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Rising Stars: Toward a Career in Nuclear Nonproliferation

By Erdin Beshimov

An unpaid internship led Alex to an exciting career at the intersection of energy and international relations. He now works in nuclear nonproliferation and says he's excited to be contributing to a safer and more cooperative world.

Name: Alex Sunshine
School: University of Wisconsin - Madison
Major: International Relations
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Graduate Fellow
Company: U.S. Department of Energy
First Steps

As an international relations major, Alex says he always wanted to pursue a career in that line of work. After college, he took an unpaid internship at a small think tank, and his time there fortified his passion for international relations. "The week that I started, North Korea announced its intention to resume its nuclear weapons program. The organization that I was working for had a grant to bring a delegation from North Korea to Washington to establish a back-door dialogue between the two governments. I worked for two weeks alongside everyone else in the organization to set up meetings for the delegation with members of Congress, foreign policy intellectuals, and the executive branch. That two-week period was one of the most exciting times of my life; I felt like I had a hand in resolving an international nuclear crisis. I knew then that I wanted to spend my career in that line of work."

From Then to Now

"I had several fortuitous turns of fate that led me to my current position.As I mentioned earlier, I started off wanting to find a job in the area of international politics.I took an internship with an organization, and that turned into a paid job, which was my first break.The organization that I was working for got a new president several months into my experience, and he happened to be on the 9/11 Commission (second break).The Commission had a set of recommendations on nuclear nonproliferation.That got our president interested in this issue, and consequently we applied for and received a grant to work with members of Congress on a project on nuclear nonproliferation (third break).I was lucky enough to work on this project for several months.I left that job, and went back to graduate school. In graduate school, I applied for an internship at the Department of Energy to work for the division in charge of nuclear proliferation issues.I was fortunate enough to get the internship (fourth break), which is where I am now."

My Experience

"I am most excited that I am helping to contribute, in some small way, to a safer and more cooperative world.Obviously, one of the gravest threats to international security is nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.In this position, I work to reduce those risks.That's an important undertaking, and it's one that I'm proud to be part of.One of the other reasons that I like nuclear nonproliferation so much is that it is done cooperatively between countries.While the work that I'm doing makes it more difficult for terrorists to acquire nuclear materials or states to develop nuclear weapons, it also improves relationships between the United States and other countries."

Advice for Others

"The best professional advice I've received (and I haven't necessarily followed as closely as I should) is to network.The best opportunities are not found in a newspaper or on a website; they spread by word of mouth.The more people you know, the more likely you are to happen upon an opportunity that excites you.To be clear, networking doesn't necessarily mean hobnobbing at expensive bars and making pretentious conversation with social-climbing sycophants.It does mean, however, being social in whatever settings you feel comfortable; whether that's participating in sports, or drama, or going to happy hour with co-workers.But it also means going on informational interviews with people who you think have interesting jobs.You won't get every interview you request, but you'll be surprised by the number of people that will be willing to talk to you, especially if you have some connection to them.These people can give you advice, they can give you ideas about how to find a job, and they can introduce you to other important people."

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