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In this section you can read and hear about the experiences of students on the Master of Studies (MSt) in International Relations.

Zach Ziegler

  • Nationality: American
  • Career background: Pilot in the US Air Force
  • Enrolled: 2013–2015

The MSt is an excellent environment for studying international relations. The diverse and creative methods of study are only matched by the even more intriguing students and faculty. Nearly every student has several years of successful professional experience and expertise ranges from the corporate sector, academics, journalism, economics, security, foreign service and humanitarian aid. The diversity of perspectives was an education in itself. Likewise, the faculty provided a challenging environment that questioned established norms and were consistent about improving the program. After studying with the MSt I can approach my profession in security with a wider perspective and greatly enhanced critical thinking skills. Other programs aim for similar outcomes but few provide a student-faculty environment like the University of Cambridge's MSt in International Relations.

John Culley

  • Nationality: British
  • Career background: HM Diplomatic Service
  • Enrolled: 2011–2013

I am working for the UK Foreign Office. I am currently based in Harare, Zimbabwe, working to develop policy on the countries re-engagement with the international community and continuing democratic reform. The MSt has helped me professionally. The improvement in writing and strategic thinking I acquired from the course gave me a significant mid-career boost, contributing to promotion.

But for me the MSt was not just about personal development. I made many good friends over the two years and am very grateful to Cambridge for giving me a chance I would never have had otherwise to explore international subjects of interest to me in real depth. To anyone considering taking the course, my advice is simple. Do it!

Victoria Stewart-Jolley

  • Nationality: Irish
  • Career background: Legal services professional
  • Enrolled: 2011–2013

When we started the MSt we were warned that it should by no means be viewed as ‘Cambridge lite’. It was in fact anything but: in all senses of the word it was a rigorous, challenging, and hugely rewarding education. Studying at Cambridge, once you get passed the ‘best university in the world’ hype, is extraordinary. The resources, the diversity and quality of lecturers, the sheer access to information, were breathtaking. So are the demands on the student: you are at the best to be the best – none of us found it ‘easy’ and all of us worked harder than we ever have. Completing the course brought a huge sense of achievement. I think most people in my year would agree the experience was transformative.

The MSt student body was mainly comprised of mid-career professionals with highly diverse levels of experience both professionally and academically, so as much as tutors and lecturers informed us, we also cross-pollinated and supported each other. Many great friendships resulted in the ensuing esprit de corps. I came to the course having spent ten years working with the United Nations. I am now returning to that life as Head of the Elections Team in the Solomon Islands. I went into the MSt thinking I would never be able to manage it, I leave sorry it is over.

Jane Stockdale

  • Nationality: British
  • Career background: Documentary photographer
  • Enrolled: 2011–2013

I'm a documentary photographer from a small town in Scotland and have been fortunate to work and collaborate on a diverse mix of projects in various countries. I applied for the course as I really wanted to challenge myself and learn more about the complexity of international affairs. This course was perfect as electives cover a broad spectrum of contemporary issues including the Middle East, China, Afghanistan, international law, energy politics and economics.

I think this is one of the best Masters courses at Cambridge University. The beauty of this course is its diversity. Classmates travel from all over the world to Cambridge every 10 weeks from countries as diverse as China, Sudan, USA, Australia, Kosovo, Kashmir and Iraq. Our 50 classmates fused a brilliant mix of professions combining the worlds of government, military, finance, law, business, development, economics and media.

Our class included professionals from the UN, NATO, US State Dept, NGO's, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office including diplomats, barristers, a special forces platoon commander, hedge fund manager, a librarian, Oxford economics professor, Lieutenant Colonel and MP. Our completely different backgrounds, educations, experiences and professions made us all see the world in totally different ways, which made for interesting and lively conversation and debate which spilled from the classroom to Cambridge pubs and dining halls.

That's what makes this course so uniquely rich and endlessly fascinating. The lecturers are excellent and incredibly generous, and the teaching is intense and inspiring. It's an extremely intellectually rigorous and demanding course, and difficult to do while also working full-time, but totally worth it.

This Masters is simply one of the best things I've ever done. It's been an intense, challenging and humbling experience and made me think about and see the world in new ways. It's also been loads of fun and I've made friends for life. I love this course and highly recommend it to everyone.

