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Case Study: Emily Gray

Personal details
Degree:Joint MA (hons) International Relations and Management Profile picture
School(s): School of International Relations, School of Management
Year of Graduation:Jun-2012
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Department for International Development
Job title: Policy and Programmes Officer for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia
Occupational Sector: International Development/ Organisations
What has been your route to getting your current position?
At the end of my 4th year in 2012, I was accepted onto the first cohort of the 50 week Department for International Development Graduate Scheme. At the end of this placement I had the opportunity to apply for a permanent role through a competitive Civil Service-wide process. I was offered my current job on my very last day on the scheme!
What does your job involve ?
I work of the London end of the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia country offices, providing support for their development assistance programmes and policy priorities. My responsibilities in London include briefing and providing advice to Ministers, engaging with parliamentary processes, and coordinating DFID's work in each of these countries with colleagues in other government departments. I also lead on our UK communications work, including with diaspora communities. When I am deployed to a country office, my responsibilities vary according to the needs of the team at that time. For example, I may be reviewing an existing DFID programme to make sure we are getting the results we want, or working with stakeholders and partner governments to design a new programme to tackle a specific priority issue.
What are the best bits of your job ?
I am able to travel to some really interesting places that I otherwise might not have visited. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are fascinating countries and being able to work every day to try to improve the situation of their citizens makes the job rewarding. Coming from an International Relations background means that I find the political side of things, both domestic and international, particularly interesting and get a kick out of being at the heart of UK and international politics every day. My responsibilities can also change very quickly on a given day dependant on world events, and I enjoy the challenges that brings. Alongside my day job I have worked on high-level events and issues such as the London Conference on Afghanistan, Post 2015 High-Level Panel, and the Iraq Inquiry, as well as helping to manage the UK response to humanitarian crisis.
Why were you successful?
I never had a concrete answer to the age-old 'what will you do when you graduate' question. I essentially just threw myself into activities that I was passionate and excited about. This meant that I accidentally built up quite a bit of relevant work experience that was valuable to an organisation like DFID and I was able to talk passionately about my motivation at interview, as well as give a tangible demonstration of my enthusiasm. For example, during the summer between my 2nd and 3rd years at St Andrews I volunteered with NGO 'One Heart Source' in Tanzania. As it was a small NGO, I was able to take on a lot of responsibility than would have been possible in larger organisation. Having built good relationships with those running the NGO and demonstrated my own abilities, I went on to run their UK operations whilst in my 3rd and 4th year, recruiting and training fellow students for international teaching roles. This then led to them selecting me to establish and run their new education-based volunteer programmes in South Africa in the summer following my 4th year.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Obviously the knowledge gained in my International Relations degree has been invaluable in such a political role, particularly in understanding the broader regional picture and how all of the players fit together. However I think that the soft skills and life experience I gained through my extracurricular activities at St Andrews have been equally important. Other key learning points came through summer placements and internships, particularly the summer I spent between my 3rd and 4th year working for IBM in Shanghai with the Saltire Foundation. Any 3rd year student studying at a Scottish university is eligible to apply for their paid summer internships and I can't recommend them highly enough.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
When I was thinking about a career in International Development, people would often tell me what a difficult industry it is to get into and how many unpaid internships I would have to do before securing a paid role. I found though that being able to display passion for the subject, backed up by tangible examples of activities I had done whilst at university (both alongside my studies and during the summer) meant employers felt I already had quite a bit to offer. Most of the people who you will be competing against for a job in the industry will also be passionate about development and have a great degree, so make sure you have a strong story to tell on top of your academic results and good intentions.