Adel works as a Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations
Adel Elsayed Sparr graduated from the Bachelor’s Programme in Political Science in 2014. He also has a Master’s degree in Security Studies from the University of St. Andrews and a Bachelor’s degree in Semitic Languages from Uppsala University.
Where are you working now and what is your current position? On a typical day (or week) in this position, what do you do?
I work as a Political Affairs Officer in the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism based at Headquarters in New York, where I lead the work on addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism from a policy perspective, mostly focused on youth and prevention. There are no typical days or weeks, but I do everything from negotiating support packages to Member States, organizing and delivering capacity-building initiatives, drafting reports of the Secretary-General, talking points and briefing material to senior officials, and managing a couple of programmatic initiatives globally. Everything I do is important, and success is measured by fewer lives lost to terrorism, which is my driving force and motivation – the two holes in the ground downtown Manhattan is a constant reminder of this.
What was your first job after graduation?
I connected with a former classmate from St Andrews who put me in touch with an Executive Director for a policy think tank in Amman, Jordan. I reached out and got a job as a researcher, and was soon promoted to senior researcher, functioning also as Political Advisor to HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal. It was super exciting and rewarding, as I got to investigate and have an impact on a wide array of issues: labour market access for refugees, water scarcity, food security, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, access to justice, countering violent extremism, and climate change adaptation.
To what extent is what you learned during your studies in Political Science at Uppsala University applicable in your current job?
More than you think, and differently. It is much less the empirical takeaways and more the analytical way of approaching real-world issues that I find useful in my job. You learn this by internalizing theories and models, and always asking “how does this apply in reality” when studying. The most valuable parts of the Programme is scientific methods, administrative law and statistics; this gives you an edge that many desk officers in political affairs lack but would use frequently.
Why did you choose the Bachelor’s Programme in Political Science at Uppsala University?
Because of Johan Skytte! I knew this is the oldest professorship in Political Science in the world, and alumni from the Department of Government tend to excel in leading positions in public and private sector. This turned out to be a good choice; I have learnt that having a degree from a distinguished university is the second most important thing – second to actually having one and then good grades are only tertiary.
What is your best memory from your time at Uppsala University?
When the Professor in Statistics spent the past 15 minutes talking about an equation with enough characters to crash Twitter; then he asked what the result is, and one student raised their hand and responded: zero. The Professor proclaimed enthusiastically “Of course, it’s immediately comprehensible!” while the other 250 students in Lecture Hall 3, myself included, were just frustratingly perplexed. I never understood the answer, nor have I ever needed to know, and I still passed the final exam. My takeaway a few years later is that as long as you can find and process relevant information, you don’t have to know it all.
What advice would you give to current and future students of Political Science?
First: get the degree! Everyone will tell you to enjoy student life and have fun – and Uppsala offers a unique student experience so by all means go ahead – but don’t let it last forever. Pass your exams – borrowing money to study is an investment in yourself, and the best way to increase the return is by completing your degree faster. The flipside is: that’s really all you have to do. Few people in the professional world really care if you wrote a dissertation about Swedish labour-market politics or a two-page conflict analysis on South Sudan. That you can draft a stringent two-page analysis in under an hour and get the key points across in ten seconds is much more important – and a rare skill!
Secondly, about your careers: dream big but focus on what matters to you. Unless you pursue a Ph.D. or a job at a University, Political Science is not a job – it is not a profession or vocation, so asking yourself what you want to become or work as after you graduate is less important than finding your curiosity, purpose, and satisfaction. Focus your endeavors on those three things rather than specific dreams about the Government Offices, top jobs in Public Relations, saving children in Syria, or working for the United Nations. Choose a good boss over a fancy job and start trying already now to build relations with your peers – connections played a role in every job I ever got; this is way more important than that two-page analysis you wrote for your A-levels.
Lastly, if you read this far: my best advice is to prepare for the unexpected, and work for it. When I studied in Uppsala, I only knew I wanted an international career in political affairs to make life a little better for other people. I never imagined myself living in New York with a UN Laissez-Passer. Life is full of surprises, so if life gives you get lemons, make lemonade.