From Lancaster to HM Treasury: making connections as a postgraduate student

by Justus Nam

I undertook a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) degree at the University of Wolverhampton and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations at Hult International Business School, London Campus. I thereafter returned to Kenya and worked for a couple of years with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and later taught courses in Political Science and International Relations to undergraduates in a private university in Nairobi. These experiences crystallized my interest in researching the infrastructural diplomacy of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Eastern Africa. The area of research is of growing interest that has arisen from China’s investment in infrastructure like railroads, ports and pipelines in Africa in the last two decades. I have been fortunate that my time in Lancaster University has coincided with the launch of the Lancaster University China Centre (LUCC) and an enhanced growing interest in China-Africa relations.

My future aspirations are hitherto open. I have experiences of working and studying in different organizations and roles including Academia, Government, Not-for-Profit, Transport and Customer Service, so in my future career I would want to harness the skills and education I have gained across these multiple areas. I am interested in pursuing roles in regional and international organizations e.g., the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union (A.U) and the East African Community (EAC). This organizations appeal to me since my research area hinges on diplomacy, development and regional connectivity, areas in which all the three institutions are heavily involved.

One of the main ways I am preparing for a future career is by participating in international academic conferences. This has widened my network, of academic and professional contacts, as well as my thinking and knowledge by learning new ideas, theories and recent trends related to the field. I have also got to know about new research tools, unpublished data, and discovered researchers whose works I was not aware of before.

The Lancaster University China Centre (LUCC) invites external speakers and experts on China themed topics. Similarly, I receive invitations to attend and deliver talks at conferences, both locally and internationally, debates and seminars. One of the main objectives of attending an international conference is to present a paper to professionals which can help a researcher improve on their work through positive feedback and constructive criticism. The peer reviews are especially helpful when I am writing articles for my chapters and journal publications. Participating has provided me with the platforms to exchange ideas related to my field of interest, paving the way for potential future collaborations.

Networking at conferences is crucial. It is a great opportunity to meet new people, interact with fellow researchers, attendees, and experts from the same or similar areas across the world. Whenever I have attended an event as a participant and presented a paper, I have got the opportunity to get my abstract or paper published. This helps me to establish myself in the field and is something that looks impressive on my CV/Resume. In the last three years, I have taken the opportunity to utilize the resources and training provided by the university Careers Office in improving my CV/Resume, LinkedIn profile, Twitter profile and drafting application letters.

During my PhD there have been some surprising and unique opportunities to develop my experience. For example, in 2018, I was one of four PhD students who were selected to train undergraduates in preparing policy as a Policy School Tutor for the Cabinet Office Innovation Team. This is an annual collaboration of four universities and the Cabinet Office. It proved to be an invaluable experience as we spent a day at the Treasury Department in Westminster, UK. This led into winning a 3-month PhD Placement with HM Government which I hope to undertake later this year.

It is my hope that the totality of my eclectic experiences in research, government and academia will enhance my chances of a fulfilling, stimulating and exciting assignments in the future especially in areas that are of great interest to me like diplomacy, governance, geopolitics, and policy formulation and analysis.

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Justus is a PhD student in the Department of Languages and Cultures at Lancaster University.

Lancaster University employs students to create authentic content from a student perspective. All views expressed in this article are those of the students, and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Lancaster University.