many common assumptions I held about the world, global politics, and what it means to uphold human rights were challenged during my work and forced me to face those realities.

The highlight of my time at the UN was on June 18th, when, in front of the main session of the UNHRC, I testified on the “Situation of Human Rights in Belarus.” Leading up to my speech, I tracked the discussion in the international community regarding human rights in Belarus by attending numerous meetings sponsored by human rights organizations, various nations and bodies (such as the EU), speaking to human rights activists and victims of human rights abuses from Belarus, and listening to experts on the matter. Hearing the President of the UNHRC give me the floor to speak, seeing delegates from countries around the world turn around to listen to what I had to say and then hearing my voice echo throughout the room was an unparalleled feeling. In that brief moment, I had the power to be heard on the international stage, the responsibility to speak out on behalf of the people of Belarus and was as important as anyone else in the room. It was a glimpse into the real working world of international affairs.

Being at the UN was an eye-opening experience that taught me about the importance of keeping an open mind and the necessity of being adaptable and responsive in order to draw intelligent, comprehensive and honest conclusions about a subject. Since the UN comprises various components of State governments, international bureaucracies and civil society, I was compelled to adjust my perspective in order to fully grasp and comprehend the many working parts of the UNHRC that incorporate its modus operandi. I observed firsthand the discrepancy between the genuine truth and the facade many believe because of coordinated deception or willful ignorance.

I am immensely grateful to the University of Pennsylvania Career Services for supporting this opportunity and me. I will be able to take this experience and the lessons I learned from it and apply it to my future academic and career endeavors. This was surely a summer I will look back on as a significant moment in my intellectual and vocational development.

Ben Fogel testifying before the UNHRC, on June 18th, 2014 on the “Situation of Human Rights in Belarus.”


BLAST from the PAST – it’s career fair time again

Dr. Joseph Barber

And you thought we were all done with career fairs after the very busy beginning of September. If you are a PhD student or postdoc in a STEM field, then the good news is that there’s a career fair just for you coming very soon. The beginning of October is Biomedical & Life Sciences Career Fair time, and I encourage all PhD students and postdocs to make the use of this event to EXPLORE career fields, NETWORK with employers and Penn alumni representing their employers, and APPLY for actual positions. Even if you are not in the position to apply (perhaps you are early in your PhD program or just starting your postdoc), there is still lots you can do at a career fair to be productive. You can find below a post I wrote back in 2010 that summarizes 6 benefits of career fairs even when you are not applying for a job right now…

Six things you can do at career fairs even if you aren’t actively looking for a job

1) Hand people your well-formatted, mistake-free, Career Services’ critiqued resume. OK, if you are not looking for a job, this is one that you might be able to skip. But…, what happens if you are chatting with employers (see below), and someone asks about your experience, and then says, “do you have a resume I can take away with me?”. As you don’t want to miss this opportunity to network, which is the better answer:

  • “Errr…., no, but I can write my name and email on this napkin”
  • “Yes, this reflects my experience to date, and obviously I am going to be gaining more experience over the next few months/years. If I were interested in this type of opportunity, can you see any areas where additional experience might help me in this career field?”
  • “What’s a resume?”

2) Network. People with effective networks build them continuously over time, and may not seek anything from their contacts for many months or years. They spend their time developing and maintaining their network so that when they do need help, the network is already there for them, and the people within the network know and trust them. The best time to network from a career perspective is when you are not actively looking for a job. You have more time, and you come across as less desperate. If you work hard to help people remember you by staying in contact, then you increase the likelihood that they’ll be thinking of you when future job opportunities arise. So, take time at career fairs to share your information with people in different career fields, think of creative ways to maintain contact with them over time to establish an effective relationship, and ask the most important question of all to gain access to their network: “Do you anyone you think I should talk with to find out more information?

