April 3, 2020, by abrierley

My Experience as a DSTL Deterrence and Assurance Research Intern and the 2020 United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Conference

by Maryam Zafar 2nd year UG Politics and International Relations

As I began my second year at university, I made the decision to undertake a term-time placement under one of the programs provided by the Faculty of Social Sciences. Through partnering with a number of organisations, the Faculty provides these opportunities and advertises them through email. Since the placement is limited to the university, the competition is not as high as other nationwide programs, and so I decided that pursuing a placement will be a great experience and something valuable I could add to my CV.

As a Politics student, I naturally gravitated towards the Defence Science and Technology Lab’s (DSTL) Deterrence and Assurance research placement. I have a fervent interest in global security studies and international relations, something the placement would allow me to pursue in a professional environment. The initial application was straightforward and simple; I had to demonstrate why I was interested in this role and how my past experiences prepared me for it. After that, I was invited for an interview at the Ministry of Defence in Westminster! The entire process did not demand much waiting, and I found that just within the experience of applying I had an opportunity to practice employability skills, giving me increased confidence for future applications.

The placement itself was ten weeks and my main task as a research intern over the weeks was to research an area of interest within Deterrence and Assurance and write an essay on it (around 2500 words). As it was a remote placement, I had a call scheduled with my supervisor once a week where I would provide an update on how my research was going and also got advice and guidance on what direction to go in with my paper. My favourite part of this placement was that I had a large degree of freedom in choosing what I wanted to research and how I went about it. The support I received from DSTL was fantastic as well; I was encouraged to ask lots of questions and felt supported throughout the entire placement. Whilst it was a remote placement, meaning much of the contact I had was through weekly phone calls and emails, I also had the opportunity to travel to London and interview a member of staff from the Cabinet Office strategic communications team for my own research. Overall, I had an extremely positive experience and I learnt a lot about deterrence which has helped me in my degree, as well as transferable professional skills.

My biggest challenge during this whole experience was in balancing the workload of the placement as well as academic work at university. However, I quickly learnt that setting one day aside for placement work would mean that I was able to concentrate on university work and do my placement research effectively as well. The general expectation is to invest 7-8 hours a week but with good time-management and self-discipline, I realised it was possible to have a good balance.

 Upon completing my paper, I was encouraged by my supervisor to publish it. I subsequently went on to present my findings at the Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance Conference in Iowa State University with the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)! Although I was not able to physically be there, I was still able to be a part of a panel virtually and presented my research to other students and experts in this field.

My presentation at this conference was received well; I have now been invited to the STRATCOM Deterrence Symposium in July in which academic, government, military and international experts come together, with the goal of exploring deterrence issues and thinking. This kind of exposure and opportunity to network with experts is extremely valuable as an undergraduate student. I am very grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from DSTL which resulted in this.

My placement experience with DSTL resulted in much more than what I initially anticipated. What began as a simple 10-week research placement during my second year resulted in a published paper, a presentation at a USSTRATCOM conference and an invite to the Deterrence Symposium.

I would strongly recommend any student with an interest in security studies/international affairs to apply for this placement. It not only gives you a great insight into what working at the DSTL, Ministry of Defence or the wider Civil Service is like but a great opportunity to network with those in the field and can open many doors for future career options!

Posted in General Placement Blogs