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        Inside the IRIS programme with Shannon McSkimming

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        Three years ago Dryad Global launched an industry placement programme to identify young graduate talent from under represented groups in society to help them to gain experience and knowledge to support them into careers in the geo-political, intelligence and maritime security sectors.

        Shannon McSkimming applied and was accepted into the Dryad Global IRIS programme in 2020. She is now about to embark on a career with the Australian Government. In this interview she reflects on her time working with Dryad both on an industry placement and subsequently as an employee.


        What did you study at university?

        A four-year double degree in International Relations and Languages, with a major in Indonesian and a minor in French. 

        How has Dryad Global's industry placement programme supported your studies?

        Before working with Dryad I had limited knowledge of the maritime security environment. It's not really something that's covered in many university courses, despite it being a major factor in International Relations. I think it's given me a lot more depth to my understanding of international relations and international issues, particularly from a maritime perspective. This has expanded my perspectives which really encouraged me to write and explore some of my university topics and papers from a different angle to most of my peers. My time with Dryad also allowed me to gain experience in areas that I would like to explore further in the future such as maritime intelligence and geospatial analysis. Through this work placement and subsequent employment, I gained a lot of confidence in my own skills as an analyst. I also feel better equipped to speak up when I need support and I've learnt how to navigate complex situations such as being able to discuss with customers when our recommendations differ from their initial plans or answering questions for media when our analysis differs from the wider industry. 

        How was Dryad Global able to help you gain confidence in speaking about the industry? What opportunities did you have?

        I've worked closely with Meredyth, Dryad's Head of Communications, on understanding how to navigate questions and handle interviews, briefings, and speaking engagements. We've done a lot of practice and I've had a lot of feedback and advice on how to speak and handle questions that you might not be necessarily prepared for or want to answer, which is an important skill. People who work at the governmental level seem to be experts in this field but no one teaches you how to hone this skill at university. Having great subject matter knowledge and being able to communicate this is a skill in itself and I feel like I've been able to really develop my ability in this area.

        How did you find Dryad Global and what made you want to complete an internship?

        While I was doing an internship in Washington DC, I worked alongside someone who was already on the Dryad Global industry placement. It sounded interesting and when I got home to Australia I decided to apply. 

        After submitting my application, I had an initial interview with Munro Anderson, the Head of Intelligence at Dryad, and then I went through the onboarding process which involved reading, research and listening in on weekly internal business calls. This allowed me the time and space to meet the team and understand the business processes.

        I could see that Dryad offered an opportunity that was very different from most internship programs: the opportunities for practical learning were abundant. More often than not, interns are left to pick up the menial jobs that no one else wants to do and they have to watch from the sidelines. Instead, with Dryad I was able to jump in at the deep end and gain exposure to real-time issues that I was really interested in. The first task I was set was to write a risk assessment about a country a client was interested in. I then went through it with Munro and we built on its strengths. It was a really good initial task and learning opportunity.

        What did you learn during your time with Dryad?

        A great deal! I understand geopolitics and regional dynamics at a much more granular level now. I can now see how the micro and macro nuances of political events affect regional dynamics.

        For example, in relation to port risk assessments, a very precise and local level of understanding is needed, but I also have to take into account global piracy and regional maritime crime trends. Being able to switch focus between localised and global events is a real skill that comes from experience. I've learnt that it's important to understand the big-ticket theoretical questions. However, it's also imperative to understand how these theories and concepts relate to and impact micro issues too. 

        Narrative is a word we always use at Dryad Global. Being able to understand and contextualize the situation of how incidents are playing out or what geopolitics of certain relationships mean for incidents at sea or security at sea is extremely important. Being able to look at bits of information and understand how they are relevant to the bigger picture is a real skill that I honed in my time with Dryad. The art of writing summaries of information is another skill that I've been able to develop. It's a real skill to be able to research and collate and then distil it down to a paragraph that sums up the critical information that our clients need. At university, you get used to writing 3000+ word papers, but a practical skill for real life is being able to quickly summarise and provide a synopsis of critical information. Nobody in business wants a product that is thousands of words long.

        I've also learned a lot about myself during my time with Dryad. I have found out more about how I operate and in what environment I perform best. I've also had to learn to manage my time and prioritise. A really important lesson has also been knowing how to delegate and work as part of a virtual, global team. I've really grown in confidence and feel able to talk with authority about international relations and present my ideas clearly. As quite a shy person, developing this skill has been very empowering. Naturally, I prefer to work in the background and observe, rather than take the floor but Dryad has really helped me to become more active and confident about contributing and encouraging other team members to do the same. 

        What has been your favourite part about working with Dryad?

        Working with the team! I really like the people I've been working with. Everyone has a really strong passion for what we're doing. This has definitely been the highlight. Aside from that, I've had some exceptional opportunities to speak and engage in the broader maritime industry. My colleague Sara Knight and I presented at a Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) 'Women in Shipping' conference earlier in the year about maritime security and piracy. That was a phenomenal experience. To be able to speak to a group like that was a really amazing opportunity for where we are in our careers. 

        When maritime security incidents occur, it's all hands on deck to get to the heart of the information to find out what's actually happened. This is when the team really comes together. I really like the investigative work and figuring out what's happened, who's involved and what the narrative is behind an incident. It can be quite hectic, as frequently we have both media organisations and clients looking for information and we're working at full throttle to make sure the analysis is both timely and accurate. I find it fascinating to be ahead of the news!

        How has Dryad Global prepared you for your future career?

        I'd really like to end up working in international diplomacy in the future; however, that is a bit further down the line. I've now been accepted onto a graduate program with the Federal Government in Australia, which is very exciting. A huge part of my success in securing this spot has been down to the confidence and skill set that I have honed during my time at Dryad. Crucially, being able to deliver information whether verbally or written, clearly and to the point is essential for diplomatic and governmental work.  

        Using open-source platforms to gather information for writing risk assessments has also been fascinating. From social media, google searches and news articles to geospatial imaging, these are all great skill sets that I can take forward into my next career.

        Why would you recommend the IRIS programme to others?

        Apply! Don't hesitate! This programme is an excellent opportunity for people studying international relations and humanities. A degree in international relations and security is really dependent on your passion for what you do, and how much you engage with what's happening around the world, and your genuine interest in international affairs and security. That's what makes a difference to a lot of applications. I've done a few different internships and various programs and Dryad has been by far the best for me and for the differences made in my applications for jobs and career.

        It is so hands-on, you're not doing menial tasks that have no major benefit to anyone and you're not just watching people work. You're actually learning how to do it, you're working it out for yourself in a lot of ways. And improving those skills in writing and speaking in research. I think that's the biggest difference. It's certainly not an internship, it’s an Industry Placement, with real hands on industry experience. You'll also find out whether you really like international relations or not! 

        Joining Dryad Global is one of the best things anyone who is interested in a career in international relations security business could do in terms of setting themselves up for the future! 

        Find out more about Dryad Global's industry placement initiative, the IRIS Programme.