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.  🙂

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.

The Woman-Power Debate, March 1941

In learning about the workforce requirements of total war, specifically the debate in the House of Commons about conscripting women to work on the land and in munitions factories in March 1941 Britain during World War Two, I saw a quote which gave me pause.

Agnes Hardie MP was arguing that “it has been a tradition for generations that war is a man’s job and women have the bearing and raising of children and should be exempt from war“.  I bet that comes up a lot in the gender studies modules of Peace Studies degrees.  (Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 376 (1941–1942), Parliamentary Debates November 12–December 19, 1941, Debate on Maximum National Effort 2/12 (1941), col. 1,079.)

While one side argued in the Woman-Power Debate that female war work was heroic and liberating, this was countered with concerns that increasing state management of women’s lives threatened to undermine both family life and femininity.  Agnes Hardie argued that mothers were “doing a far more important job for the future generations…than filling shells with which to kill some other mother’s son” (Hansard, vol. 370 (March–April 1941), Woman-Power Debate, cols 351–3).

As King Baudouin I of Belgium said: “It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him”.

Note for later: I wonder if the Bill to conscript women permitted the the right to conscientious objection, like the Miltary Service Act 1916 did for men?  I think it may have been the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, but there’s also “In December 1941 Parliament passed a second National Service Act. It widened the scope of conscription still further by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up.”  If so, I think it permitted them the right to object to military service, but does that include filling shells?  They did, however, get the choice whether to work in factories or on the land.

This is the sort of work I want: peace informatics

There is a group on LinkedIn called Peace Informatics describing itself:

This group brings together researchers, practitioners and other professionals who want to explore how Big Data can be applied in the field of peace and security. The group’s moderators provide regular updates with cutting edge information about related developments and aim to exchange views among network members about lessons learned, latest insights and potential collaboration.

Peace Informatics is initiated and run by the Peace Informatics Lab at Leiden University (Campus The Hague). The Peace Informatics Lab consists of a number of interconnected projects that explore new ways of Big Data methodologies in the field of peace & security.

I’m not convinced about the hype around ‘big data’ (my views come from decades of experience working with large databases, data analysis and business analysis rather than marketing bumf), but I am impressed with what I have seen of Leiden University, having done some of their MOOC courses.

But this could be a field where my IT experience would be very useful.  Now, how to get my foot in the door…?

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

Searching for peace sector jobs

It can be difficult finding jobs in any sector, but searching for those relating to peace has extra problems.  For example:

  • Just what is the sector called?
  • What qualifications can one search for?
  • What licensing requirements can one search for?

A search for ‘peace’ on the UK government’s job web site Universal Jobmatch highlights these problems for those wanting paid work working for peace:

  • Agencies who include ‘peace of mind’ as boilerplate text in every advert such as:
    • Our aim is to ensure that people have a job that is satisfying and rewarding, which in turn gives clients an enhanced service, as well as total peace of mind” (for a Healthcare Assistant role);
    • Our 20 year “Total Peace of Mind”guaranteeprovides a unique offering and we have RECC membership, MCS accreditation and a financefacility” (for a solar panels sales role for a company that cannot find the keyboard’s space bar);
  • Arbitrary use of ‘peace’:
    • Northampton is a thriving, colourful and developing town that offers affordable housing and is situated in Northamptonshire, and offers the restful peace of the countryside” although how a city of ¼ million people counts as ‘countryside’ I don’t know and there hasn’t been any affordable housing in Britain for over 30 years;
    • Youll be at peace developing cross-browser AJAX web applications” for a ‘C / ASP .Net Software Developer’ meaning the candidate will be told to do stuff they are not qualified to do but won’t complain;
  • Using ‘peace’ to mean the opposite of peace:
    • Ministry of Defence, Unit Photographer.  Provide photographic images to support, enhance, train and protect the unit’s reputation during times of conflict and peace” (note I had to correct the grammar in that advert);
    • WTF is a ‘Protection Insurance Adviser‘?  Isn’t that what the Mafia use to run their protection rackets?  “As a Protection Adviser you will be on hand [fist?] to recommend the very best suite of protection insurance products to our clients to give them peace of mind“;
    • For the peace of mind of our customers and our colleagues, we will carry out screening checks as part of our recruitment process” when they really mean their own security;
  • ‘peace’ in the recruitment agency’s name, such as Peace Recruitment who work “within the construction, property and engineering sectors” — so why are they called Peace Recruitment? (they currently need bricklayers in Edinburgh, BTW);
  • employers with ‘peace’ in the name such as GreenPeace who are recruiting door-to-door fund-raisers (“FULL INSPIRING TRAINING GIVEN“, poor sods) and chuggers which, in my book, is about as peaceful as a smack in the mouth;
  • companies oddly using WW2 to define their age:
    • a bus company: “through wartime and peace, we have improved the day-to-day lives of generations of people” !;
  • roles requiring a Moslem and so tangentially refer to ‘peace’, such as:
    • Imam.  Provide Islamic guidance according to Mohammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)“.
  • roles with a peaceful environment, which are a nice distraction to read about, such as:
    • Greenkeeper.  For those seeking peace and quiet, the site also offers solitude and privacy” – lovely;
  • recruiters such as Leah Peace who have ‘peace’ in their given name, with which I cannot get upset;
  • jobs where the word ‘peace’ does not appear anywhere, which are just a mystery.

But most of them are sales jobs selling insurance as ‘peace of mind’, meaning ringing people up and frightening them until they give you money.  How is that promoting peace in society?

It seems the people who want to be associated with the word ‘peace’ in their advertising do so because they are so far detached from the concept.

Of the 584 jobs returned today, two are actually related to peace: a lecturer and a research analyst.

From the above analysis one can assume that if you want to work in the peace sector, the odds are over 200:1 against success when searching for ‘peace’.  So a bit like real life, then.