Diary of an Intern – My Experience with Democratic Progress Institute (DPI)

The Democratic Progress Institute offer three month internships and are keen for their interns to share their experiences. Many thanks to David Comley for writing this section which we hope will be of use to those thinking about applying.

I started interning at the Institute just over month ago and I will be here for three months in total, working three days a week. In this short piece I’m going to set out how I became an intern here, what the internship has involved and some advice to those intending to apply in the future.

Why I applied here

I started my MA at King’s College London with the intention of interning after lectures had ended in March. After a few months of emailing out CVs though I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get a place. Without any relevant experience I was starting to panic about how I would ever remove the ‘part-time bartender’ section of my CV.

I discovered the DPI internship after reading a previous student’s ‘Diary of an Intern’ on the University of London Careers Service website, so it seems appropriate that I can pass on my own experiences in the same way! From this post I dug deeper into the organisation and discovered that it was right up my street. As part of my MA I study modules in Security and Development, Diplomacy and War and Insurgency in the Middle East. DPI helps to facilitate diplomacy between conflict-affected groups with a particular emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa. I couldn’t really have asked for a better fit.

I emailed my CV and covering letter and was called in for interview a couple of weeks later. Although I was very nervous (it was my first interview for an internship) the staff were friendly, welcoming and interesting. About a week later they emailed back to offer me the place, along with the question ‘would you mind starting tomorrow?’.

The internship itself

DPI is based in a townhouse in Bloomsbury so isn’t too far away from King’s. When I arrived at the office the next day I was given an induction and introduced to the ten permanent staff. I read further into the research and reports that DPI have compiled over the past few years and started to familiarise myself with the key issues which DPI focuses on including the Kurdish Question in Turkey, the conflict in Syria and areas relating to democratisation and conflict resolution in the Middle East and North Africa region. Elements of focus include DDR, SSR, constitutional reform, minority and refugee issues, human rights and many more. A few hours into the day DPI’s Programme Manager asked me if I would like to go to Dublin the following week to assist with a Comparative Study Visit being run as part of the Institute’s Turkey programme. Predictably, I said yes.

The next few days consisted of compiling documents for the delegates in this visit along with finalising the details of the trip. The following Tuesday morning I stepped onto an Aer Lingus flight with my bag (carefully!) filled with DPI paraphernalia for the meetings. The delegation during this visit comprised high level members of Turkey’s civil society, including NGO representatives, Human Rights Lawyers and Bar Associations, renowned journalists, members of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Wise Persons Commission, and other public figures.

My main task over the next few days was to record everything that was being said during the roundtable meetings in this visit. Although I have no secretarial experience, the past three years of university had put me in good stead for quickly taking notes. When I arrived back in London I spent a week or so writing these rough notes up into a report which will be translated into Turkish and published in both languages by DPI. Although the note-taking was hard work the talks were fascinating and have definitely doubled up as exam revision! Amongst the speakers were Ambassadors and diplomatic guests, conflict-resolution NGO CEOs, former IRA members and representatives from both Republican and Loyalist communities in Northern Ireland. We were also joined by Government representatives and Ministers, Members of Parliament, historians, civil society leaders, policy makers, journalists and key negotiators from all parties to the Good Friday Agreement. All of these people had extraordinary stories to tell about the peace process in Ireland. Listening to these speakers interact with participants, who had come see if any lessons may be applicable to their own case, showed me the huge potential of getting opponents around a table and having them listen, discuss and drink tea with one another. I clearly wasn’t the only one to feel this, as the trip was reported on extensively in Turkey’s national media and widely discussed on social media in the weeks that followed.

My other task was to take photos to record the meetings and to help with the general running of the trip. As an intern in a small team you have to be ready to get on with anything, whether that is meeting and greeting participants, leading the group to different locations in the city or ensuring that everyone’s translation equipment continues to function during the meetings.

I am currently finishing off the trip report and have assisted staff with preparation for other Comparative Study Visits. You are trusted with a lot of freedom on this internship, and although the staff are always happy to answer questions they do expect you to be assertive to get stuff done. DPI aims to have each research intern (there are also legal interns working on case work), complete a working paper on a relevant topic by the end of the internship. Outstanding papers are selected for publication by the Institute and used as part of future research. They are fairly flexible about what subject you do this on as long as it is related to their current work. The Institute tries to work with each intern to pinpoint common areas of interest and knowledge to focus on. As a Conflict, Security and Development student, I don’t think it will be hard to find something interesting to write about! Along with these longer tasks you are expected to do one reception shift per week. To be honest, this provides a well-earned break from highly-focused research and allows you to interact with the real people who work with the organisation. You are also expected to assist with urgent tasks that crop up on the day. So far these have ranged from running errands to Westminster to phoning hotels to make last minute changes to accommodation. They tend to keep you on your toes and I’ve never been bored!

Tips for applying

The Institute is looking for interns to attend DPI for three months for three to five day per week and recruits on a rolling basis. This makes it a pretty convenient internship to fit around your studies, particularly after lectures have started to wind down in the Spring. Although they don’t expect you to be an expert, an interest in conflict resolution and the Middle East and North Africa is very helpful.

It is also important to have an idea of what the organisation actually does. The best way to do this is to watch the film (documenting a DPI Comparative Study Visit to South Africa) on their homepage and to have a flick through a few of their ‘Comparative Study’ reports on the website. I have learned a great deal about conflict resolution from these and I would go as far to say that it counts as ‘Security and Development’ revision for the exam.

Apart from that I would emphasise any work experience that you may have including office work and research. Above all you should show enthusiasm for the topics and a desire to get involved in DPI’s work. So far this internship has been an extremely interesting experience and I am looking forward to the coming months!

*David Comley is a student at King’s College London studying MA Conflict, Security and Development