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Graduate stories – working to change the world at the United Nations

21 April 2016

Ever wondered what it would be like to work at the UN? Well, one of our graduates – Arturo de Nieves Gutiérrez De Rubalcava – is now based at their headquarters in New York.

He came to Abertay as an exchange student from the University of Corunna in 2006 and completed his Honours year with us before heading back to Spain to finish his Licenciatura, which is a five-year programme.

He went on to complete his PhD in political sociology there and, since being awarded his doctorate with the highest distinction of 'cum laude', has begun working as a consultant for the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOW Politics) at UN Women – the United Nations organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Here he tells us why he chose to study at Abertay, how he got his job, and what it’s like working for the United Nations.

How Scotland and Galicia are connected

“I come from Corunna, a beautiful city in North West Galicia. When I was an undergraduate, I was very interested in the sociology of nationalism, and I found that the faculty at Abertay had many interesting publications on this subject. Besides, as a Galician, I always felt attracted to Scotland, due to the shared cultural history and traditions of our two countries.

“There is a pro-independence movement in Galicia, similar to the one in Scotland, although not as powerful. The connection between Scottish and Galician nation-building processes is so interesting, because they share similar references, and when I first arrived in Dundee, I felt like being at home in many ways: we share music, traditions and a great sense of humour.

“The content of the course at Abertay fitted perfectly with what I wanted to learn and the result was a very stimulating year, intellectually. The Honours dissertation I wrote that year – a comparison between Scottish and Galician nationalism – was one of the works that I enjoyed the most, and thanks to this work I found answers to some of the big questions that made me start my undergraduate degree in Sociology in the first place, back in Galicia in 2003.

“What is a nation was the biggest question I was interested in exploring. I read what is probably the most influential book in Galician politics before starting university: ‘Sempre en Galiza’ by Daniel Castelao, a Galician politician and artist who died in exile in 1950, due to Franco's dictatorship. All the arguments in this book derived from an initial statement that fully declares Galicia as a nation, so I wanted to find critiques to this idea. This is what initiated my interest in nationalism studies, so well developed in Scotland. I will always be thankful to Professor Alex Law, who supervised this work, for his excellent guidance and support.”

Political sociology and working for the United Nations

“After graduating, I started working on my PhD on electoral behaviour, which I finished in November 2015. While I was writing up my thesis, I applied for an internship in the Elections Team of the United Nations Development Programme. I got a place and started working for UNDP in February 2015. After finishing the internship in July, I was selected for the consultancy position I now have, so I came back to New York and started working here again in September 2015.

“The subject of my PhD tied in perfectly with the internship. Sociology, as a science, is always trying to find out why people do the things they do and I was trying to find out why people behave electorally the way they do. What are the social processes that make some people connect with some political options and some other people connect with other completely different political standpoints?

“The main conclusion I was able to draw was that inequality contradicts democracy: the bigger the gap between people with high and low volumes of economic, cultural and social capital in a given society, the poorer the quality of democracy in that society.”

Working at UN Women and making the world a better place

“Although I like academia and the type of work involved in sociological research, I felt I wanted to do something more practical after seven years working on my PhD. I wanted to work for a project with a direct impact on people's lives. I wouldn’t rule out going back to university at some point, but now I feel I want to keep on learning within the world of the UN.

“Being at the United Nations gives me the chance to contribute with my work to the construction of a better world, so it is a great opportunity to keep on learning and growing both professionally and personally.

“iKNOW Politics - whose Secretariat is at UN Women in New York - is a joint project of four different organizations: UN Women, UNDP, International IDEA, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

“The main objective of the project is to advance the political empowerment of women all over the world. To achieve this, we provide useful resources to women parliamentarians, identify best practices and promote e-Discussions on different topics.

“It’s a very exciting job that requires different skills, like taking care of bureaucratic procedures, liaising with parliamentarians and politicians from different countries, working with qualitative and quantitative data on women's political participation. All sorts.

“The education I received at Abertay has been very useful in helping me in this role. For example, when I have to intervene in a meeting I remember what I learned going to the debates of the Political Sociology module, organized by Dr Wallace McNeish.

“I have very good memories of my time at Abertay. It was a privilege to be part of that very interesting mix of Scottish and international students that makes the city and the university so special.”

If you’re interested in following in Arturo’s footsteps, you can find out more about our Sociology degree here:

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