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Six Careers for Peace and Conflict Studies Graduates

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., US civil rights leader and advocate for peace and reconciliation. Perhaps no one has stated things more plainly and succinctly than Dr. King. Today, in our interconnected world where conflict between nations is a regular occurence, and where a vast array of cultures and people are blurring the lines between the individual and nation, it is important to remember that graduates of Peace and Conflict Studies programs are trained to become the next leaders in helping create a more just world.

Oct 2, 2023
  • Education
  • International News
Six Careers for Peace and Conflict Studies Graduates

What are peace and conflict studies?

Peace and conflict studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that incorporates many different fascinating disciplines, including but not limited to cultural studies, criminal justice, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. A student of peace and conflict studies can expect to analyze and discuss violent and non-violent behavior and understand the first steps to implementing a successful path to peace. Establishing a definition for “peace” and analyzing how to prevent conflict, employing de-escalation tactics, and finding solutions to create systems that enable lasting peace to conflicts are some of the essential skills this academic field offers. The graduate of a Peace and Conflict Studies program will be able to transfer all of these skills and knowledge into several different career options.

Here we have highlighted six challenging and fulfilling careers that a Peace and Conflict Studies degree prepares you to excel in:

1. Diplomat or Field Officer

A peace and conflict studies degree could prepare you for the life and work of a diplomat or field officer. A diplomat is appointed by the state in which they reside to represent the state’s interests. They conduct diplomacy and fulfill diplomatic missions, and also work with other states and international organizations to find solutions to problems and conflicts. Well-known international organizations like the European Union, the United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and many more, could not function without trained diplomats and experts in diplomacy. According to Northeastern University’s well-regarded graduate program, “A diplomat’s duties include creating and maintaining strong international ties related to peacekeeping, war, trade, economics, culture, environmental issues, or human rights. They often collect and report vital information that could affect their nation’s interests, giving top officials advice on how their home country should respond. Some diplomats negotiate treaties and international agreements before a politician approves them, while others assist humanitarians.”

For many students who major in peace and conflict studies when asked about what their career goals are they say “a constantly recurring ambition is to become a diplomat.” Some even aspire to be an ambassador for their countries; their job is to travel to other countries or to live abroad in diplomatic housing as representatives of their respective countries. Juliana Weiss-Roessler of Work.Chron.com reports that the US ambassador's “job involves traveling abroad to strengthen relationships between the U.S. and foreign countries, making it an ideal career for someone with a background in peace studies. Many US ambassadors start their careers as foreign service workers and receive relatively low salaries, but those who work their way up to a senior diplomat position can expect to earn [six figures] per year [...] A job in foreign services leads to many opportunities for promotion and yearly salary increases.”

If your sights are set on working in the foreign service with a peace and conflict degree, we also recommend considering becoming a field officer. Similar to a diplomat, the job often requires travel and relocation, learning about different cultures and foreign languages, but it differs slightly because it is more research focused. For example, field officers are trained “expert analysts [who] engage directly with all parties to a conflict as they conduct research on the ground, share multiple perspectives and propose practical policy solutions.” Whether you want to pursue a career as diplomat or a field officer, a degree in peace and conflict studies will set you up for success!

2. Nonprofit Director, Communication Specialists, or Press Officer

The nonprofit sector is a perfect avenue to pursue your career dreams, especially if you are a peace and conflict studies graduate. Many nonprofits look for executive director candidates who have skills in negotiating peace and navigating conflicts. All nonprofits are mission-driven. They focus on offering solutions to a social, economic, or any other issue that the current state government or for-profit sectors are falling behind at addressing. Nonprofits help fill the much-needed gaps in our political, social, and economic systems. As the director of a nonprofit, you could also make a pretty good salary, too. For example, “The Nonprofit Times Annual Survey salary reported in 2006 that an executive NGO director could make, on average, $149,427 a year. Any peace studies student who is interested in this career should look for entry-level, non-profit positions to start gaining the experience needed to become an NGO director.”

Also nonprofits are looking for development and communications specialists. A development officer is the leader in fundraising for the organization bringing in the big bucks for the nonprofit to fulfill their mission AND pay their bills, salaries, and other operating costs. A communications specialist helps ensure the flow of information and keeps it relevant, sensitive to the topic and people involved, and they set the tone for the overall organization’s messaging.

Dizery Salim writes about her experience as press officer for the United Nations: “I was hired as a Press Officer to cover meetings at the United Nations Secretariat. External journalists are not allowed to do this -- so our summaries are one way for them to learn about what happens in these meetings. We report on General Assembly sessions where heads of state and government, ministers and representatives of permanent missions to the United Nations speak and elaborate on their various country positions on a variety of global matters; on the meetings of the various committees of the Assembly and the other substantive bodies of the organization; as well as on Security Council deliberations which address the various threats to world peace, development and stability on a daily basis.”

