Going From Model UN Research to a Job at the Council on Foreign Relations: Interview with Marta Canneri

by KFC on February 21, 2017

The research skills that Model UN delegates learn are valuable in the workplace. In fact, professional research jobs exist for those who are research superstars! Marta Canneri, who served as the Secretary-General of McMUN 2016 and two terms as a Diplomacy Fellow at the Best Delegate Model UN Institute, has turned her passion in research into a full-time job at one of the leading foreign policy think tanks in the world, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Marta shares her insights in this interview as well as links to CFR resources that Model UN delegates can use when researching for their next conference!


Marta Canneri

Marta Canneri

You’re working at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of the most prominent think tanks in foreign policy and international affairs. What did it take to get in? How did Model UN help? 

Marta Canneri (MC): I provide research support for the Education department at CFR, so my background in teaching and education was essential for getting my foot in the door. I think I was hired because I had a good mix of research experience and hands-on teaching experience. My research projects also expect me to be something of a foreign affairs generalist (for example, I’m currently working on a project on nuclear nonproliferation, but previously was working on one relating to UN Security Council working methods), so the wide-ranging international relations knowledge gained from years of Model UN have been instrumental. Years spent debating topics as varied as arctic sovereignty or the Biafran Civil War have given me a strong foundation of knowledge to draw on and build on when approaching new research projects. My Model UN experience meant that, during my interview, I could comfortably speak on a variety of international issues with reasonable ease.

What’s the job of a Research Associate at CFR like? 

MC: Sometimes I’m surprised at how similar my job is to being in school – I spend a lot of my days reading books or articles and taking notes, writing summaries, and trying to build an argument or analysis based on the information I learn. Which is awesome, because I loved school! I also feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who love international affairs as much as I do, and can challenge me to be better and think smarter about global issues.

Did you develop certain skills in Model UN that help with your career now? 

MC: I constantly draw on the skills I learned in Model UN. The first, and most obvious, is my ability to conduct research effectively and efficiently. Because I’m researching a lot of the same topics I did when competing, I’m already familiar with many of the sources, important issues, and main players. MUN also taught me to consider multiple perspectives – inevitable after you’ve represented Russia several times on the Security Council – which is an invaluable skill when considering policy recommendations for global challenges. Because of Model UN, I think in terms of solutions, not just problems, which I find is a challenging switch for many coming straight from the academic world.

Some of the skills I learned in Model UN are applicable to every workplace. My public speaking skills are instrumental in helping me navigate meetings, presentations, and even just for socializing with coworkers. My unmod experiences mean that I am comfortable holding my ground when discussing an issue, doing so diplomatically, persuasively, and courteously. My confidence in front of people – something I definitely did not have before Model UN – has helped me speak up in meetings and enthusiastically give feedback or respond to questions. I can confidently say that I would not be the same employee if I hadn’t participated in Model UN.

As a professional researcher, what advice would you give to Model UN delegates to help them improve their research? 

MC: Learning how to do research is something of a baptism by fire. It took me more than a few conferences where I felt absolutely clueless about a given topic before I got the hang of researching an issue. It’s also incredibly daunting: it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the mountain of information and the complexity of relationships and issues. That said, I have two main pieces of advice.

The first is that you should always start your research by figuring out the broad outlines of the topic: who are the main players? What are the issues at stake? Too often I see delegates jump into research by looking up random statistics or their country’s stance without fully understanding the nuts and bolts of the topic. Read the wikipedia page (I know, it’s a taboo – but this is only to get basic information, and you should never cite it in a paper), issue briefs (which can be found on the websites of think tanks like CFR, or government agencies), and primers/guides (like Vox’s explainers). Don’t start the next phase of research until you can confidently describe the dimensions of the issue to a friend who knows nothing about it.

Second, focus the bulk of your research on solutions and policy options. I very often made the mistake of printing out pages and pages of statistics on the scope of the problem (think, “glaciers have thinned 10 metres since 1980”) only to have nothing to say when the entire time is spent debating solutions. Ask: what has been done in the past? Did it work? Why not? What have experts recommended? What has your country/character/agency proposed, if anything? What have your country’s allies proposed? And so on. So much is written on policy proposals and recommendations for solving global problems – researching these and coming into committee with some solid ideas for resolutions will be a huge asset.

Are there research resources delegates could use from CFR? 

MC: CFR has a real cornucopia of resources available to Model UN delegates, some of which I used myself when I was competing!

Backgrounders were usually my first stop when I needed to get the lowdown on a particular issue; these comprehensive overviews of topics ranging from Brexit to Zika are incredibly helpful at getting the “need-to-know”, critical information on a given subject.

Our interactives are good for a more dynamic learning experience; they range from issue-specific (China’s Maritime Disputes) to regional (Sub-Saharan Security Tracker) to global (our Global Conflict Tracker).

Of particular relevance to Model UN delegates is our Global Governance Monitor, which tracks global cooperation on issues and recommends policy options.

Our expert briefs, searchable by topic, are also a great place to get ideas for solutions and resolution clauses.

We also recently launched Model Diplomacy, an in-class simulation of the National Security Council. It differs from Model UN because it’s focused specifically on U.S. foreign policy and it’s meant for teachers to use in-class!



Thanks Marta for all the career insights as well as these helpful links!

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