3-28-2011By Sian McGee
General Programs Intern
Last week at Human Rights First I was fortunate to experience two more important dimensions of intern life in Washington, D.C.: networking and education. From an intern perspective, one of the main attractions of HRF is the opportunity to work on tasks that were in line with my own academic and potential career interests. This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on Emerging Challenges in International Humanitarian Law, organized by the Washington College of Law, and another conference on Non-Violent Resistance in Iran, facilitated by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace – two topics of direct relevance to my studies and interests.
Contrary to legal practices in more stagnant or rigid areas of law, a career in human rights law requires being up-to-date on events, changes and developments in the domestic and international community, which call into question on a daily basis the application and evolution of this relatively young body of legal principles. At a basic level, this means reading the news—but it is more important to consider how these daily happenings shape broader events and trends. Surveying news and events is essential for devising potential solutions and strategies based on analysis and synthesis of past and present events.
When addressing human rights questions, (like all other politically, culturally and socially complex questions) two, ten, even one hundred heads are undoubtedly better than one! Hence the need to get out from behind the desk and meet, talk, reason, listen and interact with other interested people. There’s certainly no shortage of opinion or debate in Washington D.C., and the two conferences I attended allowed me to learn from speakers and other conference participants, and to consider views and strategies which I could never possibly conceive on my own, no matter how many college degrees I might obtain!
The sweet smelling fruit of this cross-pollination of ideas to a young intern bee is that golden word: Networking. I’m not a particularly aggressive “networker”—I tend to feel uncomfortable starting a conversation with someone purely for the purpose of walking away with a potentially useful business/contact card – but the stimulation of thoughts and ideas at such conferences seems to be a fair reason to strike up a conversation with someone. What’s more, this week made me appreciate how far the long tentacles of just one encounter can reach. As a result of one conversation with a fellow conference attendee and a “pay it forward” action on their part, I’ve ended up with a fantastic contact all the way back in Australia, something I never imagined at a small conference in D.C.!
The life of an intern is rather wasted spent sitting at a desk (and especially hiding under it!) waiting for tasks to come. Initiative really cannot be overstated. I’ve been extremely fortunate to intern with an organization that appreciates its interns and recognizes the importance of education and networking in this business, and actively seeks to extend such opportunities to us. My advice to other students is to seek out employers who don’t intend to use you as cannon fodder in the trenches, but instead offer to help you become highly trained soldiers ready for battle in the real world!