by Fred Ninh
As graduate students, I think most of us often lose sight of the fact that being in school isn’t just about hitting the books. Of course completing academic coursework is a critical part of being a student, but I think it’s only one aspect of the overall experience. One thing that I’ve really started to appreciate since being at NPSIA is the wealth of opportunities all around us. Being a student really does have its perks and it’s a shame that we often let these opportunities pass us by without taking advantage of them while they’re available to us.
Coming from Laurier, a school that really prided itself on having a strong culture of community engagement, leadership, and volunteerism, I developed a strong appreciation for enriching experiences beyond the classroom a few years back. Needless to say, as soon as I stepped foot on Carleton’s campus, I started actively seeking out these sorts of opportunities. A lot of my peers at NPSIA will probably swear to you that I spend more time on extracurricular activities than I do on my coursework (which may or may not be true). I mean, sure, I could probably spend a little more time editing that 15-page paper on cyber espionage or read those four chapters on the ‘trilemma of international economics’ a little more carefully. However, over the past six months I’ve gotten the opportunity to do a lot of really interesting things outside of the classroom, and I have learned a fair deal from these experiences without having my grades suffer, which makes it all worthwhile. Some balance is key!
For example, just a few weekends ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University to be a ‘Contributing Editor’ for their academic journal as a member of next year’s Paterson Review editorial board. At Princeton, I had the opportunity to work and socialize with like-minded international policy students from the best international affairs programs in the world. Another example is my involvement with a student-run think tank here at Carleton called the International Policy Forum. Through the IPF, I’ve gotten the chance to consult with some of the top policymakers and academics in the country on the Canada-China relationship, which has been illuminating.
There are several other activities that I could probably mention, like my internship at a reputable Ottawa think tank, lunches with some incredible NPSIA alumni or my awesome experience with the NPSIA Students’ Association. I have also attended a number of academic conferences and lectures around the city. This includes Darryl Copeland’s talk on Guerrilla Diplomacy, as well as a CIC event titled “Challenges to the United Nations: Russia, China, Syria and the Responsibility to Protect” with Paul Heinbecker and Errol Mendes… but I’m sure you get the point. These sorts of opportunities are widely available, but it really does take a conscious decision to put yourself out there and take advantage of them. Whatever you do, don’t let the dreadful ‘grad school guilt’ hold you back!