3) Think about Plan B. You may have your heart set on one type of job, or working at one specific organization, and it is important that you work hard to achieve what you want. However, it never hurts to have a back-up plan, your career Plan B. If you are a graduate student, then you may be planning on following the tenure track, and seeking only academic teaching or research positions. The academic job market is hard to predict, and will always be changeable, but it will always be highly competitive, and there will always be someone who does not get the job they interviewed for. We hope that person is not you, and we’ll work hard with you to help you be the successful one, but it never hurts to be thinking about Plan B. If you need to switch tracks at a future date, will you have enough transferable skills and experiences to make you a competitive candidate in a completely different career field? At the career fair you can ask recruiters what they are looking for in resumes for the types of jobs they have available now. They might be able to help identify the kind of experiences you can gain in the present, and over the next few months/years, that might make you competitive for other types of jobs in the future.

4) Tell people about yourself. The question “tell me about yourself” will come up whenever you meet new people (whether spoken or inferred), but can also be asked during phone and in-person interviews. You need to have an interesting, succinct, and confident answer. You are the expert in the subject of you, and so it is the one topic that you should have no hesitation talking about. Career fairs are a great place to practice talking about yourself, as you need to summarize who you are, what skills you have, where you want to be going in the future, and how the person you are talking with might be able to help, all within about 30-60 seconds. When you are networking, people need to know what your network goals are so that they know how they can help you. For example, are you looking for information, opportunities, or future contacts?

5) Talk about your research. Graduate students have two types of tricky questions to answer in terms of what they have been doing with themselves. When telling people about yourself, you will of course mention the research you do, but research is not the only topic you should talk about. The “tell me about yourself” answer needs to be slightly broader (e.g., what brought you to Penn, what are some of the key skills you have, how have your experiences changed the way you think about aspects of the world, and how do you see yourself using your knowledge and skills in the future). When talking more specifically about your research, you will need to summarize what you do in a way that makes your subject understandable to a range of different people with differing degrees of expertise in your specific area. Can you tailor a summary about your research on ancient Aramaic texts or Tribble genes to experts in the field and to HR representatives? Can you make your research interesting and relevant to them? Again, career fairs are a great way to practice talking about your research, and it does take practice.

6) See how it is done. You don’t want your first career fair to be the one where you need to find a job. You want to work out all of your career fair nerves beforehand. Even if you don’t talk to any employers (and you really should – they won’t bite), you can still watch how your peers handle themselves at career fairs? You can see how they are dressed, and whether they are keeping their right hand free to shake hands with people they meet, without having to juggle paperwork and drinks (and that means thinking about which shoulder to hang your bag on, so it doesn’t slip off when extending your hand). Small things can sometimes count when you are trying to make a good first impression. You can listen to the types of questions they ask, and you can learn to emulate or avoid the good or bad approaches they use.

Make use of this BLAST from the PAST to help put you on track for your successful future!

International Relations in Chicago

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Caitlyn Ibrahim, CAS ’16

The summer after my freshman year I had an internship with Penn’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program conducting research with a focus on the Middle East. I was first introduced to research organizations through this internship and learned a significant amount about the purpose, significance, and concerns of these organizations from reading literature on the topic and looking at trends in data collected from surveys. As I began to consider what I wanted to do during the summer before my Junior year, I realized that gaining experience outside of an academic setting was crucial. I knew that a majority of international relations majors either headed straight for D.C. or went abroad because of the higher concentration of IR-related internship opportunities. I also knew that I wanted to do something different. While researching think tank organizations I realized that all the big names were in D.C.—huge research organizations with hundreds of staff members. I wanted to go somewhere where I would be able to interact with all the different departments within the organization, somewhere where my contribution (no matter how small) would be considered important, somewhere were I could learn new skills by forming a close relationship with the staff, and have experts help me improve old skills. I realized the perfect organization for my personal needs and interests was the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

A major aspect of my internship that deserves some attention in this post is its fantastic location in downtown Chicago. I highly recommend that those looking for internships consider applying in Chicago. The city has a very young professional vibe that is helpful for expanding networks and getting a feel for what life will be like after college. That being said, it’s also really fun because the city itself hosts dozens of festivals and concerts all summer long so it is really easy to enjoy your stay, have fun, and meet new people while simultaneously benefiting from a productive work environment during the week. My experience at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs really reflects the nature of the city and all the aspects I was looking for in an internship.  The Council was small enough that I could really get to know the role of each staff member and become familiar with how all the departments fit together. In addition to this advantage, the Council is seen as one of the most influential organizations of its kind. I was therefore able to come in contact with and meet many leaders in my field of study, including former ambassadors, research fellows, and embassy workers, as well as some of the most important business men in the Midwest. The staff members at the Council are all really focused on making their interns feel welcome, helping them learn, and keeping them busy doing important work. I really appreciated the fact that each department hosted a round table discussion with the interns so that every intern was given the chance to hear about the background of people working within those departments and learn about all the different branches that help a research organization operate smoothly.

