Written by Bridgitte Taylor
As international relations students, time and time again many of us are faced with the query: “What opportunities does pursuing a degree in International Relations present?”. At times, this question may be tricky to answer, but Alison James, a current UBC PhD candidate in International Relations, discussed with me just how valuable (and relevant) an IR degree can be. From teaching, to non-profit work, Alison’s educational and employment experience in the field has been both valuable and well rounded.
As a PhD candidate, not only has pursuing an International Relations degree given Alison the opportunity to research alongside some of the fields’ brightest, but she in turn gets to demonstrate her expertise through her position as a teaching assistant for political science courses here at UBC. Beyond teaching however, Alison has brought a community-based focus to her studies and career vis-à-vis her PhD research on transnational justice; how post-conflict societies go about justice, official apologies, and reconciliation. Specifically, James has been researching the politics and details of South Africa’s post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission – how it can be improved, but also, how such policies line up with Canadian restorative justice narratives. In light of this, many of Alison’s past and present employment positions have been both overseas, and domestic. For instance, Alison has done work with South African grassroots organizations, with domestic non-profit groups such as the Victoria International Development Education Association (VIDEA), in addition to contract positions, such as one for the B.C. Council for International Cooperation. Not only have these positions allowed Alison to develop diverse workplace skills, but they’ve also allowed her to better determine the direction she wants to take with her I.R. degree.
Like many students however, Alison says that she too has had moments in the past where connecting individual experiences to long-term international career goals can seem daunting. Her advice? Always take opportunities as they come up, and recognize them as a chance to learn and grow. Much of the time, these positions not only provide transferable skills that are important to a career in international relations for the long-run, but they often also lead to other exciting opportunities. Making connections through various campus clubs, such as the International Relations Student Association, or UBC Model United Nations, or perhaps getting involved in different non-profit organizations here in the lower mainland are all great steps to determine what we are and are not interested in pursuing, she says. Amidst constantly changing 21st Century conditions then, it seems that the key to making the most of nearly any degree is putting oneself out there and seizing the opportunities around us. As a result, we can turn diverse experiences into incredibly valuable ones.
For more information on the IR Coffees program, please visit our website.