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Studying International Affairs: To Do or Not To Do a Master's Degree?

In the latest collection of articles for the Young Australians Careers Blog, we examine post-graduate studies in international affairs. In our first article, we are very fortunate to have a contribution from Marcin Dadura of the Global Diplomatic Forum, an independent not-for-profit with the goal of promoting and fostering partnerships between diplomacy, government, the media, non-governmental organisations and the academic and private worlds. He gives us his insight into the merits of a Master’s degree. Look out for the accompanying article, we talk to some of Australia’s best universities about their post-graduate offerings.

"To do, or not to do a Master’s degree? This Shakespearian style dilemma has no doubt puzzled most of the fresh graduates and young professionals aiming to broaden their expertise. The answer to this question, though not as straight forward as we would like it to be, can be reached by carefully analysing your desired path of personal development both in a professional and an academic sense. Although very tempting – being in many aspects the easiest and most natural path, the option of undertaking postgraduate studies straight after your undergraduate degree also carries certain risks. Those risks are most often associated with lack of tangible professional experience upon the completion of the studies. Nonetheless, what should also be considered is the fact that unless you are absolutely sure about the postgraduate course you are going to choose, it may be worthwhile to take a break in studies, gain some relevant work experience and then enriched with practical understanding of the market decide on what could be the best option for your Master’s degree. Having very briefly looked at the generic alternatives, we can now have a more in-depth look at the field we are mostly interested in – International Affairs. The choice of both postgraduate degrees and possible career paths is fairly wide, however in many cases the selection requirements of the potential employers leave you with little or no choice – a Master’s degree is simply a prerequisite to the application process. Therefore, planning your route to your desired career requires taking into account both academic and professional requirements set by industry. It is worthwhile to mention here that aforementioned requirements vary greatly not only from organisation to organisation but are also hugely dependant on the position you will be applying for so thorough research is an absolute must.

While the above down-to-earth approach to the reasons for obtaining postgraduate degree cannot be omitted, we also have to look into less quantifiable advantages of Master’s degree. Here I can only speak from my own personal experience. Though insightful my undergraduate degree in Political Science has provided me with fairly broad and mainly textbook knowledge from a wide range of disciplines affiliated with politics. Please do not get me wrong here as I am not trying to undermine the validity or scope of the knowledge I have acquired through my bachelor course, but it is rather an attempt to generalise (I know it is no good to generalise though sometimes we have no other choice but to do so in order to grasp a greater picture) and depict the standards of education across the world where undergraduate degrees are designed to provide students with the necessary framework of knowledge in course specific subject while in most cases refraining from teaching them advanced analytical techniques and usage of the knowledge in practice. The latter two should form the foundation of a truly valuable postgraduate degree that is further supplemented by highly specialised modules focusing on very specific topics. I was fortunate to find just such combination at the Diplomatic Academy of London and have to admit that it has literally transformed not only my analytical skills but also the way I perceive and approach international affairs. As such I could not recommend advanced degrees highly enough – not only do such degrees carry the potential to advance your career but almost certainly they will provide you with an unparalleled opportunity to further develop your expertise, and who knows maybe lead to a PhD".

The Global Diplomatic Forum's website can be found here.

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