From my experience at the Council, I can suggest that every undergrad pursue at least one internship in which they work in a professional office environment. A lot of students take many simple things for granted that are better learned as an intern than as a college graduate working their first job; things like how to dress appropriately, how to perform administrative tasks, write and speak appropriately, etc. Luckily, my mentor Melanie Hannon (assistant to the Council’s president Ambassador Ivo Daalder) helped me to learn these things quickly in my first weeks at the Council so that I could spend the rest of the time working on gaining more field-specific skills and conducting some interesting research. During the summer, I learned how to accomplish the tasks that went into planning think tank events like briefings, lectures, round table discussions, and meetings. I also had the opportunity to work on updating one of the Council’s oldest and most successful studies The 2014 Biennial American Survey, a public opinion survey focusing on the attitudes of Americans towards the U.S. government and its policies as well as other related topics. I was even able to work closely with the Council’s senior follow on the Middle East, hearing about his career path and experiences and conducting background research for his articles. Reflecting back on this summer, I am really glad that I reached out to Penn Career Services because without their help, I would not have been able to have such an enriching experience. Working an unpaid internship at the Chicago Council helped me narrow my interests, work in a new and engaging environment, meet interesting people, and learn new skills—all things that would not have been possible if I had chosen to work a part-time summer job, take classes on campus, or even pursue another internship locally.

Never Too Young to Learn New Tricks: The Wonders of the Weigle Workshops

By Claire Klieger

This week I attended my daughter’s back to school night. She’s just started first grade and is excited about being in a “big girl” school where she gets to buy her lunch at the cafeteria, go to gym, and attend music and art classes a couple of times a week. She’ll clearly be learning a lot but I have to say that I was most impressed (and flabbergasted) by what she is already doing in her computer class. Apparently, even in their second week, students (keep in mind these are six year-olds) are discovering how to use Google Maps to get directions and all of the cool things you can see with Google Earth. By the end of the year she will even be creating PowerPoint presentations!

All of this made me think about how quickly the landscape changes in terms of technology and expectations about associated skills. While my daughter surely won’t “need” to make PowerPoint presentations any time soon, getting comfortable using a computer early is critical to her educational success. For example, since all state-wide testing is online, she will need to learn how to type to answer questions in paragraph form by the third grade. All of us have seen similar changes in expectations about technical skill sets in the work place. In this era, it’s understood that you will have basic proficiency in most of the standard Microsoft applications but to do well, you really need to have more.

We hear from employers who often tell us that there is a disconnect between their and students’ understanding of technical competencies. For example, creating charts and doing basic calculations in Excel is no longer enough to be considered “proficient.” Now, one is expected to be able to whip together some pivot tables with ease. Similarly, most people play around with social media in their everyday lives, but if you’re doing professional work with it, you need to be competent with a content management system like sprout social or hootsuite. The main message here is that there are tangible and specific skills you can learn to be more successful in your job and internship search as well as in the position itself.

I know, I know—who has time to learn new technology on top of everything else they are doing and where would they go to learn it anyway? Well, the answer is Penn’s Weigle Information Commons! They offer Penn students, faculty and staff free workshops and trainings on everything from Excel to Graphic Design to Zotero (a free reference management software to help with bibliographies, in case you were wondering—I had to look it up, too). Workshop listings change frequently and are offered often so check out their schedule here today: http://pennwic.wordpress.com/upcomingwic/ . More information on specific workshops and instructions for registering you can find on their website: http://wic.library.upenn.edu/wicshops/

So, take an hour or two and start adding to your repertoire of tech skills. I know I’m going to have to or I likely won’t be able to help my daughter with her computer class homework much past the third grade!


