Reflections on a Fall Internship at UN Headquarters

Phoebe Spencer, UVM

September was a busy month for the E4A project. Students and professors gathered for the first time at a weekend-long retreat, where our tangible excitement for new research had everyone ready for the start of our exciting new project. As the retreat ended, I boarded a bus for New York to begin a part of the E4A program in a different style, through an internship with the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs.


E4A students have the unique opportunity to include an internship in our programs of study, providing valuable hands-on experience related to our research and strengthening and broadening partnerships with organizations around the world. Entering the E4A group as a second-year PhD student with my research already underway, I decided to complete my internship just as our new program began.

My internship was within the UN Statistics Division and focused on gender research. My main contribution was to the World’s Women 2015 report, an upcoming publication that is the next in a series published every five years since 1990 (online here). This report provides a status update on everything from the population and migration of women to discrepancies in rights between genders. As part of the World’s Women research team, I worked with a variety of topics spanning six of the eight broad chapters in the 2015 report. My research assignments ranged from adult education and food security indicators to environmental governance and child labor, and included literature searches and syntheses, data collection and analyses from census forms and databases, and fact-checking. The rigor and professionalism I witnessed from the World’s Women team was both inspiring and reaffirming to my passion for international relations.

While it was intimidating to work in such close proximity to high-level decision-making such as the climate talks during the 2014 General Assembly, it was very empowering to see that the UN and its member states have taken on climate issues and to think that perhaps E4A is training future leaders in these discussions. After this internship, I have a better understanding of how important it is for projects like E4A to engage world leaders, as political action from the topmost levels is often targeted at the broad-scale issues we are studying. Whether focused on international trade agreements, climate change, or refugee resettlement, we as researchers must find our place at the table and ensure that the scientific and political communities understand each other. I hope that my experiences in this internship are indicative of more good things to come for E4A.

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