Student Story

Laurel Murphy ’24MS Supports UN Delegates with a McGrath Research Grant

Lauren Murphy (2nd from right) with a group of UN interns and staff at the 79th Commission Session
Lauren Murphy (2nd from right) with a group of UN interns and staff at the 79th session of ESCAP at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok

The internship was the perfect blend of my interests: international work, and library and information science.

Laurel Murphy received a McGrath Global Research Grant to cover travel expenses for her internship at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) Library in Bangkok, Thailand, a collection of UN official documents and resources to support development in the region. We spoke to Murphy about her experience at the UN.

“The UN has a lot of information to manage, but I didn’t realize that they have physical libraries,” says Laurel Murphy, now back in the states after an extended time working abroad. “ESCAP is the only UN library serving Asia, and I loved learning about that region.”

From April to June of this year, Murphy worked digitizing library resources, improving metadata records, shelving reference books, weeding the collection, and cataloging items. She also took college students on tours of the UN, trained incoming interns in library services, offered reference services, designed publicity materials for the library, and updated library policies aligned with sustainable development goals. “My internship supervisor wanted to give me a well-rounded experience in the library,” she recalls. “I liked having a variety of things to do and the opportunity to learn more about working in the UN. It’s a large organization and pretty complicated. It took me a while to understand how they keep everything moving.”

Murphy was invited to attend meetings with delegates from other countries, including the 79th session of ESCAP, held in May 2023 at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok. “The delegates were drafting resolutions for the Informal Working Group on Draft Resolutions meetings,” she says, referring to a session focused on climate initiatives and sustainable global goals. “I supported the reference librarian in those meetings. Any time a delegate needed more information, [we] searched the system.”

As Internships at the United Nations are unpaid, Murphy was able to take advantage of the opportunity thanks to a McGrath Global Research Grant (there are also grants available for undergraduate students). “The McGrath grant came at the perfect time,” says Murphy. “The internship was the perfect blend of my interests: international work, and library and information science.”

Taking the Time to Tour Thailand

Before leaving Thailand, Murphy visited Phuket and the mountains in Chiang Mai Province. “My boyfriend and I are not very outdoorsy, so we took a ‘soft’ trek — but it wasn’t soft at all! We spent eight hours trekking in the mountains of Thailand.” Their tour guide belonged to the Karen people, an ethnic minority in the northern region. “He took us through his village, where we saw people in colorful, traditional dress and met his community. He knew the mountainside so well that we weren’t on the path at all; at one point, we were walking through rice paddies. It was beautiful.”


Becoming an advisor for other traveling students

Murphy found another internship in U.S.-Asia relations through International Student Conferences, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Murphy became an advisor for a group of undergraduate students traveling to the U.S. and Korea. “It’s a professional and academic cultural interchange program,” explains Murphy. “An equal number of students from the U.S. and Korea. They attended a conference in Washington, D.C., then traveled together to South Korea for all of July.”

The students attended lectures and held roundtable discussions where they shared research on specific topics, including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, accessibility, climate change, international security, and public diplomacy. “All of the students come from different backgrounds, studying different majors. They had a large variety of perspectives and it was a good way to get to know each other better.” Murphy chaperoned the group on visits to the U.S. Department of State and the Korean embassy in D.C., and the U.S. embassy in Korea. They also visited the Korea Polar Research Institute to learn about the global research taking place in the Arctic, and South Korea’s involvement. They wrapped up their professional conference at the Boryeong Mud Festival. “People travel from all over Korea to attend,” says Murphy. “They believe there are skin and health benefits from playing in this mud.”

Making future plans

Murphy’s experiences abroad have likely influenced her future career. “I would love to work for a UN library in the future, maybe in New York, Vienna, Geneva, or Bangkok.” She loved Bangkok, noting that the lifestyle is very different from the U.S. “When I arrived, I wanted to be doing and seeing everything, but the pace of life there is much more relaxed. At first I felt anxious about not doing enough, but then I was able to adapt to the working culture. Everyone there was so kind, so welcoming.” Her colleagues invited her to a UN band practice, where they played Thai instruments and taught her how to play the Thai flute. “In Thailand, the lifestyle is more sustainable to put forth better work in the long run,” she observes. “We did hustle and worked hard to meet deadlines, but the support network was strong. A high level of stress doesn’t make you more efficient or a better worker.”

Publish Date


Alisa M. Libby