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Gemma Sykes, IBEI alumni 2009-11

Name and Last Name: Gemma Sykes

Nationality: British

Master studied at IBEI: Master's in International Relations (Part Time)

Class: 2009-11

Current working company, position and city: Deputy head of mission at the British Embassy, Quito (Ecuador)

1. Why did you choose IBEI Master’s?

I was always interested in languages and politics, and as my undergrad was in languages I decided to study a Master’s in something more political. IBEI offered a flexible part time course that fit around my job.

2. What is your experience at IBEI? 

It was interesting for me to get a different, non-UK perspective on IR and on the world. Meeting students and professors from different countries was a big part of the attraction for me, as well as being able to study for a bilingual Master’s degree. Getting used to a Spanish teaching style took some adapting for me, but overall the experience was very positive. I learned a lot which has put me in good stead in my career.

3. Describe your career path since graduating from the IBEI

While studying at IBEI I worked as a member of local staff at the British Consulate-General in Barcelona. After graduation I moved back to the UK and worked briefly in Parliament and then for the NHS, before joining the (then) Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a graduate finance scheme. I did a number of finance jobs, took professional finance exams, paid for by my employer, before moving into the UK Diplomatic service. I’ve had postings in the Philippines, Pakistan and now Ecuador.

4. How did the master programme prepare you for the work you're doing now?

The course has been a big help, especially as I joined the Diplomatic Service via a non-traditional route. Understanding the UN system, and how the post-WW2 international system was set up has been invaluable. The presentations and group projects were also useful, as it prepares you for collaboration in the workplace.

5. Is this more or less what you pictured yourself doing after the master programme?

This is exactly what I wanted to be doing!

6. What advice would you give to current students who want to follow this career path? / Some advice to future IBEI students?

This is tricky, because the Diplomatic Service works very differently in different countries. However I think for anyone who wants to work in the international system (e.g. UN, international NGOs), the Master’s can be an excellent grounding. Make the most of it and don’t waste the opportunity.

7. What do you miss most about IBEI? 

I miss studying. I know I could simply go and read the books and articles I would normally have to read to research an essay, for example, but it’s not the same. I miss having discussions about current affairs, and linking them to IR theory.