As part of our Student Insight blog series, Harmanjit Sidhu, BA History (grad 2017) and Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2017/18, talks through her recent experience of the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme.
I have to admit, I was quite apprehensive about sacrificing possibly my last ever summer holidays to complete the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. On reflection, it was probably one of the most beneficial experiences of my life.
For seven weeks, I was based at the Ministry of Defence, working on the Covenant Grant Fund which helps to support ex-servicemen and women through funding local projects. Some of these were based on helping veterans find work after completing their service, whilst other projects focused on aiding veterans who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I was given the responsibility of producing a case study booklet, evaluating the success of some projects the Grant had funded in the past. I had to finally present this to a senior steering group of the fund, which was made up of both military generals and civil servants. It was quite possibly the most frightening experience of my life- but as soon as it was over I can’t remember feeling more proud of myself! The final case study booklet is now used within the department as a key piece of publicity, and is distributed as events to showcase the achievements of the Fund. Therefore, in some ways, I have left behind an enduring legacy.
The range of projects on offer for interns is huge. Following a successful application, you are allocated to a department and project. For most people this is pretty random, however, if there is a project which is aligned to interests you mentioned in your written application, or on the phone interview, you are assigned to it. I was also able to indicate my preference for the type of work I wanted to do, e.g. Communications over technical/ operational. Fellow interns were placed in departments like Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Cabinet Office, the National Crime Agency and so on. Their projects included updating travel advice on the FCO website based on new information, evaluating a project completed by the team in the past, or conducting interviews to gather feedback on a new software.
The project and the overall experience of working within the civil service has provided me with a whole range of new skills. In producing the case study booklet I had to communicate with a hugely varied range of people, from senior diplomatic figures, to army generals, to on the ground grass root activists. As well as this, I had to plan, write and design the content and layout of the booklet too. I was given additional responsibilities of reporting back after attending conferences, attending high level meetings (after signing an official secrets act- all very exciting!), as well as the day to day communications with current grant holders, and chasing end of year grant reports.
Interns were also given ample opportunities to network across other government departments. At the beginning you attend a huge opening ceremony, normally held at the FCO, and there are a number of other events during the summer where the entire cohort of interns gets together. You have the opportunity to meet assessment day coordinators, ask current fast streamers questions, and meet representatives of different government departments who are happy to offer advice and guidance. You are also given a ‘mentor’, normally a fast streamer who can help provide specific advice on the project you are completing, as well as helping you out with Fast Stream application questions. I received some great advice from my own mentor, and have kept in touch with him since I left the scheme.
Increasing diversity and improving representation is a huge objective at the moment, and rightly so. Time and time again, as interns were told about how vital the issue of representation is for the government. The SDIP scheme taught me how much variety there is on offer if you work for the government. If you’re somebody who believes passionately in using your career to create meaningful and lasting change, and you meet the criteria for applying, then challenge yourself to completing the SDIP this summer. It could change your life!
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