Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
Thomas Gray, NPTS 2015
IPSS 2015: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
It’s always inspiring to speak with current IPSS fellows in the field, but I’m also curious about where students end up afterwards and how their IPSS experience fits into their longer term career path. Thomas Gray, a 2015 IPSS fellow and former NPTS student currently working at the IAEA in Vienna, graciously agreed to share his experiences and speak about his path from MIIS to IPSS and beyond.
MIIS to IPSS
Tom came to Monterey after six and a half years in the U.S. Navy. As an incoming NPTS student, Tom knew he wanted to do a professional internship and had hopes for the IAEA due to his interest in international nuclear safeguards. The connections that the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has with different international professional organizations and the history of MIIS interns at the IAEA were a large part of Tom’s motivation to attend MIIS.
Tom applied for an IPSS fellowship with the IAEA as a second year NPTS student. Previously, the NPTS students from MIIS that had interned at the IAEA had all worked in the Office of Public Information. However, the year Tom applied, a position in the Department of Safeguards was available– this was a stroke of luck for Tom, as it matched up with his interests even more.
IPSS and Beyond
After his four month IPSS fellowship at the IAEA, Tom began a yearlong graduate fellowship program in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in Washington, D.C. This is another opportunity frequently pursued by MIIS students: there are typically at least one or two former NPTS students per year. During the NNSA fellowship, Tom found out about another fellowship newly established by the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation in honor of Dr. Ian Hutcheon, a scientist who worked for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This fellowship is a two-year assignment as a Junior Professional Officer in support of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. Tom was the first fellow selected – he decided to leave his fellowship with the NNSA a few months early in order to pursue this opportunity and go back to working with the IAEA. When I spoke with him he had been on the job for a week and a half.
Tom attributes his selection for his current fellowship in part to his previous experience at the IAEA, which also allowed him to hit the ground running upon his return. Tom’s primary task at the moment is to help organize a conference that the IAEA is hosting at the end of 2016. Right now is an important time for the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. Eight years ago, Obama announced the Prague Agenda, his plan to secure the world’s nuclear material from use in terrorism. According to the plan, a nuclear security summit has been hosted every two years since. The last summit is happening this month in D.C. The IAEA has been identified as one of the institutions responsible for continuing the progress made over the last 8 years, and the conference Tom is organizing will set the tone for how the international community sees nuclear security continuing after the Obama Administration.
For NPTS students, IPSS can be a strategic choice because NPTS is a field where you need connections… you never know who will lead to a job. The NPTS field can be a hard field to break into and a strong professional network is critical. If you decide to do IPSS, Tom recommends setting your internship up for as long as possible. The first few months at any job involve a steep learning curve; the more time you have at your internship, the more time you’ll have to apply what you learned in those first few months and the more time you’ll have to impress your new boss.