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Catherine Reynolds

April 26th, 2019

Learning from PhD Alumni: working in International Organisations

0 comments | 6 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Catherine Reynolds

April 26th, 2019

Learning from PhD Alumni: working in International Organisations

0 comments | 6 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Multiple factors influence career development and for PhD students, the interaction between external circumstances and personal priorities make every individual story unique. We regularly host alumni PhD career panels to learn from the experiences of our talented PhD graduates. Progression into roles in international organisations and think tanks is a popular topic. In this blog PhD and Research Staff Careers Consultant, Catherine Reynolds, summarises the key messages from speakers during our recent panel and highlights important insights from previous speakers.

In March 2019  All three speakers are motivated and enthusiastic about their roles using research skills in organisations with international reach. They all talked about the important policy impact they have in their field. The speakers included:

Dr Simona Milio LSE PhD European Institute 2007 and previously employed at LSE as Associate Director of the Economic and Social Policy Unit until 2015. She is now a Director in Public Policy at ICF a US consultancy company with offices in London. Here, she leads the Employment, Skills and Education team of 30 professionals who provide advice, analysis and recommendations to the EU and UK government.

Dr Rachel George LSE PhD International Relations 2018 now Senior Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute in London, where she works in the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (formerly Social Development) team. She has worked in several US-based think tanks and media organisations.

Roberto Sormani LSE PhD student in Economics, submitted PhD March 2019, interviewed and has been offered two different roles at the World Bank in Washington DC. He has accepted a two-year consultancy post, in the Gender Innovation Lab from April 2019 and has also been offered a place on the WB YPP.

The speakers were all positive about their roles and the transitions they had made, all agreeing on that:

There are lots of jobs out there. Make sure you don’t miss opportunities!

A selection of their insights about their career development includes:


It helped Simona to leave academia at the right time and for the right reasons, and she suggested you do this only when you are ready. Going through the selection process at ICF, Simona realised that it was her research skills and academic network, rather than the specific topics of her research work, that were of most value to the people recruiting her. She thinks it’s important to not undersell what you can do (rather than what you know) at interview.

Knowing that the organisation well and that it suits her style and approach to work made the selection and induction stages run smoothly. ICF conducts research and evaluation on a variety of topics from immigration to the digital agenda, health, education, gender, often funded by the EU. Her work has included a variety of projects on a range of social policy topics and often involves collaboration or partnerships with academic colleagues at LSE and elsewhere.

Striking the balance between being confident about what you can do, while also being humble about what can be learnt from others in the organisation, has helped Simona settle and thrive at ICF. Four years on and now as Director of a 30 person research team, she recruits regularly and has the perspective of the selector as well as the applicant.


As Senior Research Officer, Rachel conducts research on gender in the global south for the ODI. This means working on multiple projects simultaneously and managing your time very efficiently. Researchers build relationships with the clients who fund their work and the fundraising/bidding processes are a significant part of the responsibilities.

In deciding to apply for research work out of academia, Rachel felt the influence of different groups of people, including her friends, family and colleagues, each had her best interests in mind but she made up her own mind that research roles in international organisations were where she would find most job satisfaction. She travels with work but is mainly London based.

Rachel continues to publish her academic research and has a chapter in a book coming soon. Like many academics, she finds the time to do this is squeezed into evenings and weekends, the twilight working hours.


During his time doing his PhD work at LSE, Roberto also trained and worked as a Peer Supporter and founded an organisation to support the Italian LGBT+ community in London. These activities, alongside some small consultancy projects, developed a rounded portfolio of skills and experience to draw on during the job selection processes he undertook while finishing his PhD.

Roberto feels it was a difficult choice but realised he is more motivated by projects with immediate impact and so decided not to apply for academic positions. He did not feel any discrimination or recrimination in his department about this.

The selection process was time-consuming; he describes looking for jobs as lengthy and difficult, especially towards the end when he was preparing for assessment centres and second interviews which often involve case questions. Roberto encourages other people to use LSE Careers for support during this time. The selection process for his consultancy role at the World Bank was conducted virtually by video and phone.

Having technical and professional level research skills, excellent references, as well as the LSE brand, helped Roberto get to interview stage. He believes it is the additional human qualities that helped him to be selected. Being self-reflective, being to make and learn from mistakes were qualities seen positively by his selectors.

In February 2017 the three speakers were:  

Dr Nahid Kamal LSE PhD in Demography 2008, is currently Director at PopDev Consultancy. Previously she had been a Research Associate with MEASURE Evaluation, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill since 2011. When speaking to us, she was on secondment to International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh where she worked on population surveys and impact evaluation of USAID funded health projects. Prior to joining MEASURE Evaluation, she worked for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva, Marie Stopes International in London and Population Council in Dhaka. At Measure her role involved project management and primary/secondary analysis of national survey data on maternal mortality and urban health. Nahid writes reports and also publishes in peer reviewed academic journals in International Development on topics ranging from child marriage, equity in health to reproductive health policy.

