Alternative Careers Conference: Summary

This is our final summary and last blog post in the Alternative Careers Conference series! For more information about each panel, check out our previous posts specific to each event.

The 2017 Alternative Careers Conference took place on Saturday, February 25th and was host to some incredible speakers from 4 different career panels, in addition to, for the first time ever, a skills session by Olivia Fields from the Red Cross on campaigning!


The first panel to kick off the day was Civil Service where we had Robert Deane (Head of Knowledge at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office), Stuart Austin (Correspondence Manager at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office) and Joel Rosen (Department for Brexit). Robert Deane shared with the audience some important aspects of his job and working at the Foreign & Commonwealth office, where he emphasised the environment of inclusivity within the Civil Service, stating that they are not droids to be bossed around by ministers, but people with “views, emotions and stresses”. Mr. Deane emphasised that working within the Civil Service is not all about sitting behind a desk, he has traveled around the world with his job and has seen some amazing places.


The next speaker was Stuart Austin, who despite only having worked within the Civil Service for a few months has already learned much about himself and the role that he fulfils. Stuart writes the correspondence with angry or happy citizens that are sent in reply within the department for Brexit. The letters that arrive on his desk have ranged from raging “we need a harder, faster Brexit” to scared “what’s going to happen to me and my family”. In this role Stuart has had to practice keeping neutral and pushing the government line. Stuart said that he loves his job. Emphasising to LSE students that you don’t need to be a banker to have a good life, even quipping to an imaginary LSE student, “you go be a banker, I want to enjoy my life”.  His emphasis of being patient and finding the career that fit your skills and interests is one that hit home with the present students.


The final speaker of the night was Joel Rosen, another employee at the department for Brexit.  Joel began his career in the Swiss Army, and it was here that he realised that money wasn’t his driving motivation, affecting the lives of others for positive change was. After leaving the army he found that the way he could do this on the wildest scale, to have a positive influence on people’s lives, was through government and the Civil Service. Much of Joel’s job was designing the ways in which Britain would extract itself from Europe once Article 50 is triggered. Much of his recent work was confidential, however the few details he did give were exciting – from meeting with MPs to designing strategies. Joel inspired us to think about what it is that motivates us, and said that this is what should be looked for when finding ourselves a career. If you’re motivated by money, follow the standard LSE career path, but if not, find what you are motivated by, and pursue that.


After the closing remarks from the Civil Service panel, we welcomed Olivia Field, a Policy and Advocacy Manager for the British Red Cross for a skills session. Ms Fields studied Philosophy and French at the University of Bristol and is currently studying for a Masters in Global Migration at UCL. Her skills session focused on lobbying, media, public mobilisation, allies and research. She spoke about the effective use of media in her work, and how despite sometimes having detrimental consequences it often has proved to be very useful and has led to government action. For example, she referred to the picture of the dead child on the beach publicised in the media and how the public’s reaction to this picture promoted media support and led to Cameron allowing 10,000 refugees into the UK. Olivia also spoke about her work for the Red Cross and how she has progressed from completing an internship there 5 years ago focusing on stateless asylum seekers to now being a manager. She spoke about the difficultly in ‘jumping straight into a job’ in the NGO sector and that you need experience. She loves her job however, she described how it can be exhausting getting people to support your campaigns and it is often hard to understand why people do not want to implement what you are calling for. Her main ambition is to alleviate suffering but by speaking out as a charity they do not want to prevent themselves from doing this in the most effective way.


After a short break, the conference continued with the International Organisations Panel where we welcomed Anahide Pilibossian and Graziella Piga. Anahide Pilibossian began by speaking of her job at Blackrock and described her involvement with international organizations, specifying that she engaged with them on issues of financial regulation. There exists a gap in policymakers’ thinking in that they frequently fail to consider the average saver; her role, then, is to remedy this gap. Her work also extends, she related, to relations between shareholders and listed companies. Anahide also passed on advice on promotions, how best to obtain them – just ask! –, and why, should such efforts fall short, being disheartened misses the point: she highlighted that promotions are often the product of great luck, being in the right place at the right time, and being liked by the right people. In her case, she was fortunate enough to get on well with her boss and thus to be recommended by them when a higher-ranking position opened up. She also suggested that there are clear upsides to working at a large corporation instead of a small firm: Blackrock, for instance, is a multi-national, multi-cultural working environment, with significant resources to spend on its employees. Small businesses, by contrast, would struggle financially to invest as much on its human resources.


