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International Relations major

Why study international relations at university?

Study tips
Published 21 Sep, 2022  ·  4-minute read

Thinking about studying the International Relations major? Not sure what this area of study involves? Let’s explore.

International Relations is a major that comfortably checks both the crucial boxes for Bachelor of Arts students:

  • It’s genuinely interesting to study at uni.
  • It prepares you for a real career after you graduate.

But what is this major all about? And what kind of international relations careers could be waiting for you once you’ve got your degree?

We asked Dr Andrew Phillips and Jacinta O’Hagan, two Associate Professors from the UQ School of Political Science and International Studies, for some insight into what you get when you study international relations as part of your Bachelor of Arts.

Is International Relations a good major?

Andrew believes this major is an excellent choice, whether you need a major that inspires you now or a major that equips you for a great job in the future.

“International Relations combines both fascinating content and exciting vocational opportunities,” he says.

“The major is fundamentally concerned with questions of power in world politics – who has it, what they do with it, how they use it, and for what purposes.”

“If you are interested in understanding power and using it to achieve positive change – whether locally, national or globally – International Relations is the major for you.”

"Whether you want to make a difference or make a fortune, International Relations prepares you well to pursue the career of your dreams." - Dr Andrew Phillips

By studying International Relations, you can consider the most pressing questions we face today, approaching issues that range all the way across:

  • questions of war, peace and power dynamics on the world stage
  • causes and possible remedies for global poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality and injustice
  • the ways we react to and recover from pandemics and other global crises
  • the challenges of managing the global economy and combating climate change.

Jacinta believes the scope of issues and challenges that the International Relations major covers is much broader than some people realise. But it’s not just about discussing these global problems in theory – it’s about planning practical steps you can take to make a positive impact.

“The major helps students understand what those challenges are but also the mechanisms we have to manage and respond to them – such as international institutions and diplomacy,” says Jacinta.

Skills you get from studying international relations

Andrew says International Relations students learn to appreciate the power dynamics of the world, as well as the challenges and obstacles the people with this power face each day.

“Our diverse courses enable students to engage with key puzzles in global politics, ranging across questions of war and peace, international political economy, ethics and more,” he says.

“International Relations also enables students to strengthen their critical-thinking skills and to engage in activities (such as simulated war-games) that will help them to gain an appreciation of the dilemmas that real-world decision-makers confront on a day-to-day basis.”

Jacinta adds that many of the skills taught in the International Relations major are universal, meaning you would become equipped with abilities that can be applied in any profession you find yourself in.

“Our students develop transferrable skills in critically evaluating and analysing complex problems, and communicating ideas and analysis clearly and succinctly,” she says.

International relations careers

Looking at how adaptable our graduates are – and the sheer diversity of the roles they play in the world today – it’s clear that job opportunities for International Relations majors are virtually limitless.

The one thing they all have in common, though, is being highly sought after in whichever field they pursue.

“The combination of skills and knowledge makes International Relations graduates highly attractive to employers in government, academia, NGOs and the private sector,” says Andrew.

“Our graduates routinely go on to work in government, advising ministers and working in prestigious departments, from Defence through to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.”

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, according to Jacinta.

“Our graduates can be found not just in areas such as DFAT, but across the public sector at both the federal and state level,” she says.

“A number of graduates also go into areas such as social enterprises, the NGO sector and international organisations – for example, we have International Relations students who are now working with Macquarie Bank, Queensland Department of Climate Change, and consultancies such as Palladium.”

Jobs for International Relations majors

While it’s difficult to distil the endless possibilities into a list of potential jobs for International Relations majors, here are some of the professions that frequently land on our graduates’ resumés:

  • international aid workers
  • foreign policy advisers
  • diplomats
  • ministerial officers
  • international relations advisers
  • government relations managers
  • human rights advocates
  • professional positions in organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International.

Study international relations at UQ

In the International Relations major, you can study courses such as:

Learn more about UQ’s International Relations major Explore other options in the UQ Bachelor of Arts

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