Kyla Reid ’09, on her Career Journey in International Development

How did you become interested in the field of International Development? 
​I was interested in international development in a general way throughout middle and high school. However, I didn’t act on it much until Sophomore year. I was discussing my study abroad plans with my advisor, Professor Peggy Levitt. I was planning to apply to study in the UK. Professor Levitt encouraged me to take the opportunity to push myself, and to think about studying in a I had always wanted to go, but never thought I would. I went straight from her office and applied to spend semester in rural SW China.

What experiences at Wellesley helped develop the skills, strengths, interests that you use now? 
Studying abroad was really a catalyst for me. I can almost divide my life into before-and-after. I had travelled abroad before—in Europe and the Middle East—but my study abroad experience was a completely different experience. I didn’t speak Chinese, I had never been abroad longer than a few weeks, I hadn’t done any overseas fieldwork… It really stretched my personal and academic abilities, and I learned a lot. It also gave me a lot of confidence—it showed me what I was capable of doing. Wellesley enabled me to further build on this—I went back to work for an NGO the next summer with a research grant, then presented at Ruhlmann, applied for the Wellesley-Yenching fellowship, then went on to do my masters and work in the UK.

What is your role now and how does it inspire you? What do you like about your job and what would you change?
I currently direct multi-year independent evaluations of British aid programmes for a consultancy company hired by the UK government. I’m shortly changing jobs to do a similar role for a governmental organisation based here in Scotland. My expertise is in economic development and I do a lot of work in conflict-affected regions. In the last two years I’ve led evaluations of economic development programmes in Afghanistan, Somalia, and NE Nigeria, while supporting on others evaluations globally. Things I like about my job—its never dull! I currently lead two evaluations, and help with several others, so a lot of interesting reports and topics come across my desk. I might be helping design a quasi-experimental research methodology in the morning, and then be discussing security and evacuation processes for an upcoming fieldwork trip in the afternoon. A lot of my job combines technical expertise with interpersonal skills—communicating technically or politically difficult information to stakeholders and managing teams remotely. It takes a lot of clear communication and thinking several steps ahead to anticipate problems. I need to be available and respond flexibly if something comes up on a project; I need to be on call if we have people in the field in case something goes wrong. I also travel a lot at short notice—I spend about 50% of my time on the road, spilt mostly evenly between traveling to London and overseas. Work /life balance is very tricky and travelling gets tiring. I’ve missed key events with family and friends and tend to only do minimal travel when on vacation. I’m lucky my husband has a more predictable job and handles most of our “life admin”.

What is your advice for students at Wellesley starting to explore international development?
Be open minded and open to opportunities. Sometimes people come with a set idea of the countries, topics, etc they want to work on. While its great to be passionate about a particular region or topic, focusing on one area limits your options. Don’t think that your first (or second, or third…) job will define your whole career. In ten years since I graduated, I’ve worked in academia, private sector consulting and soon will work for a governmental organisation. When I graduated, I had a plan to go abroad for a year, get a M.A. and then try to join the State department. I am now working in a field which I didn’t even knew existed in 2009, and I certainly didn’t expect to be living in Scotland! Don’t turn down opportunities or not apply for interesting things just because they don’t fit your current plans.

What do international development organizations look for in applicants? 
I would encourage anyone interested in international development to study or work abroad if they can. It’s good for personal development, and gives you experience for your CV. It also demonstrates both to yourself and to potential employers that you can work overseas. The last thing an organisation wants is to hire someone who might be unhappy and leave within a few months. A lot of people think that working in international development will be interesting, exciting and rewarding—and it is sometimes. But it can also be lonely, uncomfortable and disheartening. Not all projects are successful, and change is slow. Maintaining perspective and taking time to truly switch off is key to avoiding burn out. No one person, project or organisation will be able to do everything; and people who are constantly in crisis mode will burn out.