Many students I have the opportunity to support ask, “How has your International Relations degree helped you?” “How have you used it?”
What we all really want to know: Is it worth it?
I have discussed this question with many young professionals pursuing careers in consulting, non-profits, business and even government service.
Here is what I learned.
Questioning the value of a college degree is a symptom of fear. A paralyzing fear an IR degree cannot compete with more specialized or technical degrees. Fortunately, today’s economy favors the broad and dynamic. BUT leveraging the benefits of an IR degree requires knowing how to define and communicate your unique strengths. An IR degree equips you with a broad flexibility to tailor yourself to a broad range of fields, companies and positions. I can teach you how, just ask!
Here are the top 3 reasons whay an IR degree is beneficial for today’s increasingly integrative economy.
1.Empathy is foundational to emotional intelligence.
Studying humanity’s worst atrocities, greatest miracles, worst tyrants and greatest leaders forces a respect for the human spirit, regardless of race, creed or conviction. The connection economy runs on how people feel. The ability to understand how someone else feels, from user interface design, sales, to customer service is foundational to building lasting relationships and therefore foundational to success. It is also the foundation for emotional intelligence, an undervalued skill in leadership and the corporate environment.
Going a mile wide and an inch deep versus an inch wide and a mile deep does have value, especially in a fast changing marketplace where products and services are constantly being disrupted. An IR degree teaches you to learn fast, digest, analyze, and communicate. The ability to consume large amounts of information, become an expert, and to synthesize it into an easily digestible form is valuable regardless of the field. For example, consultants are constantly shifting projects, clients and subjects. The most skilled and successful have a hunger to learn, are resourceful (ability to find unlikely solutions), are comfortable with uncertainty and skilled at communicating. Being a skilled generalist means you are an expert at sourcing knowledge and solutions. Today’s democratization of information enables the resourceful to develop solutions and expertise in any field. Knowing where and how to find solutions to multiple problems is more valuable than being the solution. Caveats, this takes grit. It takes the capacity to work really hard and be comfortable with failure. There will always be smarter technical experts, your value lies in finding and building relationships with them not competing against them.
Obvious, but important. Having a broad frame of reference with regard to culture, language, history and politics equips you with a general familiarity with the world at large and an ability to speak intelligently about it. A global familiarity provides the potential to have more in common with more people. Relationships are key to success in any field, and an IR degree provides you a broad knowledge foundation to relate to a range of cultures. Translation: you can strike up a genuine conversation with pretty much anyone, anywhere. Also, the study of differing world views and theories provides a conscious ability to objectively shift paradigms. Being able to view problems and solutions from multiple perspectives is core to critical thinking and being a dynamic problem solver.
So, the answer to the original question, is it worth it?
Yes it is worth it…when you know how to leverage these benefits and how to frame it. An IR degree provides a unique opportunity and flexibility to shape and frame skills according to your strengths, interests and the environment. Extracting the most value from your degree requires knowing how to market it, how to frame it, how you define your brand, your story, your skills according to the chosen industry, company and career field.