Robin Millican is the Director of Federal Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research. She is an ’07 alumna of SMU, and was a double major in International Studies and German.
If, like me, you’re someone who is interested in languages, cultures, economics, and political science, but are finding it difficult to choose between them, I would suggest considering International Studies (IS) as a major. Particularly for those among you who are considering a career in the Foreign Service or other international based fields, having done the kind of interdisciplinary coursework offered in IS will arguably give you a more well-rounded perspective on the issues you’ll be working on and more flexibility in the career path you choose. I went from graduation to a job in Washington DC in a year, and have loved every minute of it.
What initially drew me to IS was that I thought the topics covered in the classes would be fun and engaging – who doesn’t like a good heated debate about the merits of foreign aid, or a discussion of the United States’ responsibilities as a superpower? However, having the same amount of zest for international relations that I do is not necessarily a prerequisite to do the program. For the rest of you that range to mildly to very interested in current world affairs, I think you’ll find that the courses offered in IS can accommodate a lot of different intellectual pursuits. They have regional specializations—I did Europe, but there are three others to choose from—and the courses offered span everything from “World Cultures and Civilization” to “Nuclear Weapons and World Politics.” I loved having that flexibility as a student, and registering for classes was always difficult because I had so many good options to choose from but a limited amount of hours.
Of course, no matter how fascinating the classes, it’s equally important to consider how a major might help you realize your future career aspirations and develop the skills you need to succeed. In my case, what I gained from doing my major in IS was a broad skill set that employers highly value, because the program is so focused on comprehensive learning. Case in point: I’m working as an energy policy analyst in Washington DC, and I was hired to work in the field without having any coursework or experience specific to energy issues. I think this speaks to the confidence my employers have had in my well-rounded education background; I have experience in foreign language, political science, and economics, and in the field I’ve chosen those things have all been huge strengths on my applications.
Majoring in IS also sharpened my critical thinking skills, because a lot of the subjects addressed in the courses I took focused on issues that weren’t black and white—oftentimes the answers are more nuanced, or the “right” answer depends on the social, political, or moral context you approach it from. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge, and if you decide to do IS as a major, you can certainly look forward to having a lot of debates. The emphasis that IS places on critical thinking and discussion is also enhanced by the fact that in general, the classes are fairly small and participation is highly encouraged. I found that this made it a lot easier to get to know my professors and my classmates.
I had a really positive experience doing IS in undergrad, and although I know it’s not for everyone, I think that those of you looking for a multi-faceted education with a global focus should definitely give thought to how IS could enhance your studies at SMU and your career after you leave. If you have any questions about the program, or want to know more about life after school, send me an email—you can get my information from the Department Chair, Dr. Stephen Wegren. Good luck!
Before the Institute for Energy Research, Robin worked on Capitol Hill in the Hart Senate Office Building.