Global Affairs
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

MA Grad Interns at the WHO in Geneva

United Nations Headquarters

What prompted you to apply for the Duke Geneva Program?

When I graduated and started applying for jobs, I realized that while the GLOA MA had given me the academic foundations I needed, I didn’t yet have the work experience to be a competitive candidate for the global health jobs I wanted. I stumbled upon the Duke Geneva Program and thought that it would be a good way to bridge the transition between being a full-time student and entering the workforce full-time.

What does your internship entail?

I’m working with the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), hosted by the WHO but coordinated by the WHO, World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and UNICEF. My internship project involves updating and completing prior research on methods of research prioritization across WHO departments. We’ve been reviewing all WHO publications from the past 10 years that detail research priorities or gaps and analyzing them based on methodology, approach, and topic. Ultimately, I’ll be creating an interactive database of these priorities and publishing a paper about this project and results in the journal Health Research Policy and Systems.

What is a typical day like?

On a typical day, I arrive at work in the morning, get settled in for the day, and then grab coffee with coworkers in my department. Though there is a very strong work ethic here (plenty of late nights and early mornings!), the WHO generally tries to encourage a good work/life balance, so it’s very common for coworkers to snag a coffee, eat lunch, or go for walks together at lunchtime. In the afternoon I typically have a meeting of some sort on my agenda - a team meeting, an interview for my research, or a lunchtime seminar hosted by a WHO department to discuss recent research findings or current events. I’ll stay in the evening until I finish up a good chunk of my project, then try to squeeze in some time to study French or prep for classes.

What has been the most valuable and most unexpected aspects of the experience?

The most unexpected aspect of interning at WHO has been the quality of the people I’ve been able to work with. WHO and other UN institutions often get a lot of criticism for being overly-bureaucratized and removed from the field, and as an intern I was expecting to be handed a lot of copying and filing to do. But it’s obvious that the employees at WHO have a deep-seated passion for their work and for sharing it with others; on more than one occasion someone has started tearing up while telling me about the most difficult cases they’ve encountered in the field or how much they miss their families while they’re away. Every single person in my department has made it a priority to invite me for coffee and explain what they work on and how they’ve gotten here. As an intern I’ve been given a substantial project, I attend staff meetings and conferences, and my supervisor is never too busy to give me guidance when I need it. It’s obvious that a love for both learning and teaching is an integral part of this place and it’s made for an amazing experience. In a broader sense, the most valuable aspect of this experience has been being forced out of my comfort zone to travel and explore on my own. I’ve had to navigate a new city, language, and culture, and even just figuring out the visa requirements, travel plans, housing and such to get here was a big hurdle and learning experience! Independent travel has always intimidated me an awful lot, and I’ve learned that while it can be scary it’s also incredibly fun and freeing to figure things out on your own and do exactly what you want to do.

What are your plans once you complete the program?

When I finish my internship I’m planning to travel around Switzerland and then Italy for a couple of weeks. After that I’ll be returning to Durham, North Carolina to hopefully find a job! In talking with higher-ups at WHO, a very commonly repeated sentiment is, “I have no clue how I got here.” They’ve all shared that they couldn’t have ever expected to end up at WHO when they were my age - they just followed an interest, which led to a job, and then another interest, and then a field assignment, and so on. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to have everything figured out in your 20s, but so many people working in the jobs I’d like in the future have said that the best thing to do is relax and just jump on whatever new opportunities come at you. It’s made me feel a lot more confident about the direction of my life.


Photo credits: Britnae Purdy

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