Advice for Emerging Leaders from Junior Fellowship Alumni
January 8, 2019

The Pacific Council’s Junior Fellowship program was developed to serve new generations of young people who are seeking to become a part of the global conversation.

Designed for students and recent graduates who have a demonstrated interest in international affairs, the Junior Fellows program is an opportunity for individuals of junior professional background to gain valuable, behind-the-scenes experience at a member-based, non-profit foreign affairs organization. When new generations of individuals entering the foreign policy field are mentored and given opportunities, they become empowered to create new platforms for action and spaces for policy discussion. 

The Pacific Council recently spoke with former Junior Fellows about life transitions, challenges, and advice for the next generation of emerging leaders.

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Pacific Council: What did you study in university? How have your aspirations changed as you moved through university, work, etc.?

Claire Bond (Fall 2016 Communications Fellow): I studied international relations and French. I started as a pre-med biology major, but quickly realized that wasn’t for me and ended up taking an intro class in international relations. After that, I knew I wanted to pursue something in that field, but was not entirely sure what that career path would look like. I know I want to go back to school, but need to figure out what I want to specialize in before pursuing an advanced degree.

Brindha Gopalakrishnan (Fall 2017 Development Fellow): I studied international development at UCLA. I am currently working in Ghana for Innovations for Poverty Action, an aid organization that prioritizes field research as measurements for effective aid. I want to continue to learn and gain experience through work and in a couple years pursue a master’s degree. 

Lacey Szczepanik (Summer 2017 Communications Fellow): I hope at some point in my career I have an opportunity to work on a major political campaign for a candidate I really believe in, either as a communications director or a policy advisor. One who wins, ideally. I think that would be a really great experience.

Patrick Babajanian (Summer 2017 Trips Fellow): My professional experiences so far have prepared me in a way that I would not have been had I gone straight from school to law school. I am now set on ultimately attending law school, and have even identified a particular focus in corporate law as an area I would like to explore further.

Tyler Takemoto (Summer 2015 Trips Fellow): I graduated from UC San Diego with a major in international economics. I am currently a legal assistant at the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that promotes progress in civil rights. Next fall, I plan on attending law school where I will study international humanitarian law. 

What has been a challenge for you in terms of your personal and professional development?

Patrick: My greatest challenge was actually figuring out what I wanted to do as a long-term career. I have always had an interest in law; in fact, I even started the law school application process during my senior year and took the LSAT. I decided to postpone those plans, take a few years off to work and gain real-world experience, and then return to the application process stronger than ever, something that I suggest others do as well.

Brindha: One challenge was learning how to deal with both literal rejection and feelings of rejection, especially after graduation. It feels like there are a lot of people who have their lives figured out when you don’t, but you have to learn to get past that and focus on becoming better for yourself.

Claire: Personally, it can be difficult to move all over the world. I have friends from high school, university, people I met in Mongolia, and new friends in Thailand, and maintaining those relationships can be challenging. It’s also hard to pick up and move to a new country where you don’t know anyone and have to start forming a social network from scratch. 

Tyler: It is challenging to bring one’s full authentic self to work, but this is key in receiving proper support and seeking mentorship from those in your professional spaces. 

Lacey: There have been plenty, but one I didn’t expect was the challenge of balancing a professional career with motherhood. Maybe that’s naïve, but it’s not really something I could fully understand until I was in that position myself.

What advice would you give to those who are nearing graduation or have just graduated and may be unsure about their future? 

Lacey: Learn to embrace the uncertainty. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

Brindha: Commit to what you are doing and don’t get caught up in self-doubt.

Patrick: Nothing is ever set in stone and no one should expect you to make a binding decision about your career so early on. Take the time to explore the various opportunities at your disposal, see what really grabs you, and then take it and run with it until you feel confident it’s what you want to do. Above and beyond everything else, never sell yourself short and never settle for a position out of convenience if there is something better out there that you want to try. Once you find what you want, take it and run with it.

Tyler: Don’t settle. Systemic barriers teach people to settle if they aren’t a part of the dominant culture, but if we choose not to settle we will find space for ourselves professionally and personally.

Pauline Wood (Summer-Fall 2014 Programs Fellow): Internships are often seen as an opportunity to gain an understanding of what you are looking for in a job, but it’s also important to see them as an opportunity to understand what you’re not looking for in a job. Both are equally helpful in understanding what your career goals are. I found that it was more through process of elimination that I realized what career I was interested in pursuing.

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Read more about the Junior Fellow program here, and read about the Junior Fellow Experience here.

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