Vic Annells

  • Nationality: British
  • Career background: HM Consul General for Milan
  • Enrolled: 2009–2011

“We are pleased to announce the role of Her Majesty's Consul General for Milan is to be Mr Vic Annells.” I think that didn't finally sink in until I received the Queen’s Commission signed personally by both Her Majesty and the Foreign Secretary on a scroll with copperplate writing. It is probably going on the wall next to the certificate for my MSt from Cambridge.

I am a father of two lads who have themselves graduated from Universities, and I have worked in several different countries at senior levels. I joined HM Government from the private sector in 2008. Although I had been running a decent-sized business in the Middle East, working for the Government is clearly a huge change. I needed to find a suitable way of building both my knowledge and ability to learn, and the MSt was both a great opportunity and a daunting prospect for me. I didn't have a first degree and, although I had a tremendous amount of real-world experience from different countries, none of that quite prepared me for the demands of Cambridge.

I began to progress through the MSt and quickly realised that I had to start organising my learning for the first time in a much more rigorous way than I had ever done before. I was beginning to understand how important it was to ensure that all research I was conducting was within reach and able to be recalled, and these skills were also finding their way into my day-to-day work. Halfway through the MSt, I began to believe that I was becoming more effective in my use of information than I had ever been. While working on my Master’s, I applied to be posted to Milan as Consul General and found there was some very stiff competition, as one would expect for such a plum posting.

In my studies in International Relations (as I am sure we all find) I began to understand how much there was that I didn’t know, but thankfully my peers gave me tremendous support to know that we were all in it together, and none knew much more or less than I did. This was crucial in my being able to adapt my real-world experience into an academic environment. The College support structure, and friendship from the very cosmopolitan student base that Wolfson is lucky to enjoy, provided all of us the platform upon which we were able to grow. At the start of the MSt I felt there was no way I would reach the end, but as I came to depend on my fellow students, I realised that they too were depending on me, and we just had to succeed, together. As I enjoy the next four years in Milan, I will always thank Cambridge for giving me the help I needed to get here.

Quintin Jose V Pastrana

  • Nationality: Filipino
  • Career background: Government, energy, development
  • Enrolled: 2009–2011

The MSt in International Relations programme was a perfect fit to my career aspirations and a complement to my current education and training. The programme synthesizes the rigour of the Cambridge education with an innovative, modular structure, and working intensely with top-level academics and practitioners. This unique formula enables one to not only apply theory to practice, but also advance one’s career alongside the university’s world-renowned atmosphere of inquiry and contribution.

Furthermore, the combination of lectures, small group seminars, exams, and supervisions enabled me to optimally gain and apply knowledge. 1st year core courses provided me with a strong intellectual foundation, while I was able to pursue a bespoke set of courses critical to my career: Climate Change Policy, Trade and Investment regimes, and Sustainable Development, among others.

The 2nd year dissertation enabled me to advance knowledge on the role of International Investment Agreements and their impact on country Political Risk and Country Competitiveness. The findings from my research have already strengthened mine and other industry practitioners’ understanding of this critical area of global business, and my career has progressed tremendously.

What makes the MSt truly unique is the excellent quality of the cohort. I pursued my education alongside a diverse, international class of leaders and practitioners: diplomats, government advisors, scientists, artists, military officers, journalists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. With these colleagues and friends, my education went beyond the lecture rooms and into spirited debates in the pubs or on the river Cam. The combined access to a world class faculty and the real-world expertise of an independent minded and ambitious set of classmates from Azerbaijan to Pakistan, Britain to Germany, and Slovakia to South Africa, makes for formidable thinking and action to take with you for life.

Finally, these elements all come together in the environment and heritage of the University itself. The college system, the timeless architecture and scenery, and over nine centuries of progressive discovery and revolutionary achievement: these have indelibly changed my future for the better, and I encourage others to read IR at Cambridge.

Dana Siegelman

Nationality: American
Career background: Freelance writer
Enrolled: 2009–2011

During her time at Cambridge, Dana was a research associate and writer for the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles. She also served as a steering committee member for California State University's Council for Peace and Social Justice in Long Beach. Her love remains understanding and contrasting religion and politics, particularly of the Middle East. While her track is academic, she hopes to contribute to the policy debates concerning US foreign relations as well as remain involved in non-profits.