3. Policy Officer or Legal Advocate

Maybe you’re more interested in the legal side of things? The law and its impact on the state and at the international level are fascinating -- a degree in peace and conflict studies gives you the necessary background knowledge to excel as a policy officer or legal advocate. A policy officer navigates discussion around...of course, policy! Policies are statements of intent that, unless supported with rules and regulations, become just lip service and just words on a page.

One policy officer, Mairead Carroll writes in The Guardian on why she chose this profession, “I was looking for a role that provided variety and allowed me the chance to carry out research. One of the best things about working in policy is that no two days are the same." And, she goes on to say, “One day you can be researching the impact of affordable rent and developing a new allocations policy, the next you could be consulting with residents about changes to parking. It's a great way to get an understanding of how a business works and to influence an organization at all levels. Now, as head of policy and external affairs, I lead on a number of research projects, including welfare reform.”

On the other hand, as a legal advocate, you could work in private practice, for nonprofits, or in education, insurance, or business to provide legal counsel and representation on issues that might need some mediation or someone skilled in facilitating discussions. For example, legal officer for the United Nations, Christian Mahr, tells about his job, saying, “In London, my job as Legal Officer for UNHCR was more on the diplomatic and policy side of the business. I worked very closely with host government officials as well as representatives of civil society to deal with an unprecedented surge in the number of persons applying for asylum in the United Kingdom. That was the interesting part about a day with the UNHCR: in the morning, I could be with a refugee, giving him or her ideas on what kind of business they could get into to make a living, and in the afternoon, I would be briefing a government minister on the situation of asylum in a country. Working with refugees was a moving experience that will stay with me forever.”

4. Conflict Resolution Expert or Consultant

A consultant in conflict resolution is, of course, an expert in peace and conflict studies. This job sounds fantastic and challenging! Imagine being brought in to determine the solution to a tense situation that is currently at an impasse between two very opinionated parties. Imagine being able to diffuse the situation, find a solution for both parties, and wrapping up an agreement that leaves everyone satisfied. This could be your job! Conflict resolution specialists can include mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators. Gather people together and you will have disputes. It seems to be part of the human condition. As life gets more litigious and complex, the need for people to work in conflict management keeps growing.

As a conflict resolution expert or consultant, you will be able to set your own rates, work for yourself, and make your own hours. Also, you will be able to pick and choose the conflicts that most interest you and the ones where you feel you are most suited to provide assistance. What if you could work for an organization that facilitates peace before any conflict even arises? You will be putting your peace and conflict studies degree to good use!

5. Human Resources & Trauma Specialist

Maybe working with people is more your thing? Another career that is perfect for a peace and conflict studies graduate is a career in human resources or trauma specialist. Blending psychology and conflict resolution with knowledge on how trauma functions, a human resource specialist can provide the best care for their clients if they are skilled in mediation and conflict resolution. According to journalist Juliana Weiss-Roessler, “The interpersonal and conflict-resolution skills developed in peace studies programs make students well-suited for working in human resources for non-profits, businesses or the government. HR directors typically oversee administrative processes such as hiring new staff members, working with executives to create a business plan and mediating conflicts between employers and employees.”

Trauma is a unique specialty to consider for all peace and conflict studies students. Many job listings for work in countries with the highest level of political, social, and economic upheaval, especially in war-torn areas, are looking for experts in conflict resolution who also have skills and experience in dealing with trauma. A sample job description from devex.com for a posting in South Sudan gives a good example of what employers are looking for: The Peacebuilding and Trauma Awareness Advisor is responsible for the conflict mitigation, peacebuilding and trauma portfolio [...] H/she will be responsible for situational awareness, trend analysis, program adaptation to reflect best practices and lessons learned for stabilization and conflict mitigation, and coordinates with other stabilization actors in South Sudan.

6. A professor or researcher

Do you admire the work your professors do? Do you love research and would you see yourself authoring books on peace and conflict resolution? Perhaps a professorship or a research position in peace and conflict studies is for you! We cannot move forward unless we understand and learn from our past. Academic scholars and researchers examine the social and political impacts of wars, major conflicts, and other events that involve implementing peace and reconciliation systems and processes. For example, Samantha Power’s career is fascinating; she was a diplomat, former US ambassador, and shot to fame for her 2003 book, A Problem from Hell, which won the Pulitzer prize. Today, she is back in academia as a professor in a chaired position at Harvard College. Power shares she’s working on a book “that’s really meant for young people who want to make the world different, and are skeptical that government or state institutions can be the right venue for them. I aim to convince them that there’s almost nothing more impactful that they can do, even though it’s not always easy, but that the solidarity and the integrity of the enterprise is just immensely satisfying and that, even though the media will always cover the bad news, I aim also to show the kind of impact that public servants can have when they put their minds to it.”

Could you be the next Samantha Power? Or, could you at least put your degree in peace and conflict studies to excellent use? We think the many careers available to graduates of a peace and conflict studies degree offer candidates some of the most a rewarding and life-affirming work available on the planet. Go for it!

S.M. Audsley

Author

S. M. Audsley is a freelance writer and poet who lives and works in Vermont, a small but mighty state in the United States. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast and a lover of potlucks.