We then welcomed Graziella Piga who has worked at the UNHCR’s protection unit, set up for protecting female refugees and countering gender trafficking. Her job oversaw the fascinating link between policy and practice. Moving to Macedonia, she worked with OCS on women’s security, where she led a big push for reform of the Police Department. Graziella probed prevailing views on how to improve women’s security. Solely helping women while ignoring men did not make for a lasting solution, she pointed out; for that to be true, men had to be involved in some capacity too, such that they might have an understanding of and real stake in the issue. Graziella noted the increasing centrality of languages in international organisations. Knowing Russian, for instance, opened up lots of options for Graziella while she worked for UNHCR in Tajikistan. By speaking Russian, she was able to reach out to and build useful links with the Interior Ministry, where previous mission leaders had not thought, or been ill-equipped, to do so.


After this panel, we had a lunch break where Pret sandwiches and other nibbles were served. Participants at the conference had the opportunity to network with all panelists, ask them questions, connect on LinkedIn and ask any questions which they might have.


The next panel to continue the day was the Energy panel where we welcomed Germana Canzi and Gearoid Lane. Germana Canzi is a freelance journalist specializing in sustainable energy and Gearoid Lane is the CEO and founder of AgilityEco, a company specialising in insulation and clean energy. It was a general consensus between both the speakers that the future of this industry is relatively unknown. There are still so many developments needed to make energy more sustainable especially in the storage of energy. The challenges in the future lie in storing energy from renewable sources in order to deal with fluctuating demands for energy throughout the day. Current trends seen as a move towards the digitalisation of the industry, evidence in the emergence of smart meters which allows consumers to use less energy and therefore save money. In addition, our speakers suggested that whilst there are efforts by the government to promote sustainability and the use of more renewable energy, there is much more work to be done. Whilst there is progress (such as the recent bill preventing landlords from renting out an F or G rated property) compared to countries such as Germany, there is still room for improvement in this area. Both speakers emphasised the random nature of their career progression and therefore asserted the need to be optimistic and flexible when considering a career in this industry. Business skills are vital when working in the energy sector and therefore Canzi stressed the importance of working in mainstream jobs first to gain a sense of how businesses work as well as being able to be less idealistic about renewable energy. Lane also suggested that working in a smaller company can be a good way to experience how businesses in this sector work before entering larger corporations. From working in a small business you can see how all the different roles function and often with a lot less bureaucracy. The energy sector may also be a daunting sector for an LSE graduate due to the amount of technical knowledge needed that is not taught on our degree programs.


The last panel discussion of conference was the New Media panel where we had Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Fiona Curry and Ronke Kokoruwe. One of the biggest takeaways from this panel was F.A.I.L. As Shola said, F.A.I.L = First Attempt In Learning. The journey to becoming an academic, lawyer, and mother, has not been easy for Shola. She spoke of how she failed the New York Bar (a notoriously difficult exam) three times, juggling an MBA, full time job, and three children, simultaneously, but her determination eventually led her to achieve this qualification. Failure doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, you just need to take a step back, reassess, and go again. The only perception of failure that is important is yours. In addition, Ronke stressed the importance of needing to surround yourself with inspirational people. Ronke uses Skype to mentor young adults in developing countries. These young adults are devoted to improving their countries from within, and she is constantly inspired by the work they do. Similarly, Fiona described the environment of the tech industry, and the smart and ambitious individuals it attracts. This encourages you to become more competitive and constantly challenging you to push your progress


All in all, the 2017 Alternative Careers Conference was a massive success! With a room full of participants interested in alternative careers, and extremely interesting panelists, we hope that everyone got inspired, learnt a lot and had a great day – the committee certainly did!