You recently graduated from King’s College with an MA in Non-Proliferation and International Security. Why did you choose this topic and university and would you recommend it?
I came to King’s after a Liberal Arts and Science bachelor at a University College in the Netherlands. I had already gained a keen interest in subjects like international relations, conflict studies and peace-building. I graduated with a thesis on war journalism, which I analysed from the perspective of peace studies. I wanted to continue in the field of conflict and international relations, but also to move away from the more 'soft' approaches I’d studied in my bachelor: away from peace-building, grassroots perspectives and people, and instead look at war (and war-fighting), strategy and an overall more technical approach, in terms of analysis.
King’s has a great reputation for war studies. The department is huge; it offers a wide range of MA’s. I still opted for a programme that’s essentially about avoiding war, though, and I also diversified by picking courses on journalism and the effect of conflict on the 'non-human sphere', the environment and animals.
I would certainly recommend King’s and the War Studies Department. My MA especially was small, inclusive. My professors were very invested in their students. London is a great place if you’re looking to go into foreign policy (or even international business): there are numerous think-tanks, EU and UN affiliated organisations, panel evenings and events … I miss it!
You specialised in war journalism, particularly the ethics and practice of it. Why the interest in it?
I’ve always been interested in journalism, because I love writing and telling a story. At the same time, I want stories and my voice to matter. I am also an avid follower of the news. Throughout my undergrad, I came to realise that I wanted to understand the world’s events. All of my interests thus came together in war or crisis journalism. I believe it is very important for people – citizens in the Netherlands, or the UK, for instance – to be aware that their comfort and affluence are not obvious; that stability takes hard work, and that people in other parts of the world face wildly different circumstances. And at the same time, I think free media can go a long way to support and bring relief to the people in crisis. All of this is quite idealistic, of course, but in this realm I’d rather stick to realism than dismiss the notion all together.
You had internships on the side throughout your studies. Why was it important?
The most obvious reason is that internships are a good option for your CV. I think that’s the least interesting and valid reason to have an internship, the more important one being it’s fun. I’ve always seen internships as a challenge to 'try out' whatever theoretical knowledge you’re gaining at university, to apply it to the workfloor. It is a way of experiencing what a career in your field of study could look like. If you have the opportunity to do more than one internship, that is a way of comparing possible careers and to meet and be motivated by different people who’ve already 'made it' in your field of interest.
For instance, you spent last summer as an events intern at the Frontline Club. What did it entail?
As soon as I got accepted at King’s, I realised I would want to do an internship at the Frontline Club, a media club and charity that aims to promote engagement and dialogue on international affairs, champion independent journalism and provide a diverse range of training for journalists and other media workers.
As the events intern I helped with day-to-day tasks in the office. One task I enjoyed a lot was to do research for upcoming events: I would write short conflict analysis or summaries and look for journalists, academics or other experts who might be available to speak. Working at the Frontline Club was an excuse to do what I already love: read amazing journalism and obsessively stay on top of the news. It also helped me to learn about the UK and international media landscapes.
My other main task during the internship was to attend to the website and Google Analytics, which involved getting back into computer programming skills – a great opportunity to learn more about that.
Previously, you had interned at the European Journalism Centre (EJC). What were you doing there?
I joined EJC after my undergrad. It is and independent non-profit dedicated to the improvement of quality journalism through journalism, especially in a European context. It also covers many topics related to development.
I worked mainly for the Emergency Journalism project, which deals with journalism in and about humanitarian crises, natural disasters and political turmoil. When I joined the project, it mostly dealt with covering humanitarian aid and natural disasters; it had also begun to focus on 'new' or digital journalism. I was able to contribute analysis of political turmoil and war journalism, and also helped set up 'tool boxes' for online journalism and the verification of online sources and data gathering. At EJC I became especially interested in investigative journalism and multimedia journalism.
What would you recommend to current students who would like to do internships, both in terms of gaining them and then making them successful?
Gaining internships might entail a certain level of fearlessness: don’t be afraid to come off too strong. There is no such thing a being too eager. One tip I have is to ignore requirements or vacancies. If you’ve found an organisation or company that you would like to work for – write! If they don’t know you exist, they cannot offer you an internship. Two of my internships I’ve gained because the managers remembered me and were convinced of my motivation when I wrote to them for the second time!
To make your internship a success, it helps to go into your internship with a plan. If you have an idea of what it is you would like to learn during your time in the internship, that will make your work so much more exciting. The goal of internships is to learn, which means that you have to make sure you ask for opportunities. Does your manager have an important meeting? Is there an exciting project going on? Try to get involved, even if you’re just taking minutes in the meeting.
One other thing that can help you afterwards, is to stay in touch with your colleagues and co-workers. That is easy enough through social media.
There is a lot of debate in the UK about internships and how unfair it can be as a scheme. As somebody who has done multiple internships, what is your take on it?
The debate is not much different in the Netherlands. Here, internships are supposed to be a fixed part of the curriculum in higher education – but only for vocational schools, not university. Because there was no room for internships or work experience schemes in my schedule, I’ve done most of my internships during holidays, but it was hard to come by places, because they would often be only given to the other students.
In the Netherlands, interns receive a small stipend, but all in all it’s not much to come by.
It’s a dilemma: internships are a great way to learn and get started with a career, but there is a definite risk of being exploited. It is up to the intern to make their stint a success for themselves and keep their learning curve in check; if not, you’re basically cheap labour and you’re banned to the copy machine and coffee maker.
