Marina Auclair, originally from France, is a fourth-year Bachelor in International Relations student. She recently participated in the UNSSC-IE Summer Research Program. Having enjoyed her academic program so far, Marina decided it was time to immerse herself in a new, unique opportunity.
Marina spent the summer working as part of a team to prepare and present the report, Lessons learned and good practices in monitoring progress towards the SDGs, at the Directorate General of Sustainable Development Policies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She worked alongside 19 other students on the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) published by countries at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2021. Her assignment focused on Asia, where she collaborated closely with three other students on the (VNRs) published by six countries in the region.
We had the chance to catch up with Marina and hear about her experience working with the United Nations ecosystem.
How did you decide to participate in the UNSSC-IE Summer Research Program?
I decided to apply for the UNSSC-IE Summer Research program because I thought it would be an enriching opportunity to work with such a prestigious institution. In our classes, we talk a lot about the UN system, its institutions and how it works. So I thought it would be interesting to see firsthand how it operates from the inside.
The United Nations System Staff College is a unique component of the UN system. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to learn from professionals and improve my research skills before writing my final thesis.
How was your experience in the UNSSC-IE Summer Research Program?
The experience was exciting and enriching. I worked with three other students to analyze Voluntary National Reviews from Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand. These documents vary in length—between 34 and 786 pages. With such a large amount of information to go through and analyze, it made us think strategically regarding the division of the work, note-taking methods and how to maximize our efficiency.
It was great learning more about these countries as I didn’t know much about them before starting the program. In class, we talk a lot about inequalities at the local, regional, national and global levels, but it was interesting to zoom in on a specific set of countries and have a detailed view of those inequalities, simply in terms of the advancement of the SDGs.
One of the main challenges was that the program took place online and most students returned to their home countries. At one point, there was a member of my team in the US, two in Europe and another in South Korea. It was challenging to meet and find times when we were all available, but towards the end, when we had to polish our report, it also became a strength as the team could work almost the whole day. When some were sleeping, others could work and vice versa. It was like a relay race, allowing us to be very efficient.
What was the goal of your project and how did it work?
The main goal was to analyze the VNRs published in 2021 and report the progress and lessons learned in different regions. During the first part of the project, we had to plan the scope of our research and define our research question and the methodology we would use. The second step was the longest—the research. We collected data and analyzed our findings by comparing the 2021 reports with previous ones from each country. We also used external data sources and academic papers to refine our analysis.
We had the opportunity to submit drafts of our reports, polish them and then prepare a presentation on our findings to present to the UNSSC staff. It was a challenge to be concise enough to cover our results in 30 pages per team and then summarise it into a 35-minute presentation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But even though it was hard, I liked that it forced us to be concise and direct while prioritizing quality over quantity.
What are your main takeaways from this experience?
Regarding the content of the project, my main takeaway is the importance of looking at the consequences of global-level decisions on local actors. For example, with the SDGs, the goals set globally determine how national budgets are spent and what projects will receive investment.
Regarding the method, I have three main takeaways: the importance of teamwork, how ensuring coordination and organization from the start influence the whole project, as well as the importance of asking more experienced people for help.
Do you have any advice for students at IE University who are considering taking part in this experience?
To any student who decides to participate, I would recommend creating a detailed plan and setting deadlines at the beginning to give their project some structure. It can seem overwhelming to have such a large quantity of information to process, but creating your own plan helps you keep track of what you have to read, when and in what order.
The second piece of advice I would give would be to agree on a common, clear and consistent note-taking method so that you can simply use other members’ notes if needed. It will also be easier to find data and make sense of all the information gathered throughout the project.