(The Humanitarian Social Network)
For a limited time I'll answer questions from students, and encourage other long-term professional aid workers here in AidSource to do the same...
As a (fairly) recent graduate, I've done several internships and worked in Washington, DC, in fields unrelated to development or aid. I'm now taking some time off before I consider graduate school and am currently in Hanoi trying to understand the NGO scene.
I know that mentors are really important for both personal and career development, esp in this field, which seems so overwhelmingly vast. I'm not sure where to begin, but what I have done is follow a lot of practioners blogs (the usual suspects) and their twitters just so I keep abreast of what people "in the field" are currently thinking and talking about.
I hope this isn't a silly question, but, what are some best practices you can recommend in finding a mentor?
It's not a silly question at all. (What I do find truly silly are those people/orgs who try to structure mentorship - "Here, meet your new mentor..." Mentorship and mentoring, in my opinion always happen organically. Anway...)
In my experience, both as someone who has been mentored by different people in the past, and who also now mentors (one or two) others, finding a mentor is 95% personal connection, even "chemistry" though not in a fall-in-love way.
I think it starts with basic acquaintance, then friendship. I'd say try to get to know some of the NGO staff there in Hanoi. I haven't lived there for many years, so can't guide you about who to start with specifically, or where to hang out. But in general - and this is very Hanoi-specific - you want to be thinking more "AmCham" and VUFO expat gatherings, and less the bars on Ngo Bao Khanh. Put another way, for a mentor you want to be making friends with people who can actually mentor you - not senior management (Country Director or Country Rep) so much as mid-management and/or senior technical staff: Senior Programme Officer, Health Technical Director, Operations Manager, etc. (the titles change a bit from org to org). Make sense?
You want as a mentor someone who's been in the game for a few years, got some real world experience, and who knows enough about the industry to give you good advice.
Obviously it's easier in person, but in-person isn't the only option.
Hope this helps.
Thanks! The advice definitely does make sense on both fronts (expat gatherings and mid-level staff). I'll avoid the temptation of looking starry-eyed at senior management and make myself more visible at expat hangouts. Thanks, again!
How much field experience do I need by the time I graduate college? Unfortunately I got started on the whole international aid thing rather late (racked up lots of good social science-y research experience though). The way it is looking, I'll only have one summer in the field by the time I graduate :(
Hi Emily -
Obviously I'm not speaking for every potential hiring manager in AidSource, but...
I wouldn't expect you to have any experience, necessarily, by the time you graduate college.
See my comment/discussion here. I think you will want to look for ways to get some experience before graduating your Masters Degree. But not before graduating college.
As a fourth year university student graduating in a couple months, I was previously not considering grad school but the past semester has shown me how important it is to be professionalized in a field such as aid work. Currently, I am unsure of where my interests lie in regards to future work (development, foreign aid, public health etc.). I was curious if you had any suggestions about what to do between undergrad and grad school that might help me clarify what field I might want to be involved in? Should I get my foot in the door doing humanitarian work? Would working at an NGO right out of college be wise? I am guessing it wouldn’t hurt to start researching some of the possible masters programs and reading their descriptions either. Thanks!
Hey J. (and everyone else!),
First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer questions. Reading through all the replies so far has answered a lot of lingering questions I've had.
I'm graduating from college next year (undergrad) and I have about 3 months of internship work in Sierra Leone under my belt with three more coming up this summer (in the health sector). I'm looking to work for NGOs like MSF or UN (eventually) and a professor of mine (who worked with MSF for about 10 years) recommended doing the peace corps to gain that 2 years of experience that is needed for practically any entry-level job in the field. I also recently talked with a recruiter for MSF who said that sometimes the peace corps can provide useful knowledge for those seeking to enter aid work (although she was a little vague).
For someone who is looking into doing the more logistical side of relief/emergency aid, in your opinion do you think the peace corps would be a good stepping stone between college to job? Since I have (far too many) student loans, it wouldn't be my first choice, but I feel as if entry-level field jobs are hard to come by without that experience.
Any thoughts, insights, or words of wisdom?
Thanks again, I really appreciate it,