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Case Study: Robert Gelb

Personal details
Degree:Modern History Profile picture
School(s): School of History
Year of Graduation:Jun-2011
National of: United States of America
Employment details
Organisation: University of St Andrews Careers Centre
Job title: International Opportunities Manager
Occupational Sector: Education Administration
What has been your route to getting your current position?
When I was coming to the end of my previous project (Bus 52), my then-girlfriend (now wife) was going to be heading back to St Andrews to finish an MLitt. When I was starting to plan out what possible roles that would be worth exploring, I saw this role advertised. It interested me most for three main reasons. The first was that it was completely new and involved setting up new initiatives. The second was the international nature of the activity and the networking elements. Finally the third reason involved the fact that it would be to help St Andrews students. I felt honoured to help expand the reach of the university where I learned so much.
What does your job involve ?
My job focuses on meeting the needs of International Students at St Andrews to ensure they are best prepared to succeed in the job market, wherever they might want to work. I organise about a dozen in-country networking events each year (all outside of the UK - we are aiming for 30 this summer alone) as well as run the North American Treks, organise visa and immigration information, and link up students and grads with employers, parents, and alumni around the world. I also started the Work Shadow programme as well as Saint Connect. In addition to work with Careers, I also am involved in overseas admissions.
What are the best bits of your job ?
Personally, I enjoy trying to solve problems and provide solutions in creative ways, so the chance to start and analyse different initiatives has been perhaps the most interesting aspect. I also do enjoy the travel up to a point (I average about 6-7 trips a year of more than two weeks each), and the chance to interact with so many students and alums who are doing interesting things is great fun.

In terms of the most challenging bits - Our student population is 45% international, and so trying to be as aware of market trends all over the world is difficult. Keeping a large network of contacts continuously updated and being aware of their developments is also challenging, though at the heart of doing the role well.
Why were you successful?
Before this role, I devised and ran a nonprofit project that involved a lot of different aspects including logistics, fundraising, marketing, and convincing. It was a rough experience, but one that was extremely beneficial in providing a crash course in needing to be a jack-of-all-trades. When you are setting up new initiatives and don’t have a team, it’s up to you to set targets, work with others, organise, advertise, and run. The experience of going off on my own after university rather than joining a company straight off provided a hard, but rewarding experience to learn those skills.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
I think the most benefit my History degree gave me was in writing & analysis, as well as discussion. All of my classes that I took while at St Andrews encouraged discussion and disagreement, which forced you to think on your feet. Writing, though it wasn’t my strong suit, is always improved when you have to read and write - and the constant demand for intelligent analysis was very useful.

In terms of work experience and extra-curricular activities while a student, personally I was fortunate to have two fantastic internships that prepared me for dealing with things that were foreign or that I had not done before. The first was with Al Jazeera English in Washington DC - I was the intern to the White House Producer and got invaluable experience and coaching from my boss there. The second was in a leadership office in the US congress - that taught me how to work with very different kinds of people, under immense stress much of the time. Aside from internships, I also found the process of starting companies and working on start-ups (I met with Bonnie Hacking at the Careers Centre quite often) before Bus 52 very helpful to getting some of the learning process out of the way beforehand.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
I never knew a job like this existed. I think a job like this is extremely well suited to someone who wants a lot of variability and if they are very self-motivated in the honest sense of the phrase, then it can be extremely rewarding and interesting. If you are thinking about working in a role like this one, your experience or understanding of how the job market works internationally, and awareness of the distinctions in different cultures is crucial to your success and being able to demonstrate that is really important. I would advise speaking to as many people as possible and be able to articulate ‘how stuff works’ in a variety of industries. I would also be able to highlight and show excellent organisational skills and time management, and a willingness to be flexible. If you find yourself in a role where you’re responsible for starting new things, some of those things won’t work or won’t be perfect the first time around. Make sure you have ways of measuring success so that you can tweak, expand, or move on.

Working in education also has its challenges and benefits. From interacting with different colleagues at different institutions, the amount of support, resources, and encouragement is variable between universities. Understanding internal politics and how to work with different departments is also very important and is sometimes even more difficult to navigate when working in Higher Education. You might be working with people who are extremely committed to their role, while others are not, and you need to figure out how to work with them regardless.

My main bit of advice is to be open to new types of roles or experiences that you don’t know exist. It can expand your options quite a bit and let you apply skills you have in new ways and also serve as a great stage for teaching you new skills and exposing you to new experiences.