Reflections of an intern: interview with Alice Cowley

Alice has worked  in the RSA Office since January, and during this time, she became a bit of a star and worked on an eclectic mix of projects. Although somewhat renowned for not liking mornings, she never failed to be enthusiastic about learning new things and gave everything she did her best shot, including showing an innate ability to strike a great pose in our pictures taken on International Womens Day:

We asked Alice to reflect on her experience she has had working with us:

Q) Tell us a bit about your background

I was born and brought up in Leeds and only migrated to (relatively) sunny Brighton at 18 for university. I studied Politics and International Relations at Sussex for three years and graduated with a high 2:1 – since then, as is often the case with students in Brighton, I’ve been reluctant to leave.

Q) Why did you apply for an internship, and what were your expectations before you started?

Like most immediate post-graduates, the feeling most pertinent for me after leaving university was a sense of uncertainty. Trying to find a job I was interested in seemed like a daunting task when I has very little professional experience or a specific career path in mind. So, when I heard about Sussex University sponsored internship’s I jumped at the opportunity.

I chose to apply for the RSA because of the breadth of activity involved in the day to day workings. From event organising to publishing to liaising with policy makers - learning in an environment with a variety of roles to observe and be involved with seemed like a good opportunity for someone like me with fairly minimal experience.

From a young age I have sought to gain experience in the not-for-profit sector and reading international relations at University only served to increase my desire to work in a role with a social purpose. The RSA appealed to me because of its charitable status but also as one with a focus on gains for members and the regional studies community.

Before starting, I had reservations about joining such a small and established staff team and I was concerned about how my lack of experience would impact the quality of any work I was set. Fortunately, the team at the RSA is very inclusive and are always willing to offer support if I am struggling.

Q) What kinds of things have you worked on during your time with the RSA?

Often the word ‘intern’ conjures an image of mundane, repetitive administrative work and regular coffee rounds. Luckily, my experience at the RSA could not be further from this description. Since January I’ve attended a number of meetings, conferences and seminars as part of the Association. Most recently was the Association of Association Executives’ seminar on ‘Video for Successful Associations’ in central London. This event, alongside things like our February board meeting, pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone in terms of having to try and hold my own in a room where I felt the least experienced.

Similarly, I had the opportunity to go to Canterbury to visit one of our editors, Madeleine Hatfield, who taught me how to use the database system for journal refereeing. It is trips like this that, alongside providing me with specific skills, have helped to build my confidence in talking to new people in a professional environment.

Most recently, I have been working on the RSA’s 2017 Annual Report. This is a legally required document setting out the achievements of the previous year, having to gather all the information from various sources and compile it coherently in one place is undoubtedly a skill that will prove useful in my future endeavours and I’ve cherished the opportunity to see a document such as this through to completion. 

Q) Have you got any reflections on your experience with the RSA and your work experience?

Having done this internship has provided me with a wealth of experience. This ranges from small things such as learning how to properly structure professional emails and using appropriate formalities in writing through to using niche software programmes and meeting people at the forefront of their academic field.

If I was to repeat this experience I would apply more personal deadlines and have more thoroughly structured the time spread of my tasks. In a similar vein, I would tell my three months younger self to start going to bed earlier – the switch from student lie-ins to a 9-5 was a struggle for me!

In terms of what I hope to do next, it’s all up in the air. I am hoping to find long term work for a Brighton/London based NGO but have my hopes set on travelling before settling down career-wise indefinitely. Until then, I plan to continue building my experience volunteering for charities and saving money.

Thank you Alice, and best of luck!

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