"The MSt was a remarkable gift. At first intimidated by my cohort, then the faculty and staff, it took me a week to realize that everyone was just as nervous and excited to be there! When I paid the second instalment, it occurred to me that I've never been so happy to give money away, seeing it as perhaps the best investment of my life. I am sure I learned as much from my classmates as I did from the professors. There is something to be said about being in an environment that makes you want to be a better person, in all aspects of life, not just in academia."

Waleed Dhaduk

  • Nationality: Pakistani/Canadian
  • Career background: Investment banking, strategy consulting, private equity and venture capital
  • Enrolled: 2007–2009

Going through the MSt programme in International Relations at Cambridge was a truly rewarding experience both personally and professionally. The programme is thoughtfully structured, well administered, and delivered at a steady pace. The course content is extensive and demands a high level of commitment as well as a strong dose of intellectual curiosity. In return, the programme adequately equips you with the necessary tools and frameworks to objectively analyze international relations from a theoretical, historical, legal, and a political viewpoint. Consequently, the lens with which you start observing global power politics is completely transformed.

The cornerstone of the programme is undoubtedly its world class faculty which includes leading subject matter experts in their respective fields. While course delivery styles vary from subject to subject and professor to professor, what remains constant throughout is the emphasis on developing alternative view points on contentious issues and developing fresh perspectives based on the current global context.

Being an interdisciplinary offering that is delivered on a part time basis, the programme naturally attracts a very diverse and experienced student body. Representing nearly all continents, most major religions, and a wide range of industries, the participants of the course provide the impetus necessary for an international relations course. Controversial subjects are debated vigorously in the classroom which not only highlight the complexities associated with international diplomacy in the real world but also contribute significantly towards enriching the learning experience.

The strength of the Cambridge brand, the composition of the course content, the quality of the faculty, and the diversity of the student body, collectively result in the programme being an ideal platform for a career in international relations.

Paul J Hayes

  • Nationality: Australian
  • Career background: Barrister-at-Law
  • Enrolled: 2007–2009

As the world’s states, including its citizens and other actors, become more intimately connected and inter-dependant as a consequence of the irresistible forces of globalisation, a solid grounding in the discipline of international relations is vital for those professionals who seek to operate effectively and successfully beyond their national borders. The Cambridge Master of Studies in international relations is an extremely well structured, academically rigorous and demanding course (not for the faint of heart), which is impressively well organised and for me, was amply rewarding at many levels in that: I learned how to better understand the world in which I live and work and how its numerous evolving components all co-exist together; I enjoyed the privilege to be taught (at Cambridge no less) by the most generous and inspiring lecturers imaginable, most of whom are internationally renowned; And, this all happened in the fine company of my fellow course members (a very special and diverse group of talented people drawn from all over the world), of whom many will be lifelong friends.

Sarah El-Rashidi

  • Nationality: Egyptian/Irish
  • Career background: Journalist
  • Enrolled: 2005–2007

Sarah El-Rashidi is a human rights activist and founder of an NGO. Her first professional post was at the UN’s World Health Organization in Cairo within the Community Based Initiatives unit. She began her journalistic career this year, directing and producing her first documentary and publishing a portfolio of articles for Al Ahram Online. El-Rashidi is also pursuing a social entrepreneurial venture endorsing e-learning; a virtual school teaching Arabic online.

"The MSt course was one of the most enriching experiences I have been fortunate enough to have. The standard of teaching complemented by the course content was exceptional; while the interesting array of people on the course added to the wonderful experience. The MSt in International Relations has been invaluable to my current career and future ambitions."

Aleta Moriarty

  • Nationality: Australian
  • Career background: Freelance journalist
  • Enrolled: 2005–2007

The MSt in International Relations was a brilliant course. The lecturers were enthusiastic, dynamic, committed, thoroughly professional and provided a wonderful insight into the multi-faceted study of international relations. The course was challenging but thoroughly enjoyable. The Centre for International Studies provided a supportive environment, catering to the different and often complex needs of students based all around the world.

