A quick reflection on where I’m at so far, and generic advice to others

In 2012 I decided to change career from large scale IT project management to war prevention.  I have made progress in doing so.

  • I’ve nearly finished my ‘Peace Studies’ Open Degree.  In the next few months I’ll be putting in applications for doing a Peace Studies Masters Degree starting in 2018.
  • I’ve a few years experience at volunteering in the sector, giving me work experience to talk about.  I also have and have had director-level voluntary posts in the sector, giving me kudos and credibility.
  • I read everything I can so can hold meaningful conversations with interested people about peace work.  I think I can just about cover a stand at a conference or exhibition on my own (having just done so under tuition and supervision of an expert) although I need more practice.
  • I am working for an employer who advertises roles I would like.

That is in accordance with the plan I had in 2012.  I have not done everything in the plan as some has not worked out – I was too optimistic about being able to change the world quickly.  But I am getting there.

My ‘how to change career’ plan came from books I read about 5 years ago, and the generic advice boils down to this:

You need three things: relevant qualifications (to get your CV through the tick-box checklist); work experience (nobody wants to give training or risk taking on someone who may be unable to do the job); to know the culture (so you can get through the interview).

To get these three things:

1. Volunteer for anything in the same sector or doing the same kind of work. This gives you knowledge of the culture and starts your people networking. Volunteering is way to get work experience.
2. Make sure your study is appropriate for what you want to do. I am doing an Open Degree because the OU doesn’t do a Peace Studies degree. Check the careers information on government and academic resources for what qualifications are expected and decide if you need anything else. Sometimes free courses through MOOCs can be a good enough substitute
depending on what you want to do.
3. Read everything you can about your desired role / sector. Wikipedia, text books, online articles, journals, e-journals, blogs. Get to know how things are done, what is the jargon, who are the big names.

Also, networking is essential these days.  See who is doing the job you want on LinkedIn and try to join the same groups as them to see what is being discussed and what is important. Also, try to make connections with them.

Getting a job doing what you do now in an organisation which also does the job you want, and then moving sideways, can be much easier than trying to get the job you want straight away.

I would also suggest self-advertising.  Blog about what you are doing and how you are getting on. Create a web site about it. Have business cards describing you in your new role. Give them out and tell people what you are doing: strangers like to help and offer advice and there can be gems in that free advice.

That is what I have been doing, so I do follow my own advice.  🙂

Michael Mears’ play “This Evil Thing”

I already know the history of the absolutist conscientious objectors fairly well and Michael Mears’ play This Evil Thing is very accurate.

It covers the story of one of those conscientious objectors who was sent to France and there sentenced to death by court martial, Bert Brocklesby, with those around him and those, such as philosopher Bertrand Russell and suffragist Catherine Marshall, who campaigned for better treatment for the COs.

Where possible he uses the actual words of the people involved and where not he makes it clear it is conjecture.  “I can just imagine the conversation…” and his conjecture is plausible and historically valid.

He plays some 52 people on stage with an energy that is almost exhausting to watch.  Michael is an incredibly athletic and energetic performer and seeing him play the part of an emaciated prisoner is haunting.  I had no idea a one person show could give such breadth of characterisation, but then I have not seen a one person show performed by an experienced professional actor before, let alone one with passion about the subject.

It is accurate, informative and thought-provoking.

He even followed the 80 minute performance with a Q&A discussion which, on this occasion, lasted at least 40 minutes.

That was a wonderful evening and if you can attend one I thoroughly recommend it.

Information on the writer and performer Michael Mears: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0575223/

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thisevilthing

Work experience request

I have asked the lobbying organisation Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War if I may do a couple of weeks work experience next summer.

This is my formal request:

Dear Mr Dolan,

I am seeking the opportunity to gain work experience in the peace sector next summer and hope Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War would be able to provide that for me.

By 11th June 2018 I will have finished my undergraduate degree which covers social science, history, philosophy and psychology aspects regarding peace and war. I hope to start a post-graduate Master’s Degree in Peace Studies in October 2018. My academic experience to date has covered the ethics of war, 20th century European political history, how society is controlled by the state, the use of violence by states as a management tool and why people act and think how they do even when it is illogical. This has included use of online databases, independent research and producing reports and analyses of existing academic writing.

I can offer a week full-time on site and should appreciate the opportunity to shadow you as Campaigns and Communications Manager and/or your experienced peace worker volunteers. Although I should like to invest longer than a week on site, personal finances, accommodation requirements and my wife’s leave constraints will prevent that. So, if you can think of a specific project, possibly research, possibly writing something up, that could take another week or so that I could subsequently do at home, that would be excellent for me.

If I could end the summer having done a work experience ‘project’ with something tangible to show for it, it would be good for my CV and future study. If that would be of benefit to Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War, so much the better!

I should appreciate it if you would consider my application and identify a useful project I could undertake for you.

I look forward to hearing your decision.

Simon.

I’m feeling optimistic!

Civil Service Fast Stream

In today’s Civil Service News bulletin email, there was reference to the Civil Service Fast Stream.  This I took to be the Civil Service’s new graduate recruitment and fast progression scheme, intended for young people just leaving university.  It seems I thought wrong:


Fast Stream opportunities to advance your career

Did you know you don’t have to be a graduate to join the Civil Service Fast Stream, the development programme for our future leaders? And you can apply from within the Civil Service. Applications for the 2018 intake are open now.
Find out what’s new in the Fast Stream


So I had a butcher’s and saw I can apply now for entry in the scheme in 2018 when I have completed my degree.  I can also apply now as a Civil Servant, regardless of having a degree.  Any Civil Servant can.  Link.

