1) Where and what did you study and when did you graduate?
I originally did an undergraduate degree at Exeter University in International Relations (2013), with study abroad in the U.S., India and China. I am now studying for a Masters of Public Policy (2017) at Harvard University.
2) Where do you live now?
Boston, USA. I spent the past two years in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with time in North Africa before that.
3) Tell us about your job...
I work in advocacy and political campaigns. Until recently, I worked for a non-profit in Congo promoting smart diplomatic engagement with the country and pushing for key reforms within the DRC to drive social and economic development. The work was incredibly varied: from reintegration programs for child soldiers to governance of the coffee sector. I did a lot of speechwriting and storytelling too, which I loved. I’m now back at university to re-think how we engage with countries facing protracted conflict and to design innovative policy solutions.
4) What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be a police officer! I’ve always been interested in public service and being a policeman seemed like a cool way to serve the community – I have an incredible amount of respect for people who go down that path and put themselves at great personal risk to keep people safe.
5) What did you do immediately after leaving university?
I was on a plane to Rwanda pretty much as soon as we’d finished at Exeter! I then drove on to cross the border into Congo to start my new job in a city called Goma. I’d actually been working full-time for two years before that, juggling uni work. I spent my third year in Washington, D.C. engaged with American politics before working on United Nations human rights monitoring issues in Western Sahara.
6) How did you feel about your future when you graduated?
It’s inevitable you feel a degree of uncertainty when you deviate from the standard path of graduate career programs. But the rigidity of that never appealed to me. I like to think I have an ‘entrepreneurial’ mind set – having greater flexibility allows you to watch closely for great opportunities and then to pursue them. The position in Congo was my dream job and I was so excited to have the chance to live there.
I actually skipped my own graduation day, I was already in Congo! I hope my mum has forgiven me by now... But at the end of the day, I would say pursue the things you’re most passionate about. It’s clichéd but when you throw all your energy, talent and time into something you think matters, the satisfaction is all the greater. I think you see better results, too.
8) Would you have done anything different?
I still struggle with the work-life balance. When you make your passion your career, you positively want to spend all your time doing it – and exhaustion can creep up on you without noticing it. Scheduling time to chill out is important, and I struggle to prioritize it. I’m still working on that!
9) What inspires you?
The Congolese people. After twenty years of war, abject poverty and suffering, they truly are the most joyful, gracious and resourceful people on the face of the earth. A people who still love to have fun: have incredible music, beer and celebration, with a strong sense of community. The endurance of those qualities in the face of the toughest conditions imaginable is pretty incredible.
10) What would you like to say to our graduates looking for inspiration?
Embrace uncertainty about the future. If you decide now what you want the next 20 years to look like, you might miss some incredible opportunities along the way. There’s always a way to find - or to create - a well-paid, interesting job in an area you’re passionate about. Be flexible and seize opportunities as they emerge.
11) Your three favourite words
‘Risk the extraordinary.’ As part of embracing uncertainty, you invariably have to take calculated risks. Having unusual ideas and pursuing them is key if you want to find that opportunity ‘off the beaten path.’
It was a pleasure having you on The Cool Graduate Tom, thank you so much for your time! We wish you the best of luck with all your adventures and studies.