Why I Chose International Relations at Leeds
At one point I wanted to study law because I thought that that would give me a good general grounding for future careers. However, on realising that I didn’t actually want to become a lawyer, I looked around for courses that appealed to me. Politics and economics interested me, but I wanted to spend more time learning about international society and its related structures, so I finally chose international relations. It wasn’t hard to choose Leeds: I went to a number of open days at various universities, and it was only in Leeds that I felt truly welcomed by other students and comfortable with the environment.
I loved my course. With the benefit of perfect 20/20 hindsight, many say that they wished they had altered one thing or another about their course, but I really enjoyed studying international relations. I was very fortunate indeed that the degree was so flexible, and I was able to take modules from other departments including languages. The way in which my degree has helped with my chosen career has been quite direct insofar as I am now pursuing academic research. My time studying at Leeds prepared me well to embark on a Masters degree and, ultimately, to be accepted onto a PhD course.
Learning Facilities and School Support
The University of Leeds is very well-equipped with a brilliant library. In particular, I found the electronic journal service to be very good indeed. Other than that, the new sports centre is a great place to exercise. I found the student union to be second to none and a great place to socialise. I was fortunate to have a great team of advisors at the School, both formal and informal. My personal tutor was in-touch with my progress and our meetings were always productive. In my final year, my dissertation supervisor gave me regular, clear feedback on my progress. I was also able to keep touch with a number of staff members following my graduation from the School, which has led to our collaboration in organising academic events and research projects in the last couple of years.
My Experience at Leeds
My experience at University was an undoubtedly positive one, and probably the most important three years in my development so far. At Leeds I met some of my best friends (bizarrely, only a few of them being the ones who I met in my first week). My life in Leeds was divided between University and everything related to it, as well as military service and all that was entailed therein. The most enjoyable part of University was the freedom of being able to plan-out so much of my own schedule, to meet so many people from different walks of life, and to get involved in as many activities as possible. The sense of community in Leeds was incredible and exhilarating.
Leeds as a city
Leeds is a brilliantly lively and yet student-friendly city. I always thought of the centre of town being similar to a microcosm of London, with all of the vital shops and facilities within about a 15-minute walk of one another. The best thing about Leeds for me was the level of activity going on in the city. I liked that Leeds was a working city: there was plenty going on other than academia, and there were numerous opportunities for part-time work and extracurricular activities in the local area.
After I graduated from Leeds, I moved on to Durham University in September 2011 to read for an MSc in Defence, Development and Diplomacy. I finished my Masters dissertation in September 2012 and graduated from Durham with Distinction in January 2013. From October 2012 until the end of March 2013 I worked as a charitable fund manager, working with grassroots movements in Kent, UK. In the same month, I began researching for a PhD in Politics at the University of Bristol. The title of my research project is “’We cannot build on a peace that does not exist’: Civil society as a tool of social control in post-interventionary Sri Lanka”. My Leeds degree was vital in order to achieve a place at Durham and then Bristol, both degrees being highly competitive. When it came to my employment in the charity sector, I was up against a number of law graduates, and it was my Leeds degree combined with my work experience that gave me the edge.
My Current Role and Future Plans
As a charitable fund manager, I held overall responsibility for the strategy and operations of the Overstone Fund, which provides grants and loan funding to UK and international charities. In particular, the Overstone Fund provides funding for NGOs and other entities that contribute to crime reduction and the promotion of entrepreneurship for disadvantaged people. In this role I was responsible for researching, designing and implementing the recommendations of an overall strategy for long-term philanthropic giving. I also had responsibility for advising the owners of the Overstone Fund on their grant-making decisions.
As previously stated I will be undertaking a PhD at Bristol and my thesis will address the ongoing subjectification of the Sri Lankan population, both Tamil and Sinhalese, in the 21st century.
My advice for current students
Try to be as flexible as possible when it comes to applying for jobs. Take a good look at all of the options listed on the graduate job websites and in the careers literature, even if you’re already fairly sure of the road you want to go down. Many people have chosen to do further education or to take-on an internship. When it comes to further degrees, a Masters degree can be beneficial and make you more employable, but it will also almost invariably be very expensive. Try to avoid undertaking doctoral research unless you wish to go into a research-related or academic career (a PhD usually takes a minimum three years, and if you want to apply for a non-academic job, you’ll be up against other candidates who have spent that time building up work experience). On that topic, while I understand that internships can be valuable work experience (many interns later gain part- or full-time employment with the same or another employer), I would judge them carefully before applying. Internships that offer travel and living expenses and/or a small allowance may be a great option. Try to avoid those that are completely unpaid or where there is no allowance for expenses, as these can end up being extremely expensive to the intern.
Enjoy your time at Leeds – it is truly an amazing experience!