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Early Graduates in IR: Ava Kalinauskas

In this career spotlight we have the pleasure of speaking with recent bachelor's graduate and current Research Associate Ava Kalinauskas about her experience studying a dual degree in France and Australia, her journey from university to the professional world, and her work at the United States Studies Centre.

Ava Kalinauskas is a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts Dual Degree from Sciences Po Paris and the University of Sydney. Her capstone project analysed Australia’s modern slavery legislation and its implications for the Asia-Pacific region.

Ava sits on the Youth Advisory Council to US Consul General Christine Elder and was previously a Program Assistant at Women In International Security Global (WIIS), a Washington DC-based organisation dedicated to advancing the UN “Women, Peace and Security” agenda.  

Going back to the very start of your career, what did you study at university and when did you graduate?

Mid last year I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Dual Degree) from Sciences Po Paris and the University of Sydney. After high school I moved to Reims, France, for two years to study at Sciences Po, where I undertook a multidisciplinary curriculum, exploring everything from political science and history to economics and statistics. I then came back to Sydney to study for two years at the University of Sydney, majoring in Politics and American Studies.  


In my final year of high school, I knew that I was interested in the humanities but had no idea where it could take me. When my careers advisor showed me the Bachelor of Arts Dual Degree, it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. By the end of my degree, I had spent four years deep-diving into so many different disciplines in a way that was challenging but super rewarding — both academically and personally.   


What experiences or moments helped you identify your passion in international relations, and how did you pursue it throughout and after university?


I've always thrown myself into as much as possible, which has helped me to rule things in and out. 


I loved the international aspect of the first half of my degree. Studying overseas in small classes, every class I took in France was enriched by the dynamics of the international cohort, which made a global perspective inherent to every discussion. My love of writing led to my involvement in student journalism at university, where I had lots of fun collaborating with such a diverse, international group of students. 


Down the track I became interested in gender and social impact and picked up a remote Gender and Global Security Program Assistant role during the pandemic, at Women In International Security Global (WIIS). Through that experience, I learned more about the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda and got to explore issues like the climate-security nexus and gendered humanitarian responses.  


These are just two examples, but I’ve really leant into what I’m most drawn to, and one thing has led to another! It’s only when I reflect that I can see that international relations is the common thread that ties together the different roles and opportunities I’ve naturally gravitated towards. 


What motivated you to apply to the United States Studies Centre, and how has your role there evolved since you first joined?


I took a US foreign policy elective and was immediately drawn to the multidisciplinary approach of American Studies. When an internship at the USSC came up for academic credit as part of the American Studies Major, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see how my academic skills could translate into a more practical setting. 


The USSC had always been on my radar, but I wasn’t super familiar with the think tank world. I went into the internship with absolutely zero expectations and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! The experience felt like the ideal intersection of my long-held passion for writing and editing, interest in policymaking and government, and desire to explore a range of issues rather than being stuck in a silo. 


After my internship ended, I was able to continue as a part-time research assistant alongside my degree and now, since graduating, I work at the Centre full-time as a Research Associate! 


Tell us more about the responsibilities and the typical workday of a Research Associate!


It’s a clichéd answer, but no two days are the same. I’m part of the US Politics, Society and Culture team, so a major focus of my role this year is the USSC’s research, events and outreach related to the US presidential election. However, I’m also lucky enough to dip my toe into projects on a whole variety of policy areas — from Australia-US bilateral climate action efforts to bolstering democratic governance across the Indo-Pacific region.  


An average day as a Research Associate might involve: crafting a grant proposal to apply for funding for a potential project, literature scanning for a research publication, organising a roundtable, editing our weekly newsletter, briefing a director for an event they’re speaking at, finding panelists for a conference, copy-editing a report, liaising with external authors or crunching data for our public opinion polling.  


How did you find the transition from university to the professional world, and how do you manage your work-life-balance?


The gradual step up from intern, to part-time, and now full-time work made it a lot easier to transition from university to the professional world. Rather than a sudden jump, I was able to slowly gain more work hours and responsibility and enter a workplace I was already familiar with after graduating.  


I think work-life-balance can be difficult in this role because the US news cycle is never ending — especially in a presidential election year — and my personal interest in politics bleeds into my work life. Because I find the work so interesting, it can be hard to truly switch off. What’s helped me is trying to be more intentional with rest and making time for the things I find nourishing. For me that means going to galleries, playing the piano and catching up with friends! 


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