Dr Emma De Angelis LSE PhD International History 2011, is the Editor of the RUSI Journal and the Director of Publications at RUSI, a leading independent think tank on defence and security. After her PhD she worked for the IH at department at LSE as editor of the Cold War History Journal during some of that time. Her skills and experience related directly to the job description required by RUSI when they were shifting the focus of their journal to compete more directly with those from academia. Emma appreciates similarities between the responsibilities she has for public engagement, impact and publishing at this think tank and academic life, but acknowledges that this would not be the case in all think tanks. Interestingly, Emma has additional interests in arts management and is looking for ways to present security, defence and global affairs issues through artistic performance.

Dr Cecile McGrath LSE PhD Government 2010, is a Senior Research Manager in Ecorys, a leading European public policy consultancy. She specialises in education and social affairs. Cecile is also a research affiliate at the University of Maastricht and the University of California Berkeley where she was a postdoctoral student. After graduating from her PhD and, after two academic contracts, Cecile moved to RAND, a large US think tank in Cambridge, UK. She has built her specialism in education and continues to enjoy academic affiliations with Berkeley and Maastricht enabling her to publish in academic journals on topics of her choice. She manages the work of other researchers and has been employed part time (0.6 fte) while her son is young.

Insights about their career development included how to be active in your job search and pitch yourself appropriately. Their views included:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Don’t panic; careers evolve and work themselves out. Our speakers all agreed that it takes time to work out what you really want to do after completing your PhD, and it also takes time to release yourself from the expectations of others and discover where you will really thrive.
  2. Getting the first job after the PhD is the hardest. Timing your application process around your submission and Viva means starting looking in earnest at vacancies early in your final year, but you might not start applying until later in that year.
  3. The things you do and the networks you make whilst studying at LSE will influence your future career. Contacts with people inside organisations have been integral to the career opportunities of all the speakers.
  4. Organisations change and this affects the skill sets and areas of expertise required. Use your network and friends to help you keep up to date with the labour market that is specifically relevant to you. Contacts provided access to many of the opportunities in which our speakers were successful, specifically as sources of information about the expertise being sought.
  5. Do your research about organisations as they are very different. Cultures vary and sources of funding shape the type and flow of work available. Research roles vary too; some involve lots of time looking at budgets and project plans, others involve more hands-on research.
  6. It is possible to maintain academic affiliation and to continue to publish if you are in the right position outside academia. Continuing publishing means that jobs in academia are still open to you.
  7. Keeping on learning, undertaking additional training and courses was a common theme. The PhD is part of your learning – not the end.
  8. Be outward looking. Leaving your PhD behind is tough, and moving away from your academic discipline is expected but everyone acknowledged this as being hard. Thinking about your wider discipline area and the value of social science more generally was seen as important in making the transition to work.
  9. Personal lives develop too and partners and children become part of your decisions. We discussed how hard it is to combine work and parenting and the compromises and negotiations involved in managing dual careers.
  10. The speakers all recommended (based on their personal experience!) using LSE Careers to help you think about yourself, your priorities and what you have to offer; to shape and tailor your applications, covering letters and interviews.

Finally, social science researchers also told their career stories at another event I attended off campus. Themes raised were similar to those above and do not need repeating, but you might find the list of roles and organisations interesting. The PhD qualified speakers were not from LSE and were working in:

Government and Parliament as

  • Principal Researcher, Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Senior Research Analyst, House of Commons Library
  • Head of Performance and Intelligence, Corporate Resources and Services, West Sussex County Council
  • Parliamentary Researcher, working directly for a Member of Parliament
  • Director, People Places Lives, a small social research business

Think Tanks and Social Research as

  • Policy Director, Centre for Social Justice
  • Consultant, ThinkYoung, a Brussels based think tank
  • Lecturer and Previous Research Director, NatCen
  • Labour Market Researcher, Learning & Work Institute

Charities and Employee Research as

  • Impact and Evaluation Manager, the National Literacy Trust
  • Research Manager/ Insight Consultant, Employee Research, ORC
  • Senior Associate Director, Research, Evaluation and Impact, Teach First
  • Research and Evaluation Manager, City Year

How LSE Careers can help you

There are many different opportunities for social scientists. I hope this has provoked meaningful messages for your own career progression. Enjoy living your career and I look forward to meeting you to help prepare for the next transition. A discussion with a Careers Consultant can help you to make sense of your options and feelings, your issues can be reviewed in complete confidentiality with me at whatever stage you are in your PhD studies or early research career. Confidential 30-minute one-to-one appointments are available every week, simply book on LSE CareerHub when you’re ready.

Good luck with your PhD work, your additional activities and dreaming your career plans. We’re here to support your career learning whatever stage you’re at.

If you have ideas for other panels of requests for particular types of events to support the career development of PhD students at LSE, please email Catherine Reynolds. The current events are listed on CareerHub.

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Catherine Reynolds

Posted In: LSE Careers | PhD

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