I do get angry over unpaid internships, because they can take away opportunities for would-be interns who would be jumping up and down to get a position, but cannot do them because they have to pay rent and their school fees. Plus, there is the residual effect when you get ‘used to’ and almost ‘comfortable’ in working without getting paid. A mentality like that might come to haunt you as well as the next generation of interns. But the fact is, at some point you have to decide that you know enough and are talented or skilled enough to earn a normal salary for your work. After so many barely-paid internships, I’m there now, and it’s exciting as well as a bit daunting.
You also have your own website, Lisa Dupuy Reports. Why is it important to have your own online presence?
The blog grew out of my bachelor thesis. Jobs in journalism – especially foreign correspondence – are scarce, and I wanted a space where I could continue to practice, and could hopefully broadcast my skills and work. I haven’t updated it for a while now – that’s the hardest part of a blog: being consistent, but I do continuously get new ideas for it.
In general, I think it’s important to think about the way you are represented online. There’s the story of 'don’t post drunken pictures on Facebook', but there is much more to it. I still have to get the hang of LinkedIn, but I am a great fan of Twitter, which seems especially good for the communications in the fields of foreign policy and journalism. I think it is important to stay in touch with your fields of interest. Through social and online media, you can follow your favourite writers, academics or politicians, engage with others in the field, and even reach out to organisations or companies you’re interested in. I’ve laid several contacts (including with #wifp) through Twitter!
You are still in the very early days of your career. Do you have a plan and what do you want to do?
My last internship ended in December 2014, so I am in-between options now. I’m starting to apply to numerous kinds of positions, in journalism, NGO’s and research. While I could go into policy, I would prefer to first gain experience 'in the field', not 'behind a desk'.
I find it difficult to plan what my career should look like: jobs are not abundant at the moment, and I’m eager to get a position where I am still in touch with the subjects that I find interesting. While I am very motivated and have a clear ideal of my career – as a roving reporter – I’ve realised that I should stray from being too single-minded. There is no one straight path to your future, so you might have to allow to stray off it a little bit, especially in the beginning.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
I’m proud of my academic achievements so far, and I’m happy that I was able to have to so many other activities next to my studies. One very concrete reward that I got from a third party was a scholarship I was awarded from a Dutch platform to help pay for my MA: I took that as a confirmation that I was on the right track and that these people had been convinced by my motivations and capabilities. I was very grateful to get it.
I can take a lot of pride in hard work, more so than perfect results.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I’m certainly motivated and I like to think outside the box. I like to think that my writing is another asset, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. I’m usually organised, thoroughly research my projects. A lot of these skills are derived through practice, which I’d gained through internships but also extra-curricular activities at school and through practice I’d gathered on my own: I’ve always tried to write as much as I could. Other skills that you will likely develop at uni are the capability to work under pressure and meet deadlines.
One other skill I have is that I speak several languages – due to a happy coincidence, because my father is French and my mother is Dutch, I speak both, as well as English. That would be a crucial tip (it might a bit obvious, but still), especially in the field of foreign affairs.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
Don’t pile on work.
I tend to take on as many tasks as I think I can accomplish – which is usually one or two too many. I don’t like saying 'no' and pile on deadlines, which then get tangled. I don’t like taking the easy way out and like to take on complicated tasks. I don’t like feeling as if I’m 'standing still', but I have learnt that a moment of reflection in-between periods (going from one internship to the next, for instance) actually pays off. The stressed-out version of yourself is definitely the least productive one. Expressing your stress or disappointment if projects don’t turn out the way you’d hoped or expected is important: you don’t want to self-sabotage because that will only grind you down.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
In some places or offices, it might be hard to speak your mind. On several occasions, I would be shy in expressing my opinion – even if I realised that it was expected of me. There is not much you can do, except open your mouth. In some positions it may take longer than others.
I think the coming period, when nothing is clear yet with regards to a new job, will be quite a challenge, too. On the other hand, I do see freedom in this ‘unknown’.
What achievements are you most proud of?
One academic achievement: I wrote a paper at King’s that might be published later in the year. It was an assignment that I worked very hard for and which I was very excited about – it was great to hear that my professors were impressed with it, and it was a very pleasant surprise when I was told it might be published. I’ll also give a talk about the paper in class, as a guest speaker in the exact same course that I wrote the paper for.
And one in journalism: Just last November, the editors of the university newspaper I used to work for as a bachelor student, asked me to write an opinion piece on war journalism, in the wake of the IS killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. I was very pleased they came to me and very happy with the resulting article.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
There are many! I follow roughly a thousand writers and journalists whom I am envious of – for their use of words and their careers – and adore at the same time.
I have to mention Marie Colvin in this respect. Her writing was as fierce as must have been her personality, and there are many pieces that will remain with me. In the Netherlands, the journalist Natalie Righton spent three years in Afghanistan for a national newspaper. And in the UK, Lindsey Hilsum is undoubtedly the grande dame of foreign reporting. She attended an event at the Frontline Club and when I asked her for an autograph I could barely get a word out.
When I was younger, J.K. Rowling was my role model! I’m still impressed with her resolve to finish her first book, even though life wasn’t easy for her at the time.
Lisa Dupuy, Editorial Intern at National Geographic Magazine Nederland (portrait by Tessa Wiegerinck)
Three years' experience
CV in brief:
Find her online
On Twitter: @lisadupuy
At the European Journalism Centre
Graduating from King's College in January 2015
Live-tweeting for the King's College War Studies department
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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