When I first chose to pursue a degree in neuroscience, I saw two options for a career. Either I could apply to medical school and become a physician, or I could enter the world of research. These two professions would align with my interests in science and health, yet I didn’t identify with classmates who aspired to wear a stethoscope and scrubs or have their work published in a scientific journal. I had trouble reconciling my genuine curiosity for science with my lack of desire to commit to a medical profession, not to mention my eroding denial that I could grow out of being squeamish (which would make navigating medical training even more challenging than it is already).
Here I was, in the fall of my sophomore year, searching for an opportunity that would help me get some direction about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do - a not uncommon experience for most students and recent graduates (and, arguably, anyone who is human).
At the time, I could confidently say that I wanted to do something that would create positive change, hopefully, in the field of health. What shape that would take, I did not yet know.
Like many, my own family has been touched by cancer; I grew up participating in annual American Cancer Society fundraising events, including the Relay for Life. After years participating in neighbourhood efforts to raise funds and awareness about this devastating disease, I didn’t consider how local, and even regional or national, actions were connected and coordinated to produce greater funds and awareness. In looking at the Union for International Cancer Control, I saw the potential to explore strategy, advocacy and impact beyond the family unit and community; UICC’s global coordination was inspiring. I grew excited to learn about how a large, international non-profit/non-governmental organisation (NGO) operates to maximise change at different levels in society.
Following some email exchanges, I inquired to see if UICC would be willing to take me on as a summer intern. I was fortunate that the request was well received, and I was invited to go to Switzerland. When I arrived in Geneva in early June, I was anxious to dive in and learn as much as I could about UICC, the global cancer community, and the international public health landscape.
Officially the Business Development and External Relations intern, I was unofficially an intern of the entire UICC team. The culture of the organisation encouraged me to ask questions and be involved in as many projects as I could handle, regardless of department, and this was one of the most valuable components of my experience and growth during the internship.
Early on, I was exposed to the NGO fundamentals, and, in particular, UICC’s fundamentals. My manager, Isabel Mestres, conducted a series of lessons in fundraising practices and models. I still remember feeling my eyes grow wide as she energetically outlined different strategies, each with impressive logic aligned with different desired outcomes. I am almost certain my jaw dropped after the second session; I left eager to learn more about how you could shift a funding structure, or consider different audiences, in making a proposal or stewardship plan.
Among my varied responsibilities, I had the privilege of working with nearly every member of the UICC team. I contributed to both the annual report and the Case for Support for UICC’s upcoming campaign, reporting metrics and past successes, drafting language, and brainstorming potential visual identities for these pieces. Alongside the Business Development and External Relations team, I participated in re-evaluating and updating sponsorship offers for the 2014 World Cancer Congress and researched potential new partnership opportunities for UICC. Beyond these projects, I consolidated our partner databases and simplified the stewardship tracking process. I even had opportunities to attend events, including a roundtable on cancer registries, which introduced me to the work of UICC and its members and partners at a global scale.
When I completed the internship, I felt energised by my experiences and overwhelmingly grateful for all that I learned.
Each member of the UICC team had been open to sit with me, discuss their experiences, and muse about my aspirations. I grew to understand that I could help people beyond practicing medicine. The internship experience was a masterclass in who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.
In the years since my summer at UICC, I continue to work in the health development sector. I completed an internship in policy and advocacy at the NCD Alliance in London, which was equally influential on my career path. In November, I reunited with UICC at the 2016 World Cancer Congress in Paris, supporting the team as they delivered an outstanding international conference. Afterwards, as I boarded my flight back to Boston, I was once again brimming with optimism and excitement for what incredible good can come from a united, focused community.