The learning experience was greatly accentuated by the diversity of students in the course. In my class alone there was a Russian TV presenter, Taiwanese MP, Chinese businessman and many others from development, finance and military backgrounds. This melting-pot of nationalities and vocations, combined with the outstanding academic prowess of our lecturers provided quite an exceptional learning environment and fantastic forum for the exchange of different perspectives in international relations.

The course also provides opportunities to participate in foreign study tours and my trip to Israel/Palestine proved to be an amazing learning experience.

Mark Lindsay

  • Nationality: British/New Zealand
  • Career background: British Army, business risk consulting, political risk analysis
  • Enrolled: 2003–2005

'This course is one of those mind-expanding experiences that provides a tangible catalyst from which to grasp life-changing opportunities. For me, after more than a decade in the British Army followed by another ten years in business risk services, the MSt was the perfect boost for a senior career move in to the higher value-added sector of political risk analysis. Despite already having an MBA, I knew that I needed to be academically stretched in a way that only a top tier university could do. In addition, I realised that I did not have the complete tool kit for highly sophisticated political risk analysis. The MSt exceeded my expectations in both regards. Not only were the staff superb, but my course peers were of the very highest international calibre with careers in astro-science, medicine, diplomacy, investment banking, law, management consulting, academia, NGOs, the military, and other professional fields. So, there are also amazing networking opportunities. If there was a downside, it was that for a professional in full-time employment with a young family, studying nights, weekends, and holidays was tough (but just about possible). There is no doubt, however, that it was worth it. Be under no illusions, this course is not for the faint-hearted (people do fail); the MSt is, however, for those willing to work hard to change and grow exponentially'.

Sandro Lovisa

  • Nationality: Italian/German
  • Career background: Software consultant in Germany, Italy and USA
  • Enrolled: 2001–2003

The course offered me a wide spread of contemporary and historical perspectives on International relations, which at that time was a completely new field for me and thus helped me to broaden my personal horizon of thinking. Something that today I consider as very helpful in my day to day work as a business consultant. I liked very much the variety of topics which were introduced and discussed during the lectures and on which we had the chance to work in more detail during the practice essays. The enhancing discussions with peer students from all over the world helped me to see concepts from different (national) point of view. My personal experience was that the structure of the course was very time and effort intensive, especially if you had the goal to learn something versus the goal to receive just another degree and just 'pass' the exams (which nevertheless was also hard, at least for me).

In general I was very surprised by the help that every one of us received from the outstanding academic and administrative staff of the course and I recommend Cambridge as a good place study and research.

Sandro went on to become the first MSt alumnus to gain a part-time PhD in IR at Cambridge.

Scott McCleskey

  • Nationality: US/resident in UK while on the course
  • Career background: Financial services regulation in US, Belgium, and UK
  • Enrolled: 2001–2003

I came to the MSt programme after working for ten years in financial markets, in the US and in Europe. Having been exposed to the process through which nations negotiate international financial regulation, I wanted to explore the deeper concepts and interactions which underlie policy formation. At the same time, I had an abiding interest in the broader themes of international history, the history of political thought and national security issues. The MSt programme was perfectly suited for this, and at the same time the dissertation allowed me to focus on an area specific to my professional development.

I applied to Cambridge because I wanted to enter a programme where I knew the work would be demanding and where the faculty expect hard work and original thought. I wanted a programme worth doing. It's certainly hard work, and the part-time nature of the programme requires a very high level of discipline and time management. At the same time the faculty are full of enthusiasm for their subjects and this enthusiasm becomes contagious. The end result is not just a broadened knowledge of the subject matter, but a real desire to continue exploring the discipline long after the programme is over.

Corinne Podger

  • Nationality: Australian
  • Career background: Journalist
  • Enrolled: 2001–2003

I'm a BBC journalist, and wanted the chance to think about some of the issues and trends of our time for a bit longer than the 15 minutes I usually get to write a story. The MSt was perfect. It covered developments in political theory since I was at university in the 1980s, and rounded out my understanding of world history and international law. The MSt also introduced me to international economics, an area I hadn't previously studied.

The course also introduced me to a group of people from diverse professions and backgrounds, and the residential elements were a fascinating taste of Cambridge life. I would encourage anyone thinking of doing the course to invest a bit of time in the recommended reading before starting, especially if you already have a full-time job or family commitments. But it is do-able if you're focused enough, and it's a lot of fun.

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