What am I doing

What am I actually doing at WHO

So what am I actually doing with most of my time at WHO? My official supervision is from the Director of the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (PND) Department. With that said, the role of a director often involves quite a lot of travelling for representing the department and WHO in international conferences and meetings. Thus, my supervision and work terms are definitely a bit more fluid than what I am used from my previous research and work experiences. I suppose the comfortable research and supervisor relationships that I am accustomed to from undergraduate research involve working continually on a single well-defined project either with little or some direction but with frequent meetings to update on progress and assess next steps. My work for the past two weeks have been quite different from this formal structure in research settings, and it is definitely something that has been a little uneasy and sometimes frustrating for me, but also quite rewarding in other aspects.

The lack of continuity in some of the work makes it strange, unconventional, and difficult to feel like I am making a contribution. On the other hand, I am able to assist where more hands are needed, to fill the gaps and lessen the workload of people I am supporting, and expose myself to many different aspects of the department’s work and gather a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the work that my various supervisors in health promotion contribute to on a daily basis. I would say at this point, the majority of my time is dedicated to assisting the health promotion programme in the technical and logistical planning aspects of the upcoming 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion co-organized by WHO and NHFPC held in Shanghai this November.

Upon reflection and discussion with fellow interns and friends, there are pieces of my day-to-day work that I take for granted. I suppose how the grass is always greener on the other side, definitely applies here. Being able to work on various assignments and tasks resulted in more exposure to different faces within the department and more opportunity for mentorship and unique discussions. And it definitely gives me a deeper appreciation for the depth and breadth of the work behind the scenes of briefing note preparation, monograph preparation, institutional collaboration, the technical and logistical aspects of high level event planning, and of course the political considerations that underlie so many decisions.

The view from the 8th floor of WHO HQ

What have I learned about so far about WHO, yourself, others

What have I concretely learned so far. It is hard to say. I actually did not form very defined goals or personal objectives prior to the start of my experience. I thought I knew what I wanted, which was simply to experience the enormity, bureaucracy, and complexity of the organization for myself. However, I actually ask myself more frequently than I thought I would, why am I actually here and what do I concretely want to get out of this. I came quite a long distance for this, so what do I want? Speaking with one of my supervisors about the reason I came here and listening to their response really striked me, as their response was that doing the work here at WHO won’t actually give me what I want, rather I need to go out and look for it for myself. Finding the answers to my interests in public health and medicine and what a career for myself in the future looks like, one that is fulfilling, etc. etc. is something that I need to actively play a role in seeking out. It seems simple, yet incredibly true and important. I have learned so much more from the informal interactions I have had with staff, interns, and friends, than I have from the actual work. Not that the work is unexciting or irrelevant, rather it is the learning about the structures and systems that define, encompass, and make the work and the meetings the way they are, that provide the most fruitful learning as someone interested in the institution as it functions and performs.

On the topic of learning and taking control of my own learning. Supervisors emphasize the important of learning. I suppose that I am actually on the fence regarding the unpaid aspect of interning. It’s a pretty heated topic of unfair conditions for interns at UN agencies that go unpaid, but how I currently feel about this is that the aspect of being unpaid as an intern is in the advantage of the intern. The emphasis of an unpaid internship is heavily on the young professional’s learning and exposures to mentorship, new skills and knowledge, etc. etc. And if the work relationship becomes one that is paid, I’m not sure if the emphasis will stay on our learning. And I suppose that I am skeptical that WHO gains as much as what an intern receives. Regardless of this point, I am very appreciative to know that supervisors and staff are cognizant of prioritizing learning for interns.

What have I learned though? Of course I feel as though I have picked up on how as a department and organization as a whole, there are structural and institutional policies and procedures that make it the organization that it is which represents 193 member states. Further to this, I have been exposed to new knowledge and understandings about interesting work surrounding tobacco control, but also in other departments. But where I have gained the most would be by far the various interactions that happen with supervisors, other staff, and other interns. It’s the discussions that share perspectives and ideas that have been helping me form and refine my academic interests in public health and my personal decisions that have led me to where I am today. The interactions that I have on a day-to-day basis are definitely helping me do just that.



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