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Dec 7, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

We are living in uncertain times. Globalization, migration, climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and cybersecurity are just a few of the challenges we face as a planet in the 21st century. Together, they make up the profound scope of international relations, which deals with how nations work together and, sometimes, conflict. Here’s a closer look at the subject and how a degree in it can set you up for a thrilling and impactful career. 

Why Study it?

“In a world where suicide terrorist strikes come without warning and where poverty kills thousands of people each day only because of international system's mistakes, international relations and foreign policy are not just important but essential study,” argues MUNPlanet.

In recent decades, globalization has brought the world closer together and made it infinitely more connected. And due to generational differences in opinion on such matters, and advances in technology and social media, it is likely that, for better or for worse, this trend will only increase. People today feel increasingly connected by interests and values, as opposed to geography. 

Also, you could just be part of changing the world! A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but many of the great challenges humanity faces today, from climate change, to immigration, to nuclear confrontation, are big, extremely complex issues which demand international co-operation. But solutions are possible -- and qualified, wise, diplomatic, driven individuals are the ones who can provide them and see them through. All of this means there has never been a more fascinating and vital time to study international affairs.

Many Potential Pathways Across the Globe

An international affairs degree prepares students for many different types of jobs, including those you might automatically think of: policy analyst, legislative assistant,  diplomat, research and data analyst, or project coordinator and consultant.

However, international affairs opens the door to careers spanning many sectors. While government jobs may be the first to come to mind, many graduates go on to work in both the private and public sector, as well as for NGOs. Common industries include technology, consulting, the environment, renewable energy, finance, and marketing, to name just a few. As such, international affairs degree holders can hone in on areas of particular interest, which can lead to uniquely diverse options. 

Graduates can work at places such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Peace Corps, the US State Department, or the International Food Policy Research Institute, working to analyze social policies using micro-data.

Interested in entrepreneurship, meanwhile? An international affairs degree can give you the inside edge there -- with a potential humanitarian twist. Graduates may go on to use the skills they have learned, and networks they have developed, to found international organizations, NGOs, or social enterprises. 

If working internationally is one of your goals, an international affairs degree is ideal. Many programs in the subject offer plenty of opportunities for students to study abroad or take trips to regions they are studying. This means students can satisfy their wanderlust while also gaining experience which is invaluable for their studies and future career. Also, traveling to learn may take you off-the-beaten-path to places you might otherwise not see. 

One place to study all of this

When it comes to helping students build on their education and experience to advance their career in this field, the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) at UC San Diego’s Master of International Affairs (MIA) stands out from the crowd.

For starters, there’s its innovative curriculum which emphasizes regional specialization within the context of broader topics such as econometrics and big data analytics. This two-year, full-time program consists of eight required courses in economics, management, political science, and quantitative methods, followed by a capstone course in the second year where students select a career track and country/regional specialization. Students have the opportunity to become experts in the policy and economy of one Pacific region -- and also master the language of that region. 

This approach pays off as graduates move into the workforce. GPS dean Peter Cowhey explains, “Our graduates can pursue fascinating careers. [They can] go from private to public sectors or non-profits and work in the US, Asia, Americas, or Europe. One of our alums was the CEO of a very significant manufacturing [organization] in both Europe and Asia. He could apply his skills in both places.”

And then there’s the fact that UC San Diego is a top five US research institution with $1.2 billion in federal research, comprising scholars leading their fields and professions.

The MIA’s network of graduates is very big, with alumni presence in over 80 countries. “[Their] training is sufficiently broad that they can tackle various assignment in a way that impresses employers. Our student body, they are doers, they roll up their sleeves and they execute. That shows up in the results of our career placement, we have one of the strongest placement records of any school of public and international affairs in the US,” adds Cowhey.

Meanwhile, GPS professor Craig McIntosh says, “GPS is a unique environment; top-level research academics [...] teaching in a relatively small program just steps away from the Pacific ocean. It is an excellent place to spend two years propelling yourself to the forefront of the issues and methods most relevant to international affairs.”

There may be no better way to position yourself to assume a leading role in navigating these challenges than with GPS’ Master of International Affairs at the University of California San Diego

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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