Future Lawyer Blog

A summer at the UN: Insights into internships (Part 2) – MacKenzie Common

MacKenzie Common

What internship did you do?

I was an intern at the Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU) in the Department of Field Support, United Nations Headquarters. The CDU’s mandate is to handle allegations of misconduct against UN personnel working on peacekeeping missions (especially cases of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse) and to coordinate training, policies and outreach activities. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Whistleblower”, you’ll understand why the work that the CDU does is so incredibly vital.

What work were you involved in?

While I helped with a lot of things, I had two main tasks. My first task was to compile a handbook for the peacekeeping missions on all the UN jurisprudence on misconduct issues such as standard of proof and sexual harassment. My second task was to assist the lawyer who served as my mentor with her caseload. While I enjoyed my project, I have to admit that learning from her was the best part of my internship.

How did you hear about the internship?

I saw it advertised on the UN careers website.

What was the application procedure and who is eligible to apply?

The application procedure was essentially completing an application and cover letter. However, I also had to do a task that required me to demonstrate legal writing skills by summarizing a CDU case, as legal writing skills were essential. For my internship, you had to be enrolled in a graduate degree program in law. It may have also helped that I have a degree in political science with a special focus on politics of conflict.

Is the internship paid?

No, unfortunately not. There was a lot of free chocolate though…which I know isn’t the same thing at all but I would count that as a business perk.

What sponsorship possibilities are available?

I have to be honest, I didn’t actually look up sponsorship possibilities because I received my internship offer in the midst of studying for exams. I do know that some of the interns I met had received small bursaries from their government or the Commonwealth office.

What previous experience did you have?

I have quite a lot of volunteer experience, both in developing countries with NGO’s and in my home country of Canada with at-risk youth. That being said, I don’t believe it’s worth discussing in any great detail because there is no magic combination of CV bullet-points that will either qualify or disqualify you from a UN internship. I don’t think anybody really believes they will get the internship when they apply, so don’t allow any insecurities you have about your CV stop you from trying. As the hockey player (yes, I’m that Canadian) Wayne Gretzky said: “you miss 100% of the shots you never take”. What have you got to lose by applying?

Was it as you expected?

Well, I showed up on the first day in a business suit and heels only to find that really, so long as you didn’t rock up in jeans and a hoodie, you could wear what you wanted. This was useful because New York City was so hot this summer that I needed to be able to get to work without baking like a biscuit. I was also surprised by how fun my office was, with frequent potluck brunches and some of the warmest, funniest people I’ve ever met. The work the CDU does is very sensitive and at times, upsetting, so I found the supportive, welcoming atmosphere of the office really uplifting.

What tips could you give to somebody about to start their internship?

In New York City, housing can be a problem. Looking for a short-term lease on an affordable, non-disgusting apartment in Manhattan is the kind of situation that really could benefit from a fairy godmother. Columbia University and NYU both have summer intern housing in their residences but by the time I received my internship, it was full. My mom actually found a convent full of nuns that accepted young woman boarders and despite the 9pm curfew we were so desperate that it was actually looking like our best option! Thankfully, my aunt’s sister took me in (so I had a fairy god-mother after all) but I would suggest applying to housing before you get a formal offer. Often, all you’ll lose is an application fee if the internship falls through, which is a lot better than the money you’ll lose by staying in a hotel as you desperately look for a place.

MacKenzie Common is in her second year of the Graduate Entry LLB at The City Law School.

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