Be Curious. Be Present.

EUPS Alumni Stories

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

By Lily Gates

Studying in a Hybrid Environment

As a 2021 graduate of JMU’s European Union Policy Studies program, my experience was not entirely conventional. Regularly changing Covid restrictions impacted how we learned, structured work-life balance, and explored Florence and beyond. Completing a degree in a hybrid environment during lockdowns meant our cohort often missed out on the robust dialogue of in-person discussions and experienced fatigue from looking at computers for extended amounts of time. We also were not able to visit Brussels or Strasbourg per the usual curriculum, and travel restrictions limited our freedom to explore during breaks and weekends. 

Despite setbacks, there were many silver linings. The most obvious is that we were still able to live in Italy – it’s hard to be miserable when you are in a city as lovely as Florence. Predominantly online meetings allowed us to meet with a geographically diverse range of guest speakers and prepared us for a work environment that is still largely virtual today. My cohort also had a sense that we were studying history as it was being made – we had front row seats to observe how the EU's Covid-19 policies impacted its citizens. Perhaps my biggest takeaway was resilience and character development. Our cohort developed gratitude for the opportunities we did get to experience, flexibility when plans changed, and perseverance to push through the difficulties of pursuing a master’s degree during a pandemic in a foreign country. Even though the mechanics of the program were unique, I graduated with excellent knowledge of the European Union and international affairs, and with skills I am able to take directly into employment. 

An Online Job Search

Between full-time studies, the wonders of exploring Italy, the stress of Covid, and the challenge of networking/interviewing virtually, it was potentially tempting to ignore post-graduation plans. However, working on my future plans consistently has paid dividends. I spread the job search process throughout the year, allowing time to identify my interests, learn about different career options, and build relationships with professionals before applying to specific jobs. As I reflect on my time as an EUPS student, this incremental approach to thinking about the future was invaluable to my success in finding a job.

My methodology was to spend a few minutes each day focusing on the job search. While completing classes, I directed open-ended assignments towards topics I wasn’t familiar with and kept track of which ones sparked my interest. Once I had recognized some of my interests, I started looking for jobs that existed in these fields and worked with EUPS faculty to connect with our robust alumni community. After many networking calls, I had a much clearer understanding of what jobs were available and how I could approach the application processes.

That being said, here are four tips for making the most of your time in the EUPS program while also kicking off your career planning:

  1. Be Curious. Fostering a sense of curiosity as you complete the program will increase what you get out of the degree and may help you find a job. Pursue opportunities to learn more about what interests you. Read some of the books your professors reference or borrow a book from the palazzo. Keep up with the news and incorporate it into what you discuss in class. Ask questions. Explore the cultures around you and let the multicultural experience broaden your perspectives. 
  2. Build Your Basics. Don’t leave 100% of your job search process to the summer! Start thinking about it now, even if it’s just a baby step. Building the basics early on will allow you to take advantage of connections you make throughout the program and help you practice marketing yourself. Your basics include resumes, a LinkedIn, and anything else you might use when applying for a job. If you need guidance on how to start building your basics, a quick google search can go a long way. You can also talk with EUPS faculty and alumni. By the time summer comes, you will be able to take advantage of resume workshops/mock interviews and start actively applying for jobs. 
  3. Get Outside of Your Comfort Zone: Graduate school is a great place to learn and grow. Many people come into the program with set interests. Try to balance these pre-existing interests with a willingness to learn about topics that don’t initially catch your eye. 
  4. Be Present. Balance out your career aspirations with being present. Enjoy all that Florence has to offer! Work hard in class, take care of your health, appreciate art, get connected with local communities in Florence, and eat lots of gelato. 

Ultimately, I chose to pursue fellowship programs for their comprehensive career and professional development training. I applied for my current position as a Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellow in December of 2020, and was fortunate enough to have a contract for employment post-graduation before going back to school in the spring. 

The Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellowship is a 2-year full-time paid professional opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) and Johns Hopkins University’s Commercial and Government Program Office. Fellows support PM/WRA’s work to reduce the harmful effects of landmines, illicitly proliferated small arms and ammunition, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. The work participates in foreign security policy by providing humanitarian aid to address violence-enabling remnants of war, making it very relevant to my interests and a great first step in my career.

There is nothing quite like a year in Italy, and with that, buona fortuna e arrivederci! 

Lily Gates is an EUPS graduate from the class of 2021. She is currently in the first year of the Frasure Kruzel Drew Memorial Fellowship at the Department of State’s Political and Military Affairs, Weapons Removal and Abatement Office.

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Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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