Last week, I was talking to political science students at University of Belgrade about the understandings of politics and international relations, and how to carve out a good research question for their midterm essays. One of the points raised in the discussion was how to approach the big topics in politics, and define this discipline we study. It is worth remembering from time to time what we study, and how those disciplinary constraints shape and bound the subject of our study, what later affects the choice of the research question in our essays. But what we study does not stop at essays - it is the meaning and implications that politics and international relations have for what we do. It is the classical work of a political scientist Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How,that is an often quoted and widely accepted understanding of politics. Studying politics equips us to think and act in almost any career path today - be it 'private' or 'public', 'governmental' or 'civil society', 'academic' or 'practical'.
There are thousands of politics and international relations study programmes in the world, and just a quick overview will give you the key arguments about what you can do with knowledge and skills (and not only the degree) in this field. Below are some of the examples of how the most reputable university departments in the world present the value and relevance of education for various career paths.
“The purpose of our major is to deepen knowledge and understanding of one of the most powerful forces operating on people, communities and corporations today, namely government and politics in the USA and around the world”. This is how Boston University captures the relevance of political science for navigating through the complex world, and the different spectre of actors that cross borders and go beyond states, to include corporations and NGOs.
The oldest International Relations programme in the world was established in 1919 at Aberystwyth University in Wales. “The study of International Politics is indispensable for understanding the changing world in which we live. In a time of revolutions, hunger, economic turmoil and terrorism, everyone has a stake in how disputes are resolved and co-operation is improved. “ This is the basic quality of international relations, and its knowledges are highly appreciated in finding solutions to the challenges posed by a rising complexity, for our and the future generations that will live in a globalized world. This is strongly underlined by the The British International Studies Association, which defines international relations (studies) as a “branch of Political Science that examines the role of states, international alliances, NGOs and multinational companies in an increasingly globalised world. International Relations (IR) deals with issues like sovereignty, environmentalism, development and human rights in the context of global affairs and is also concerned with the policies of individual states as far as they impact on the affairs of other states.”
You may then ask about what skills are needed to be an actor in such a world that you can acquire while studying international relations. It is the sense for the international, and this drive for communication that goes beyond borders that makes IR a good career path. It is something that challenges yourself to think and act in the spirit of tolerance, interdependence, and multiculturalism. It is also about understanding change and dynamic environment of a globalized world. It is also about learning and showing empathy.
Well, you may in the end ask - what can I do after graduating in International Relations? Knowing about how the world works is worthwhile effort in itself, but here are also the pathways that exist, and those that are created depending on our skills, qualities, and creativity to think outside the box. Thus, the often mentioned complexity of the world offers various career paths that require the four skills that IR students learn: research and administrative skills, critical analysis skills, scientific method, and cross-cultural awareness. Working in international diplomacy, journalism, industry and business, the civil service, NGO work and the armed forces, to name just a few possible career choices that universities highlight the most. After all, international relations people are creators, and taking part in this process can play a significant role when making decisions on what we want to become.
This is nicely captured in this text at University of Toronto's IR programme website, asking a simple question: imagine yourself attending an important international meeting - what do you do? “Imagine yourself in ten years’ time. Your team is negotiating an international agreement. How do you understand what your counterparts are saying? How do you know what they’re really asking for, and what that really means?” International Relations can help us know that, and much more. After all, the world is a complex thing...
How do you see the value of studying international relations today? Whether you are a student, professional, or university professor - join the discussion and share your views in the comments' section below.