Jumpstarting careers in development: Reflections from J-PAL MENA's Summer Interns
J-PAL MENA at The American University in Cairo (AUC) welcomed its first cohort of interns in June 2022 as part of a new summer internship program. The program is designed to facilitate engagement with regional development challenges through integration with J-PAL MENA’s work across the Policy & Communications and Research teams. Upon completing the program, Omar ElDeeb (Policy & Communications Intern), Amna Abbas, Jessica Michael, and Yostina Girgies (Research Interns) were asked to reflect on their individual and collective experiences during their time with J-PAL MENA and the impact of the internship program on their future endeavors. We hope their reflections can inspire more young people in the MENA region to become involved in development work early in their careers.
Prior to joining the internship program, the team of interns was interested in the field of development and was familiar with J-PAL’s poverty reduction efforts in the MENA region. They learned about the internship through university outreach sessions led by J-PAL MENA staff and thought the internship would be a good opportunity to learn about how organizations in the research and development fields work. The interns shared a range of reasons when asked about why they applied for this program: Amna, a Master's degree graduate at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science (FEPS) at Cairo University, said, “the internship was recommended by an invited professor from France and the director of my faculty, and I found the opportunity to be really interesting and in line with my career goals.” Jessica, a third year economics student at AUC, said, “I always wanted to explore this global entity and how they achieve their impact.”
One of the main goals of the internship is to contribute to the interns’ career progression. When asked about how the internship fits into the careers they want to pursue, Yostina, a graduate from FEPS (2022), said, “J-PAL was the optimal starting point for me. It gave me insight into the process of developmental research and allowed me to work with and analyze large amounts of data which is essential for my chosen career.” Omar, FEPS graduate (2022), mentioned that this internship builds on his experience completing the J-PAL and MIT MicroMasters in Data, Economics, and Development Policy. “This internship is a major step for me toward a career in development, since J-PAL has found innovative ways to make an impact in the development field.”
After being onboarded, the interns were involved in a wide range of research and policy projects. They were excited to take on challenging responsibilities. When asked about the tasks they were involved in, Jessica said, “I was lucky enough to go through almost all of the technical processes of the midline phase of the irregular migration project. I started from translating the survey, then proceeded to create audio checks files, and clean the baseline data.” Omar highlighted his involvement supporting the Egypt Impact Lab (EIL), saying, “The major project I worked on is the managerial infrastructure for EIL, including a Google Drive organizational structure and fund allocation documents such as Request for Proposals skeletons and budget forms. I felt that I was actually doing something that will help get EIL off the ground and would have long term value for J-PAL and its mission.”
Through exposure to different roles and frequent interaction with J-PAL MENA staff, the 2022 summer cohort interns were able to learn about the full spectrum of J-PAL's work, from RCTs to policy work to communications. Omar highlighted some of the transferable skills that he gained through his time with J-PAL MENA, saying, “I learned how to use Google workspace, with all of its tools such as Google sheets, docs, calendar, and how to correctly write work emails and take notes in meetings. These skills turned out to be extremely helpful as I took on more high-level tasks. I also learned a lot about the development field in Egypt, who the main actors are and how research can really be transformed into policy if communicated correctly.” Yostina reflected on her experience with research programs, saying, “ I learned about RCTs, how they are conducted, and their limitations. I also learned how surveys are conducted and managed on Survey CTO, as well as handling big data.” Amna similarly explained, “I gained a deeper understanding of surveys and impact evaluations. Cleaning data and working on STATA has also helped me put my knowledge and skills into practice.” The interns expect to make use of these skills down the road as they advance their careers and reach their goals.
Amna, Jessica, Yostina, and Omar all agreed that J-PAL MENA has a unique working environment where questions are always welcome and everyone is willing to help. This helped them fully utilize the learning opportunities they had at J-PAL and make the best use of their time with the team. Jessica felt that “it was an ideal working environment, having everyone ready to help and go the extra mile to make me learn valuable new things.”
J-PAL MENA at AUC will continue to engage students and fresh graduates in internship programs to contribute to their career progression and development. Register for email updates and follow J-PAL MENA’s accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to find out about future internship opportunities.