Arriving in late February, I found the office bustling with activity. Surely there must be a conference this evening? Or an emergency requiring full attention? As I found out over the next three months, this is simply the pace of the Institute, where events are constantly rolling through and prepping for the evening’s events must be balanced with longer term projects. Firmly conducting the melee, the director of the Institute, Šárka Prát, deftly balanced constant coordination and communication, with project meetings and official appearances; while always making time to clarify an issue for a newly engaged intern. The director is assisted in her daily performance by two more bastions of the IPPS office, Marcela and Mirka, both experts in their own right. I was immediately struck by the familial atmosphere in the office of three people who had clearly been firm friends since the foundation of the Institute.
I immediately began with two projects: a policy paper on immigration policy in the USA and a conference on perceptions of the migration crisis. I was partnered with another intern to complete the policy paper and we were given a lot of freedom to develop our approach. Few projects have allowed me to be so creative. Unlike the university environment, the paper didn’t have to reflect the desires of any particular professor, draw solely from one field of study, or be restricted to an arbitrary length. I found myself drawing upon past knowledge, but mostly developing new approaches; which later fed back positively into my university studies. It was also very helpful to learn alongside my partner, who had a far more advanced knowledge of quantitative methods. This was true of everyone I encountered at the Institute, where collaboration with skilled and knowledgeable people was the norm.
Unlike the policy paper, which was very familiar to me from my university studies, trying to organise a conference was a completely new experience for me. Many of the intended speakers were difficult to contact, the difficulty increasing with the media exposure of the speaker. Twitter proved to be an effective avenue to contact those who otherwise kept their contact information secret. Choosing some of the speakers also provided me with new trade-offs to consider, e.g. fame versus how busy they would be. In the end, too few speakers were secured in time for the conference, however this too provided many learning opportunities for me. It would seem that persistence is far more important than politeness for securing speakers, and my natural British hesitance to bother somebody with an unsolicited invitation is something that must be overcome. Practice and experience, experience and practice.
The final large project I worked on was the conference: Migration´s Influence on Euroscepticism and Political Radicalism. I came in contact with many interesting representatives from different universities and civil society from around Europe. Apart from a good networking opportunity, this was a fascinating insight into the functioning of civil society in Central Europe. The participants were happy to share their knowledge and discuss the issues with a mere intern, and I spent many hours in happy conversation. Writing the post-conference report, I found many interesting lessons and themes which emerged from the reflective thinking I had to do to create summaries of the discussions.
These three large projects were my main opportunities for development, however I had plenty of opportunities to put my university studies into practice. I was constantly assisting my colleagues at the Institute with their projects and tasks. For example, I was asked to proof read and provide notes for some chapters to be published in an upcoming book on political marketing. This was exactly the critical analysis I had been trained for as a social science student, but put to use in a practical context. I had the opportunity to meet one of the authors of, in my personal opinion, one of the best chapters in the book. What a fantastic opportunity for a young and precocious student to probe the academic behind the work. Certainly an experience far superior to the dry de-construction of a text for the benefit of a professor, without response from the author or the complete context behind the work.
As the internship progressed, I found a great deal of complementarity between my university course and my work at the Institute, e.g. legal concepts expressed in partnership contracts, or philosophical structures behind political institutions learnt in class applied to practical problems. In this way, spending two days per week at the Institute was a support for my university studies, rather than a burden. As a native English speaker with a very middling knowledge of Czech, I never felt excluded. This is a credit to those three pillars of the IPPS office who made me feel so welcome: Šárka, Marcela and Mirka. This internship helped me develop significantly for such a short time, and leaves me with the confidence to pursue new opportunities. It also leaves me with some wonderful memories of fun afternoons with interesting colleagues, and I look forward to co-operating with them in the future.
James Pepper, FSV, Charles University in Prague 03/16 – 06/16