Border between USA and Mexico, example of international relations

Conflict, diplomacy, trade deals – what happens when global forces meet?

If you've ever wondered how the world works – or why it doesn't work – you've started doing international relations. It's a global subject that thinks through the important questions of a globalised world.

In this blog post, Aishling McMorrow, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, details what International Relations is, why you should study it, and the careers it might lead you into.

What is International Relations and its importance?

International Relations (IR) looks at the ways countries interact with each other, and what happens when they do.

But that doesn't mean it's just a bigger canvas for politics! IR does consider the political issues within one or more countries, but it also insists that you need a global approach to economics, sociology, history and culture if you’re going to understand, say, the recent tension between Russia and the UK over ships in disputed Black Sea waters.

You’re living in an interconnected world, where countries are facing worldwide issues like the climate crisis, and thinking about a career in a globalised economy, what could be more important than IR’s global understanding of your place in this situation?

Why study International Relations?

When you study international relations, you pick up that global understanding you need. You'll look at major actors on the global stage – the UN, superpowers, multinational corporations, NGOs – separately and together. You'll explore their politics and economics, their histories and cultures, their involvement in warfare and trade deals.

Your focus will zoom in and out, from the individual and social to the anarchic interplay of states and blocs on the global stage. You'll be looking at multiple global issues, from trade to terrorism, and picking up skills from a variety of perspectives.

It’s personally satisfying to grasp this range of material and approaches, and as you study you’ll make yourself appealing to domestic and international employers. Speaking of employers:

Is International Relations a good career?

I’m an International Relations lecturer, so I obviously think it’s a brilliant career in and of itself.

But if (weirdly) you don’t want to follow me into further study, your IR degree will serve you well for any career in international institutions, international NGOs, and government bodies, or any jobs that value your cross-disciplinary analytical skills.

Recruitment site Glassdoor puts average salary for IR graduates at £30–32k, and Prospects gives you a sense of just how many careers you can enter with an international relations qualification. You might use your IR expertise to analyse countries as new markets for products, report on the effects of international treaties for your employer, or provide risk analyses for industry.

Jobs in International Relations

You can’t guarantee that studying an international relations degree is what made Kevin A Ford an astronaut or Shiva Keshavan an Olympian. Political figures such as Ban Ki-Moon and Bill Clinton clearly made their international relations study vocational, though, and Amy Pascal must have used her IR study as chair of the multinational Sony Pictures.

Here at Portsmouth, we’ve had recent graduates of our international relations degree move into local and central government, work with high-profile NGOs (such as RedR), financial services and international data research for a multinational manufacturing company.

This shows you that, if you are seeking to carve out a career in this globalised economy, IR can equip you with the tools to tackle truly international challenges.

Aishling McMorrow is a Senior Lecturer on the BA International Relations degree, with specialisms in security and terrorism.

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