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SGS alumni offer advice to students interested in international service

Rachel Quint, Robin Swearingen and Sofia Singer

Rachel Quint, left, and Robin Swearingen, middle, returned to Stanford to participate on a panel about careers in international service. The panel was moderated by undergraduate Sofia Singer, right. 

Feb 11 2019

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Global studies alumni Rachel Quint and Robin Swearingen returned to campus in February to talk about their careers in international service at a panel discussion held at the Haas Center for Public Service.

Rachel, who serves as a strategy manager at the International Rescue Committee, leads work on organizational change management and strategy implementation. Previously, she was a senior policy officer at the United Nations Foundation. She also worked in Ethiopia at the World Food Program and the International Rescue Committee as a Princeton in Africa fellow. Rachel holds a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's degree in African studies, both from Stanford.

Robin is an international development and global health professional with eight years of experience leading technical activity implementation and managing operations on donor-funded progress at programs in low income countries. He works at USAID as a Zika program technical coordinator, managing activities designed to increase access to Zika prevention and diagnostic supplies in Latin America and the Caribbean. He received his master's degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies from Stanford. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.

Undergraduate Sofia Singer, an international relations and medical anthropology major, moderated the panel and asked Robin and Rachel to advise students how to launch their careers in international service in Washington, D.C. Read their advice below.

Listen, learn, then leap

An ambitious student, Rachel was eager to make a difference when she stepped into her first job at the International Rescue Committee.

“I was told by a lot of people that I should be really proactive, identify projects and pitch different ideas to my employers. In my first job, I went for that advice, and it was actually not the right approach at all,” she said. “I needed to sit back and learn.”

Career paths are not straight lines

Rachel and Robin encouraged students to approach the job hunt with an open mind. “I was really worried about the narrative of my career and … getting my dream job in a way that made a lot of sense to me,” Rachel explained.

She quickly realized, after joining the workforce, that the journey from Stanford to her dream job would not be in the shape of a straight line. “I had a lot of starts and stops in my career, a lot of things that did and didn’t work out,” she admitted.

Taking a moment to reflect, Rachel wishes she had worried less because she has had many rewarding experiences over the course of her career. She reminded attendees that they can always craft a good story in an interview to explain how different positions piggyback off one another.

Careers in D.C. discussion panel

Roll with the punches

“Study what you’re interested in, but just be ready professionally to adapt and go with the flow,” Robin advised.

He quickly learned the importance of adapting to change after he joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Kazakhstan. His time in the Central Asian country was cut short when his program unexpectedly shut down after just 15 months, and he had four days to pack up.

“I didn’t want to leave, but unfortunately life has its way of intervening, and you can’t control what’s going to come next,” Robin explained. After receiving the surprising news, he was ultimately able to find a position at a program in Tajikistan teaching human rights terminology to law school students.

This lesson in adaptability served him well when he moved to Washington, D.C. a few years later after earning his master’s degree. “I naively thought I could just move to D.C. and have a career in Central Asian affairs,” he said. However, he quickly discovered that he needed to broaden his focus to find a full-time position.

Robin now works at USAID managing the delivery of supplies to Latin America and the Caribbean, however he recently had the opportunity to return to the region he studied, visiting Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to recruit tuberculosis specialists.  

Networking is helpful, to an extent

While networking can be useful, the panelists both rejected the idea that it is essential to finding a job. “Most of my jobs have come from applying to a job online that exists. I think it is only when you become more senior that someone can create a job for you,” said Rachel. “Where a network really helps is when you apply for a job and then find someone you know [at the organization] who can send in your resume.”

Although Rachel and Robin were skeptical about the importance of networking in securing a job, they encouraged students to engage in informational interviews to gain a better understanding of the employment landscape in the fields of international development and global health.

Haas Center for Public Service

Take advantage of opportunities, and follow your dreams

The panelists urged students to take advantage of the opportunities available at Stanford and abroad.

During her time at Stanford, Rachel studied abroad in Tanzania and participated in the Stanford in Washington program, completing an internship with the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit. Meanwhile Robin applied for a Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship when he was obtaining his master’s degree, which enabled him to receive intensive language training in Farsi and Russian.

Both strongly recommended traveling, living and working abroad. “I would advise that, if you have a way to go to the field, just to really take up that opportunity. What you can learn in terms of language and having discussions with the locals and deeply understanding the culture is very essential for international development,” said Robin.

As the event came to a close, Rachel reminded students to pursue opportunities that peaked their interest and brought them excitement. Robin added, “Follow your passions, and don’t compromise in terms of your intellectual interests.”

This event was sponsored by Stanford Global Studies and the Haas Center for Public Service.