In a series of articles on INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS CAREERS, we would like to discover the career paths for young people interested in international relations, foreign policy, political science and other related fields.
In the second piece of the series, we talked with Ana Mohoric, Event Manager and Fellowship Program Assistant at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna. IWM is an independent institute for advanced study in the field of humanities and social sciences.
The IWM is a very specific place because it is an academic institution but works outside of a university. Could you please briefly describe its activities and characteristics?
Indeed, the IWM is a very special institution in Vienna. It was established in the 80s, when the Iron Curtain was still dividing Europe, with the purpose to exchange knowledge and ideas between East and West by hosting academics from both regions. After the collapse of communism, the focus of the Institute has changed but the idea behind the IWM remained. It still serves the same purpose, only that now the scope is much broader. Currently, it has various Fellowship programs and eight different research foci– from religion and secularism, to the sources of inequality. Additionally, it provides working space to researchers from all over the world. This year the IWM will celebrate 35 years of its existence and is currently being led by Rector Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology.
So is it the mission of the Institute – the knowledge exchange between different countries/cultures/systems – that makes it very special?
Yes. The best practical example is the lunchtime at the IWM: At one table you can see American and Indian scholars talking about philosophy and at the next one a Polish academic talking to a German translator about the future of the European Union. This is the aim of the IWM: mixing up disciplines, nationalities, angles, cultures, etc.
Moreover, most of our events are open to a broader public, meaning anyone can participate, ask questions and engage in this exchange of thoughts, both during the event and afterwards. There is a “tradition” at the IWM that after every open event we invite guests and speakers to continue their discussion over a glass of wine and some snacks. This way the Institute opens itself to people with even more diverse opinions and backgrounds.
What is your role at the Institute?
I am an Event Manager, so I organise lectures, discussions, book presentations etc. We also have bigger events; some are public other closed, which include conferences, workshops, debates, at the IWM or elsewhere, which are jointly organised with my colleague Luise. Another role I fulfil at the IWM is that of a Fellowship Program Assistant: providing help to international fellows to settle into a new environment and institutional support while they do their research.
Interestingly, this was not the position I applied for. I was supposed to work in the administration but when I arrived – which was about 3 years ago – the Institute was in the middle of a transition. The previous Rector had just passed away and the new one has not been nominated yet. Over the course of time, a lot of things, including my responsibilities at the Institute, have changed. Since that time the Institute has grown a lot and particular new tasks were identified.
What would you describe as the biggest advantage of your job and what is its biggest disadvantage? Just to give an overview of how the work in such position looks like.
Well, I work with people a lot and this alone has its own characteristics – you always have to be kind and cooperative, which can be very difficult at some points. But at the same time it has many advantages. I studied linguistics and I was aiming to get a position, which would enable me to use that knowledge on a daily basis. I like event management a lot, the work itself is very dynamic and sometimes both physically and psychologically challenging. You encounter surprises every day plus you have to be very creative, flexible and well-organised at the same time. Most of the time you are looking for practical solutions, keeping track on the budget, on the event planning and its progress, making sure everything is going according to the plan and that everyone is feeling ok. Well, I am 29, still young, so it suits me: I need a bit of adrenaline sometimes!
You have contact with fellows who come to the Institute. What kind of people are they?
We have Junior Fellows – academics who are in the process of doing their Ph.D. or have just completed it and Senior Fellows who already have this title and continue their research. We invite mostly academics but also people from other fields such as politicians, translators, journalists etc. I might add that our fellows and guests are coming from very different countries, different stages of their career but also very different disciplines (law, anthropology, political science etc.) and styles of working. The Institute is very open and attempts to enrich its academic scope by hosting different people.
Is event management a thing you would like to continue doing, despite the fact it was not a field you primarily planned to work in? Do you see the possibilities to grow in this area?
To be honest, when I finished my studies, I wasn't entirely sure what I want to do. So I was trying out very different things. I worked both as a teacher and as a translator and I simply didn't like it. I just wanted to make sure what is right for me and event management appears to suit me a lot. I plan to stay in this field at least a couple of years more. I do not make any long-term plans and I believe that is the case for many young people nowadays.
So would you recommend this approach to finding a career – trying things before making a decision what to do?
I think it depends on what kind of person you are. I have a couple of friends who in the 3rd grade already knew what they wanted to work as. But if you're not sure what you want to do or even what kind of work would suit you, you should try out as many positions as possible. The best moment to do that is during your studies when your schedule is still flexible enough. It's better to take time and think it through because what we want to do in life is quite a big decision to make.
For the end, what would be your recommendations for young people (students, young graduates etc.) applying for a job for the first time?
Well, one thing is not to give up. It's very important when you are applying for a job, especially when you have no experience yet. It is an exhausting process that takes a lot of time while everything one receives is a rejection or even no answer at all. It can be really frustrating at the beginning. It was for me and if it was not for a couple of people who really supported me, I am not sure if I would have stayed that optimistic about finding a job. But it is normal that it takes time and it is important to acknowledge that.
Sometimes what people do – and it happened also in my case – is to agree for the job that they are overqualified for. I did it at the Institute when applying for an administrative job. But I really liked the Institute and I thought it is worth trying. Still, I am not sure if it is necessary to do that at the beginning of your career. Because then, there is the problem – if you settle in too much, it is hard to leave and go for something that is really your thing.
Interviewed by: Kinga Jaromin, Head of EU Foreign Policy Research Group
The Institute for Human Sciences (IWM; www.iwm.at) is an independent institute for advanced study in the humanities and social sciences. Since its foundation in 1982, it has promoted intellectual exchange between the Eastern and Western World, between academia and society, as well as between a variety of disciplines and schools of thought. In this way, the IWM has become a vibrant center of intellectual life in Vienna.