PJSA Careers Session: Strategies for Launching a Career

The past few days I’ve been at the Peace and Justice Studies Association meeting in Birmingham, AL (10/25-28).  I tend to be busy at conferences.  For this one, I was part of three sessions.  In a lunchtime session I facilitated a discussion of the Mosaic of Peacebuilding Networks initiative that was started at Point of View in Virginia last June.  Late yesterday I met with faculty and students who are part of the Master’s program in the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  If you are thinking about studying or pursuing a career in human rights, this might be the program for you.  And it’s offered in a seminal location to teach about human rights.

Susan Cushman from Nassau Community College

This afternoon I organized a session on career awareness with colleagues Amy Cox from the Master’s program in International Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution at Arcadia University, Gordie Fellman from the Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies program at Brandeis University, and Susan Cushman who teaches English and coordinates the Jewish Studies Project at Nassau Community College.  Titled “Working for the Greater Good: Strategies for Launching a Career in Peace and Justice,” the objective of the session was to bring faculty and students together to discuss career and professional pathways.  We had a nice sized group, nearly 30, and mostly students from graduate and undergraduate programs.

I started the session by sharing some quotes and reflections on careers, emphasizing the positive nature of work and purposefulness that many in the field often feel.  I also mentioned the importance of looking at millennial values.  Susan Cushman shared with us the strategies you uses with her students in getting them to think about careers and work.  She talked about her “action project” assignment where she gets students to engage in applied activities such as advocacy.  Because she is in the greater New York area, her students can work with a range of groups, NGOs, and even UN related entities.  In preparation for the session, Gordie Fellman reached out to former students to see what they were doing.  Many shared with him the important and life changing impact that studying peace at Brandeis had had on them.   They are working in a range of fields and types of work including as a social movement facilitator,  working for the Millennium Campus Network,  working  for PIRG, and engaging in peacebuilding work in the Middle East.   Amy Cox shared that her students are often from working class  backgrounds, and at times have had limited exposure to peace related work.   As such, she emphasizes internships and practical work experience with them.  She talked about the program’s NGO management/social entrepreneurship and social justice tracks. I concluded by talking about my book on careers and the model for thinking about peace and conflict careers that makes the distinction between “direct” and “indirect” action pathways.


We then took questions from students.  We were fortunate that besides our panel we had faculty from a number of schools where peace and conflict programs are offered.  A number of questions looked at graduate school and whether an undergrad should continue with their education right away.   A number of faculty recommended the value of working before going on for more education.  Life and work opportunities made for a better graduate experience, and also made a candidate for graduate school more attractive.  Questions about study abroad, and overseas experience also came from students.  If you are interested in pursuing an international peacebuilding career, global experience is important to have as part of your academic journey.   One student raised the question of “self-discovery,” that is, determining their own stills and abilities and how they might apply to the field.  One recommended strategy was engaging in informational interviews as well as networking with professionals (including at the PJSA conference!). One international student asked about engaging in study abroad efforts and having to pay for them.  It was recommended that there were a range of opportunities available that should not cost the student.  Finally, students asked about sequencing: after undergraduate what should they do?  Working is important, including exploring the variety of opportunities offered by groups for service and volunteerism.  I recommended both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

I’m adding one final image to this blog which I have in my book that I didn’t show at the session.  It looks at how one gets to “purpose” in their work: where I started the conversation.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 4.29.17 PM




Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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