Sheila Frimpong, from Ghana, joined the IAEA’s Division of Programme Support and Coordination (TCPC) in October 2018 for a six month fellowship. Sheila is the first fellow to join TCPC and comes from the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission where she holds the position of Project Development Manager. Her fellowship focuses on building skills in communication, outreach and partnership that can benefit her home institution on her return.

Experience and lessons learned: How a fellowship with the TC communication team is improving my career development

By Sheila Frimpong

Working as a technology transfer and communication officer at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), my role demands an extensive set of communication and outreach skills. This personal story explains how my fellowship with the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation’s communication team is preparing me for more complex tasks in technology transfer and communication, and expanding my perspective about how I work in my home country.

Reporting to work on one winter morning at the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, I was shown to my desk with all the necessary logistics for effective work and provided with a structured orientation in the first week. The space to innovate and grow was thus created for me on the first day of work. Settling at my desk, I noticed something unusual: all office doors are left open irrespective of rank or position. I also noticed staff walking to and fro outside my office. I asked my office colleague what was going on, with staff running all over the place. She told me – they are picking up their printing to start their activities for the day. I said to myself wow! I have a lot to learn. Here, people are expected to look after their own needs – there’s no-one around to pick up things for them. Then came 17:00, finishing time, but my office colleague was not ready to leave for me to follow as a newcomer. Stepping out of my office, I noticed that many staff were still glued to their desk as if the day had just started. It was then I realised that I was in fact in a different work environment, and that adjusting to the new work approach was critical and necessary. So, there was a lesson for me on the very first day – I would have to be transparent as a manager of my own work and build on my time and results consciousness.

During my fellowship, I have attended a series of training programmes on communication, presentation skills, sustainability and nuclear technology transfer. I have come to the realisation that it takes tri-sector leadership to build innovative solutions. Thus, at the IAEA, different stakeholders including sister UN agencies are regularly invited to share their experiences, challenges and lessons in pursuing a course of action. I’ve learned how all the Departments in an organization can work together to drive change, especially as it relates to the transfer of technology and the involvement of many actors.

My fellowship with the technical cooperation communication team has given me a unique opportunity for one-on-one and hands-on field experience. Prior to the start of the fellowship I had little experience in conducting communication audits, developing factsheets, and writing success stories. Also, I had not been exposed to an international working environment. With regular hand-holding support from my supervisor and the larger communication team, attendance at weekly meetings and participation in workshops to witness presentations by my supervisor, my level of confidence in my communication abilities, public speaking and presentation skills has improved tremendously. In addition, I have gained practical experience in developing communication strategies and improved my skills in proposal writing.

Working in a multi-cultural environment and improving my cultural competencies has been one of my biggest take-aways during the fellowship. I am now able to relate in a more professional and confident manner with experts with different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status.

Above all, I have had a transformative international experience, seeing the world of work from a different organizational setting. I will put this to use when I return to GAEC. As a result of the diverse skills gained during my fellowship, I am more than confident of my ability to pursue my career in a multi-cultural environment and to make the maximum impact on society with the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

I can also see how I can leverage my skills and experience to benefit other African countries. In addition to my expertise in marketing, I now know I can contribute to any communication related activity, particularly developing communication strategies for African countries and the world at large.

Indeed, my fellowship has facilitated my personal and professional development and has positioned me to address one of the most complex challenges in scientific institutions: putting cutting edge nuclear technology to the service of industry and society.