Political scientists pursue wide-ranging and diverse career paths. This interview series, developed by the APSA Professional Development Program, highlights the many different ways political scientists carry their skills and expertise into the workforce. For more information, including resources on career options outside of academia, visit APSA’s career page.
Nicolas Rost is an humanitarian aid worker who has worked for the United Nations since 2005. He has worked for the UN refugee agency in Geneva and Bangui, Central African Republic; for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bangui and Nairobi (covering Somalia); for the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in Jerusalem (covering Palestine), and now with the UN’s global emergency fund at OCHA’s New York office. Nico studied Political Science at the University of Konstanz (MA, PhD), Charles University in Prague, and the University of North Texas (MS), with a focus on conflict resolution and human rights research. He has published a book and nine articles in, among others, the Journal of Conflict Resolution and the Journal of Peace Research. See his website for a list of publications.
What did you study graduate school?
I studied political science at the University of North Texas and politics and public administration at the University of Konstanz. I started working for the UN after I completed my Master’s degree at UNT and then obtained my PhD at the University of Konstanz while I was working.
What was your first post-PhD job? What did you do in this position?
I completed my PhD while working as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Somalia, but based in Nairobi, Kenya. I was working for the Somalia Common Humanitarian Fund, a pooled fund that provides support to aid agencies working in Somalia in a strategic, coordinated way, including in response to the famine in 2011.
What do you do now and what is a typical day like?
I now work for the UN’s global humanitarian pooled fund, CERF or Central Emergency Response Fund at OCHA headquarters in New York. My title is ‘underfunded emergencies lead.’ My team and I identify the most forgotten, underfunded humanitarian crises around the world. Then we work with aid agencies on the ground to agree on how funding from CERF could best be used to provide emergency relief such as food, healthcare, treatment for malnourished children or pregnant women, drinking water or shelter. OCHA’s boss, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, just allocated $100 million so that aid agencies can respond to the displacement crisis caused by conflict and violence in South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; displacement and malnutrition in Mali; conflict in Libya; and the protracted humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Why and when did you choose to pursue a career outside the academy?
During my studies, I focused on civil war, human rights violations and conflict resolution. I enjoyed doing research but felt that I should also get more direct, practical experience before writing about these issues. After working for a few years with the UN in Geneva, the Central African Republic and the Somalia operation, I decided to start working on my PhD, and I believe that my work experience has informed my research interests and the way I think about the links between, for example, poverty, conflict, and democracy.
Do you have any advice for PhD students currently considering a career outside of the academy?
There are many people with a PhD working for the UN or NGOs, and I think humanitarian workers can learn a lot from research on conflict, aid, poverty and so on. I also think researchers can learn a lot from practitioners. To get a job in humanitarian affairs, education is important but so are work experience, especially in countries in humanitarian crisis, and language skills.
Why have you continued to be a member of APSA?
I’m still interested in research and have worked, with my co-authors, on a couple of projects and papers since finishing my PhD. I rejoined APSA before participating in the 2014 APSA annual meeting.