Nathan Birnbaum ’20

The IR Program would like to congratulate all those students who graduated from the IR Major in 2020. We want to honour the knowledge and insight these students have to share even though they are not able to do it in person, so will be featuring many of them in a series of interviews here online. Go forth, grads, we are proud of you! 

Name: Nathan Birnbaum

Started at UBC in: 2015

LinkedIn profile

Why did you choose to study IR?

IR enabled me to study a wide range of disciplines that I am passionate about, without having to narrowly specialize in a singular field. Early in my IR program, I was able to pursue history and geopolitics in the Middle East while on exchange in Israel. In my fourth year, I became more interested in economics. The IR program’s flexibility allowed me to fulfill this interest while completing my program requirements. Furthermore, the high calibre of students admitted into the UBC IR program was an incentive for me, as I would be surrounded by high quality peers in many of my classes.

What was one significant learning moment that happened during your degree? 

Shortly after my third year I suffered a serious, prolonged concussion. As a result, I took a medical absence from term 1, 2018W and could only maintain three courses in term 2, 2018W, thereby delaying my degree. Due to physical limitations inhibiting my ability to study, I was forced to learn better time management and effective studying skills. Despite this experience, I achieved higher grades after my concussion and am now far more confident in my abilities overall as a student and person.

What is one thing that you did/were involved in that you think future IR students should consider? 

Exchange was the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. I strongly recommend all IR students go on an exchange program. A piece of advise when choosing an exchange program is to pick a location and school relevant to your academic or personal interests. For example, don’t simply embark to Barcelona or Bangkok because of the nightlife while you have zero interests in those places otherwise. I chose two exchange programs in Israel because I am Jewish with a strong connection to Israel, and interested in the geopolitics of the Middle East. As such, exchange allowed me to explore my own identity and connect to my heritage in a meaningful way. Moreover, the people I met on exchange had similar academic interests yet vastly different opinions. This exposure to various political/religious perspectives was eye opening, forcing me to challenge my own personal opinions and beliefs. Classes were always captivating and many of us would frequently discuss the topics we were learning about over drinks at local night venues.
The bottom line is, do an exchange in line with your interests. You won’t regret it.

Most memorable or favourite IR class? And why? 

I particularly enjoyed ECON 355 and ECON 356. Although only one of these classes are required by the IR program, taking both greatly enhanced my understanding of the global economic system. These classes challenged me to think critically, rather than simply memorize information, which I believe is a critical skill IR students take away from the program.

Any advice for future IR Majors?

Look forward into the future and think of the industries, graduate programs, jobs, or other opportunities that intrigue you. During your degree, try to develop some skills and experiences relevant to such opportunities, regardless of how diverse they may be from each other. This can only open your options post-graduation. You will always question what you want from your career and that is normal. But prepare yourself for various paths towards your larger goals.