As part of our Student Insight blog series, Evelyn Snow, MSc Development Studies (grad 2017), talks through her journey from SOAS to making a difference in the charity sector, and her current role as Schools’ Programme Assistant Coordinator at education charity Wings of Hope.
Evelyn and the Mayor of Barnet who came to visit a stall that a WOHAA team had at the Barnet Christmas Fayre, where they raised £328
When I applied for a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS at the beginning of 2016 I hadn’t really thought beyond the fact that it sounded like a great course, in an amazing environment filled with inspiring academics and interesting people. When I received my final degree confirmation in December 2017, I was in a very different place to where I had begun with that first application.
My course had a lot of variety in its students – from those who had recently finished undergraduate study, to those who had worked for several years already – so it did seem like some people had a very solid plan, and really knew where they were going in their careers. To tell the truth, having changed so much during my short time at SOAS made me really think hard about my next steps after finishing the Masters, and where I wanted to be in another year’s time. I still don’t have the answer, but I do feel like I am one step closer to working it out!
As anybody who has experienced SOAS knows, the critical stance taken by students and
academics towards the status quo means that finding a job afterwards can be somewhat
challenging – with my other Development Masters peers we often discussed where we would find the kinds of jobs which would balance our grand ideas of ‘the right kind of’ change with the practicalities of graduate life! I also knew I needed some hands-on experience, in order to tailor my patchwork CV to where I thought I was heading later on. Apart from some volunteering work, I didn’t really feel like I had much to offer the kinds of development arenas I was interested in.
When I came across the internship at the Wings of Hope advertised on the Careers network at SOAS, it sounded exactly the balance I was looking for; hands-on experience of charity work in a small team, where student fundraising efforts in the UK are rewarded, and the funds raised go to help educate children in India and Malawi. For that reason I didn’t hold out much hope of getting it, so when I was offered the internship I was delighted – and even more so when it later turned into a permanent position!
My job is hugely varied; from admin tasks to giving presentations, mentoring teams to marketing and organising events, I work with teachers, professionals, and students hoping to engage them all in our educational work. I have given a keynote speech at a careers networking event in a school, presented our work to a business owner who is interested in working together, and researched other similar charity programmes, in the same week as visiting schools to check on the progress of the student teams we’re working with!
A typical day can begin with an assembly at a school, presenting our social enterprise programme (the Wings of Hope Achievement Awards) to students aged 13-18, encouraging them to get involved, then whizzing back to the office to market the programme to more schools, and organise more presentations, followed by catching up on the paperwork of logging students’ details, and often finishes with mentoring sessions with teams who have started their fundraising projects, giving them support and ideas and encouraging them to be the best they can be.
I have been surprised by the variety within my role, and I think this is a huge advantage of working with a small organisation – because we are a team of 4-6 I get to see all sides of what we work on which is fantastic, and means I can be heavily involved in all these sides. This means a lot of juggling too, so there is constantly something else to do, and when I began I found it extremely challenging to keep up with all the different aspects of the programme at the same time, as it felt like having to do several people’s jobs at once. Now I’ve got more comfortable with this, I see it as a steep but impressive learning curve, and I think it would be very hard to go back to working on only one aspect of such a programme at one time.
Life in the charity sector however is full of compromises and stretched resources, something I do find challenging, as there is always so much at stake. My students keep me motivated however – I really get energised when I speak to them and see how passionate they themselves are about making a difference in their fundraising, and this keeps me motivated to continue trying to support them in this and encourage others to get involved at every level.
It has been a hectic few months since I started here in August, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot already. I’m trying to take graduate life one step at a time, and I may not know where I’ll be in a year’s time, or five, but at least for the moment I feel like I’m managing to achieve some real-world change for students in the UK and elsewhere, and absorbing an enormous amount of experience at the same time.
When it comes to thinking about careers, it can be pretty scary and intimidating, but I think the important thing is to not to worry too much about having the perfect post-graduation plan, and instead to take every opportunity that comes your way. Go for what feels right at the time – who knows where it might lead!
Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert firstname.lastname@example.org.