There are apprenticeships – no, thanks – internships – no, thanks – and the various schemes organised by government function.  Having gone through the schemes, one says:

Safeguarding the UK’s national security by…working to reduce conflict…
…prevent and resolve conflict; and build stability overseas.

That’s me that is!  That’s what I want to do!  Those items are listed under the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within the Diplomatic Service Fast Stream.

So I have started my application.  🙂

All I need to do is the two online questionnaire tests, the e-tray exercise, the video interview and see if I have passed.  Then the application form and see if I pass the sift.  Then attend the half day assessment at the assessment centre to such exercises as the leadership exercise, the group exercise and the analysis exercise and see if I pass that.  (I have done part of one of those days before some years ago and it went horribly wrong for me; they had the wrong exercises and, well, what do I know about being an HR Director?)  Then it is the final selection process will be an assessment at an assessment centre with specialist assessments to assess capability and motivations.  If assessed as successful, I presume one has jumped through the acceptance hoops.  Then it’ll just be probation, training, assessment, placements for 2 to 3 years, resulting in a potential salary of £28k circa 2021 but doing a job I passionately want to do.

If I don’t get accepted the first time – as many don’t – I can reapply a year later.  That will be after my Master’s Degree so is better anyway.

Found “This Evil Thing” in the priory

I needed to get away from my desk.  I wandered round to the Lancaster Priory and had a look around.  I had not appreciated it is a parish church, which explains the bell-ringing at funny times in the week: weddings!

I mostly studied the history of the place which is fascinating. But I also went through the notices and leaflets, as is my wont.  And amongst them I found something I had not seen in the Tourist Office or museum.  A show called This Evil Thing to be performed in Lancaster in a few days.

Poster for Michael Mears' play This Evil Thing

Poster for Michael Mears’ play This Evil Thing

It is a one-man play about conscientious objectors in The Great War.

But since I spent so much time sitting quietly in a pew, I think I needed some quiet, some solitude.  However, I intend to see this play.

The Kalashnikov assault rifle as “a sacred weapon”

I can understand why the Russians want statues to The Great Patriotic War, fought for survival against a treacherous Nazi Germany that was hugely important in the eventual end of World War 2 for the allies.

I can also understand the desire to recognise the tools of this victory, such as the remarkably effective T-34 medium tank.

But a statue to the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle seems a bit odd.  Firstly, because it was produced after WW2, but especially because of its history since then for unlicensed production, illicit black market trade and as the weapon of choice for revolutionaries, terrorists, drug cartels, pirates and criminals.  It made the BBC news because the statue’s designer put the wrong parts diagram on a plate on the statue.

What the BBC did not say was the statue is unpopular locally and the unveiling of the statue to the AK47’s inventor resulted in the arrest of the sole protestor,  link, proclaiming “a creator of weapons is a creator of death”.

But I am puzzled by the words of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church who describes it as “a sacred weapon.  What a strange Christian.  But then, he also endorses female genital mutilation, so his opinion is not that worthwhile.

Incidentally, the roughly estimated 100 million genuine and copied AK-47s in the world are responsible for about a quarter of a million killings every year.

Bias regarding fear of war allowing wars to happen

As creatures, we are very poor at assessing risk.  This knowledge was reinforced by what I learned in the Open University module DD210 Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary.  I suspect that is one of the reasons we allow wars to happen.

On the same theme The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther may be a relevant and useful read.  It looks as though they consider why we allow things to happen.  They highlight six behaviours:

  1. Amnesia bias: only focussing on recent experience so we forget the experience of past wars.
  2. Optimism bias: we are optimistic by nature and although know wars happen, believe wars will not happen to us.
  3. Single action bias: it is enough to make one small act of protest thinking that will be enough to protect us.
  4. Myopia: only considering the short term, that war won’t happen soon so it will never happen.
  5. Inertia: it is too hard to face the problem and tackle it, when it might not even happen, thereby allowing it to happen.
  6. Herding: doing what we perceive everyone else to do, which is nothing, so nobody does anything.

But that list does not tell us what to do about them; perhaps the rest of their book does.

Are pacifists optimists or pessimists?

I was at a peace conference at the weekend.  A full-time peace worker said “Of course, you have to be an optimist to believe peace is possible“.  Puzzled, I disagreed, saying “In my experience, peace activists are pessimists and do what they do because they fear the worst will happen“.  Some discussion followed.

I have since worked out the difference: he was talking about employees and I was talking about volunteers.  He could not do his job if he was pessimistic and I would have no motivation if I was optimistic.

What you can do with that knowledge, I have no idea.

But what does it mean about me going from a peace-worker volunteer to becoming a peace sector employee?

No reduction in defence spending until at least June 2022

As part of Theresa May’s £1 billion deal to buy the support of the DUP so she can stay in power, defence spending will be at least maintained until the next general election.

Link: www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40245514

So there’s not much point campaigning for any kind of reduction for the next four or five years.

Specifically: “On defence, the parties have said they will ensure they meet the NATO commitment of spending two per cent of GDP on the armed forces, as well as committing to the Armed Forces Covenant. They will also look at ways to support reserve forces in Northern Ireland.”  UK GDP is just over £2,000,000 million, 2% of that is about £40,000,000,000 or about £750,000,000 per week.

Note that it is 2% of the Gross Domestic Product which is the entire output of the economy, not 2% of the tax income, nor 2% of government expenditure.