Real Talk with PSG Alum Ann Marie McKenzie

Career Administrator

Last week's real talk with Priya Vithani focused on whether dedicating your life to the public service and government sector is worth it and whether it is financially viable. While the question of financial viability is one that always lingers and will be a question each alum story will address to varying degrees, there are of course other concerns that all students but most typically fourth-year students have. Do I have to have it all figured out now? Read about Ann Marie McKenzie's story and discover when exactly she decided to dedicate her career to humanitarian aid work.


         Ann Marie McKenzie graduated from UVA in 2012 with a Bachelors of Arts in History and American Studies. She currently works for a UK-based charity that delivers aid and development programs to the world's poorest nations. 

Ann Marie hit the ground running during her first few years at UVA by getting involved in various organizations like Madison House, Honor, and other NGO work but these experiences did not really help her realize what kind of work she wanted to do upon graduation. In fact, she claims "I just stumbled upon this field of work by sheer luck when I took a class the second semester of my fourth year." Much like she stumbled into her interest, she also stumbled into her first job after graduation with the International Rescue Committee as a reception and placement caseworker. Ann Marie emphasized to never stop yourself from applying for a job because you feel like you are under qualified, you never know where you can end up if you just try.  

Much like any job in this sector, humanitarian aid work also has financial constraints. To that end, Ann Marie suggests, "My advice for students looking to join the world of international aid work is to be financially prepared: take a part-time job on top of your full-time job and work while you're abroad, perhaps teaching English or using other skills you have." She says further that aid work does eventually pay off once you've been working for at least five years because you will get great benefits, a fairly decent pay, and "even extra allowances like R&R (rest and recuperation) or hardship pay." 

One of the main things Ann Marie emphasized through her interview is the importance of flexibility in any public service career and she mentions many reasons for this. Obviously, the financial constraints require you to be flexible during the first couple of years as you are just settling into the work. Moreover, humanitarian aid work is incredibly varied, which means that you have to find "what makes you tick and it might take you a few years to figure that out." In fact, the first job she had after undergrad first started out as an internship and turned into a full-time job after a few months. Since then, Anna Marie has held several different positions with different organizations over the past six years. Some of these positions include a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project Coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Senior Caseworker for CWS Resettlement Support Center-Africa. 

Once again, the PSG team hopes this Real Talk blog has helped bring some perspective for students who are going through the job search or wondering whether they are behind in "having it all figured out." Please tune in again next week for a new alum with a new story!