How Was Africa?

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Victoria Duttweiler, Nursing ’15

Have you ever been asked a question that you have no idea how to even begin answering? Coming back to Penn after this summer, I have experienced this over and over. I was given the incredible privilege to complete my community clinical rotation in Gaborone, Botswana during the second half of this summer and just about everyone who knew about my summer plans has approached me with an excited “How was Africa?!?!” upon reunion. While I’m certain every query came from a place of genuine interest and desire to hear about my experiences, I was often left fumbling for words. I struggled to compress the entire rotation into a few simple words and was caught off guard when asked to report on the status of an entire continent. Responding with a quick, “It was amazing! How was your summer?” just didn’t seem to cut it. I was often tempted to glamorize my trip or use it to make myself seem more “exotic” or “cultured” than I actually am.   In reality, my summer included far more than my excursion to far off lands and the part in Botswana was more disappointing and challenging than I expected or wanted.

This summer didn’t shape up to be quite like my normal or expected break from school. Past summers have trained me to return home to my close-knit family, find a mediocre job, and spend time off catching up with friends, playing with our dog, and starting (and sometimes finishing) random art projects I stumble across on Pinterest. Although I’ve always wanted to use my nursing degree to live with, care for, and equip people in developing nations, I’d never set foot outside US soil. This summer seemed to be my last chance to make my way off the east coast and see if international healthcare was really for me before entering the “real world” after graduation. After getting accepted into the Botswana study abroad program, my plans for the summer started to take a different form than I expected. I would live in Fishtown with my roommate from school and a family from church while taking my community clinical lecture and lab before heading to Gaborone to complete the clinical portion of the course. While I dearly love Philadelphia and immensely enjoyed spending more focused time with friends from the area, it wasn’t quite home. My “normal summer” had been disrupted by lectures with intimidating strangers, a 45 minute SEPTA commute to campus, baked asphalt that makes the humid heat seem ten times worse, and continuing to develop a new definition for “home” – in short, I was placed firmly outside my comfort zone.

My grip on the edges of my comfort zone continued to slip as the summer clock ticked away. As I boarded the plane that would take me to a country in the southern region of Africa, I was surprisingly calm. But in the days after arrival and getting settled, I realized that I had gotten myself in way over my head in a country I had no frame of reference for, with people I could barely say were acquaintances, in a clinical setting that I had very little working knowledge of. Needless to say, the first couple weeks were incredibly difficult – learning how to work past my stereotypes of what “Africa” was and letting Botswana define itself, how to live in close proximity with people who are incredibly different from my introverted alone-time-loving self, and coming to the conclusion that my presence in the clinic was not only unnecessary, but a burden. I entered the trip with what I now realize was a masked hero complex. From my vantage point as an American, international healthcare was all about us going in and saving struggling countries. While there are is a lot of brokenness in the Batswana healthcare system, I found a completely different and unexpected story at the women’s health clinic. The nurses and doctors were incredibly competent in their medical knowledge and skills, more caring towards their patients than many doctors and nurses in the US, and more innovative and resilient than would be required of most American healthcare professionals as they dealt with supply shortages and challenging circumstances. I quickly realized that I had very little to offer other than an eagerness to learn, time and hands to input data and pass instruments, and a body to get in the way. Despite the inconvenience of our ignorance, they not only instructed us on the logistics of the clinic and patiently explain procedures a million times over, but went out of their way to smother us with kindness and welcome us as family. I can confidently say that the women of the clinic are some of the most passionate, kind and joyful people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting and working with.

I went to Botswana expecting to be a hero and use my elite Ivy league education to change lives, but left having met the real heroes and with my own life changed. I was incredibly humbled to see my own arrogant attitude towards countries that seem worse off than the US and realized that although we may have incredible technology and training, sometimes genuine kindness and a make-it-work attitude are more crucial than all the technology in the world. I learned that the simplest things are often the most profound, and that God is still present (maybe more present) way outside my comfort zone. So if you ask “How was Africa?,” be prepared for stories of crushed expectations, undeserved kindness, and hope in the face of difficulty from the beautiful country of Botswana.