Summer 2017 Intern

The Schull Yang International Experience Award, supported by Joseph Schull (BA ‘82, MA ’85) and Anna Yang (BCL, LLB ’88), helps undergraduate and graduate students gain first hand international experience related to their fields of study. The award provides full or partial funding to assist students with tuition, travel, and other expenses related to their international experience. The Schull Yang International Experience Award is part of the McGill International Experience Awards initiative. For more information, click here.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill student for the 2017 summer internship at the United Nations Department of Safety and Security in Panama, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award.

Mark Williamson, MA Political Science

Mark is a graduate student in McGill’s Department of Political Science and a Research Fellow with the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies. This summer, he will be working with the UN Department of Safety and Security in Panama. As an intern with the department’s Threat and Risk Assessment Service, Mark will be helping to identify and assess emerging security risks to UN personnel in Latin America. This work aligns closely with his academic research interests, which include the causes and consequences of political violence in developing countries.

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Context

The Threat and Risk Assessment Service (TRS) is a branch within UNDSS that focuses on identifying and assessing threats to UN staff and facilities. The TRS regional office that I worked with in Panama focused specifically on threats within the Latin America and Caribbean region. The majority of our analyses were disseminated internally to headquarters in New York and local security advisers stationed at UN offices throughout the region.

My reason for pursuing this internship was the close alignment between my research interests and the policy focus of the TRS office. My work this summer helped me acquire valuable background information that I can use in writing my master’s thesis in political science. Broadly speaking, my research considers the causes and consequences of political violence in developing countries. Thus while I did not receive course credit for this internship, much of the work I did this summer will directly benefit my studies upon returning to McGill in September.

Internship Activities

My main duties as an intern involved researching and analyzing security developments in the Latin America and Caribbean region. In particular, I was responsible for closely monitoring local news media and documenting important information for four countries: Panama, Brazil, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The five other interns on my team had their own countries of focus. Each week we issued bi-weekly reports on the most significant developments and forecasted how they could impact the safety of UN personnel and facilities.

In addition to these ongoing reports, our team also produced special ad hoc analyses, with specific topics including the regional implications of the Venezuelan crisis, terrorism in the region and the security implications of illegal mining activities.

Highlights and Challenges

Reflecting on my time here, two highlights of the internship stand out to me. First, the collaborative approach to our work was both enjoyable and challenging for me. My academic work is almost exclusively independent, so it was nice to be able to engage with and learn from my coworkers. On the other hand, it was at times challenging because of each person’s unique time-management strategies and writing abilities.

A second highlight from my internship was a specific project that I took the lead on. In June, I produced a report on the threat of violent extremism in Trinidad and Tobago that was later distributed widely within the UN and well-received by both my supervisor and staff outside our office. This project allowed me both to learn about a new topic and refine my policy-oriented writing skills.

The main challenge I encountered in this internship was in initially taking over the day-to-day work of the previous intern whom I was replacing. Since the rest of my team had already been on the job for several months by the time I arrived, I needed to quickly learn what my tasks were and how to perform them. I found that the best approach was to ask a lot of questions and take the time to read through past reports to better understand what was expected of me.

Conclusion

This internship experience provided me with an invaluable opportunity to grow personally and professionally. On a personal level, this was my first time living outside of Canada, which was an exciting way to ‘test-drive’ living and working abroad. Moreover, staying in Panama also allowed me to improve my Spanish skills in an immersive environment, which will benefit me as I pursue future research and work opportunities in Latin America.

Professionally, this internship was a primer on the day-to-day activities of work in an international organization, which I have long considered a career possibility for me. While I ultimately foresee a return to academia in my future, this experience was necessary for me to explore a career option that I had often considered for myself. 

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge that my internship would not have been possible if not for the generous support provided by Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang through the Schull Yang International Experience Award. I am exceedingly thankful for their contribution, without which I would not have been able to offset the living and travel costs necessary for the internship. This was a truly invaluable experience that I will reflect on fondly as I continue my studies and consider my future career path. 

Mark Williamson at the UN House in Panama.