Researcher and Communications officer at the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

"Start network early"

Svetla-PS-testimonialnieuwSvetla Baeva, aged 27
Graduated in 2010 
Researcher and Communications officer
at the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

What do you do for a living?
I recently started working as a Researcher and Communications officer at one of the largest human rights organizations in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. At the core of my work at the Monitoring and Research department, I conduct both fieldwork and desk research on the situation of various vulnerable groups from children to minorities to refugees in Bulgaria.
Additionally, I help the Communications department in their advocacy campaigns and outreach programmes through social media and collaboration with local and international organizations. My time at the Helsinki Committee has been diverse and enriching. In a short period of time, I have had the opportunity to join an election observation mission, work on a project evaluating media freedom in Bulgaria, access refugee detention centers and much more.

What do you really like about your job?
My job allows me to travel to various ends of the country to conduct monitoring visits at different types of institutions dealing with children, prisoners, refugees etc. At the end of the day, the field work is the most challenging and eye-opening experience in my job. I often come face-to-face with the real problems of the institutional and socio-economic fabric in Bulgaria. This part of my job constantly reminds me of the need for further involvement of young people in human rights and the dire need to address the urban-rural divide.

How did you find this job?
The labor market in Bulgaria (as I expect in most of Eastern Europe) was just getting out of the doldrums in 2008 when the crisis hit, which definitely did not work wonders for the population in its twenties looking for meaningful jobs. It took a while to find a job that was at the same time challenging and promised professional development.
My advice to all graduates out there is to start networking early, which does not mean that you have to turn out into one those folks that cannot talk about anything besides work but it does not hurt to ask around and explore potential areas of employment. After having spent nearly a year looking for a job (do not get discouraged!), I was recommended for an opening at the organization. 
What aspects of your job relate to the Master’s programme you followed at VU University Amsterdam?
The aspects concerning human rights definitely relate to the broad international relations curriculum. Nevertheless, the core of my research work deals excessively with research methods (both quantitative and qualitative) which I believe were not discussed thoroughly enough during my time at VU. I have had the opportunity to learn more about methodology and how to implement different research methods from conducting interviews to focus groups.

Did having this Master’s degree help in any way to get your job?
Having a Master’s degree is a definite advantage as it shows your employers that you are more prepared whether through the specialization you’ve chosen or by the mere fact they will perceive you as more dedicated to the job than candidates who haven’t yet undertaken their graduate studies. Your Master’s thesis is also a useful way to get to know certain organizations that may be potential employers. My Master’s degree certainly prepared me for a more research-orientated job.

Why did you choose this Master’s, and what job did you expect to find with this degree?
I choose a Master’s in Political Science: International Relations as I was looking to continue my studies in the area of development and public policy. I hope to continue my studies in the future to specialize in social policy, as I believe education, healthcare, employment and housing are the root to many human rights issues. I was hoping to find a job related to development in the research industry but I wasn’t sure if this would be in the private, nonprofit or government sector.

What should students expect of life after graduation?
Do not expect to find your dream job from the beginning. Sometimes one has to work out her/his own path and that is perfectly fine. People move at different places and while it is always good to have a healthy level of competition, your marker should be your own context and where you want to go, not what everybody else is doing.

Do you have any recommendations for students for their education or careers?
My main advice is to explore different areas earlier own whether through internships or volunteer placements in order to get the feel of spheres of interest. In this way you will also get the feel of what skills are held in esteem and looked for. Creating a network of organizations and people is essential and will make it easier when looking for a job or deciding on your Master’s thesis.