Fieldwork: Student Alex Patton tackles small arms and light weapons reduction with the UN

Immersive experiences are an important way for students to prepare for the world and the workplace. It is also their advantage in the labor market. The Institute has longstanding partnerships with organizations that provide students with work experience opportunities not available elsewhere.

Q&A with Alex Patton MAIPD ’22

Tell us about your internship assignment.

Currently, I am completing my internship – part of my degree in International Politics and Development – at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in their Conventional Arms Branch. The UN network is huge and there are so many agencies. I’ve done an internship before with another agency, the United Nations Population Fund, and I’m building on what I learned there and strategies for learning acronyms, who does what, what we manipulate, etc. We handle things like small arms and light weapons, ammunition and IEDs.

What are you working on specifically?

Right now I’m about a month into it and I’ve been handling the UNSCAR proposals [UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation], which is a funding mechanism that UNODA uses to fund small NGO projects that promote arms control in different regions or countries. We have specific points on which we want to focus, whether it is the Western Balkans or the African Union, for example. What I did was go through them and summarize them. Since I know the projects on offer so well at the moment, I can suggest to my supervisor – who then suggests to the donors – which are the best projects to fund, which is the most structured, their relevance to our priorities.

As you dive deeper into the world of small arms and light weapons reduction, has anything surprised you so far?

It’s really interesting how small arms and light weapons can fit into so many categories. It’s not just disarmament; it can go into women’s rights, for example. One thing I’ve been working on is a training manual that helps guide different NGOs and offices on how to train staff on the intersection of gender and small arms. It’s largely focused on gender-based violence, so it can be related to domestic violence, it can be related to toxic masculinity or violent masculinity. It also examines the military and their relationship with women in local communities. Previously, when I thought of disarmament, I thought it was just arms control, but once you go deeper into gender-based violence, it goes even deeper. Another project that my management has looked into is the intersection with climate change. There are so many ways disarmament can branch off – it touches on so many areas. This cross nature is really interesting and something I learned during my time there.

This is now your second UN assignment. How do you think this on-the-job work experience will support your career goals?

For me, it’s very important because I went directly from undergraduate to postgraduate, so I don’t have a lot of work experience. Internship is something students do to integrate into the wider professional field. Many entry-level jobs require you to have two to three years of experience. So it’s really great, it’s a full-time position. It is great to gain this professional experience, to be fully immersed in the UN agencies, the UN systems and especially the UNODA. I highly recommend him to anyone looking to gain more professional experience, especially in the field of international development.

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