Why Get an International Relations Degree?

TROY’s MSIR program is one of the largest international relations graduate studies program in the United States.

TROY’s MSIR program is one of the largest international relations graduate studies program in the United States.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union. The evolution of the European Union. Arab Spring. The COVID-19 pandemic. 

Global politics and major world events have a far-reaching, long-lasting impact. Every day and on every continent, life is affected by economic globalization and pressing international issues such as climate change. As technology advances and the world gets smaller, there’s more demand than ever for professionals — in all fields — with international knowledge and global expertise.

What is International Relations/International Affairs?

Dr. Michael Slobodchikoff

Dr. Michael Slobodchikoff, Associate Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at Troy University, explains that international relations is about developing “a global awareness of how different nation-states interact with each other.” 

“This is extremely important today because there are more nuclear powers than ever, and the United States’ power has never been more challenged globally,” he explains. 

In practice, international relations can involve diplomacy, peace-building and military aid. As an academic area of study, international relations combines disciplines such as history, political science, economics, geography and even computer science. Looking at more specific topics, global studies students also focus on wars and conflicts, colonialism and terrorism, major social movements, and foreign policy and law.  

Who Should Study International Relations? 

Troy University offers a Master of Science in International Relations (MSIR), a 12-course program available online, at the Troy and Phenix City campuses, at Ft. Benning (a U.S. Army base near the border of Alabama and Georgia), and at TROY international campuses in Japan and Korea.

Dr. Slobodchikoff explains that most students enrolled in the international relations master’s program at TROY are already in the midst of their careers. 

Former student, Greg Olsen, fits that description. Olsen, who graduated from Troy University in 2017 with a MSIR degree, already had a career and was looking for a professional change. “I spent 20 years in Silicon Valley, and I was looking for a career change in a policy direction for the second half of my career. The MSIR program was a stepping stone toward the required credential of a Ph.D. to do policy work.” 

Not only is this degree for those who want a career change, but it’s also a great fit for those in the military or employed in government or foreign service. “We have a unique relationship with the military,” explains Dr. Slobodchikoff. “The study of international relations really helps members of the military with promotions and advancement. For those transitioning out of the military, this civilian degree can help them advance in their next stage of life.”

Olsen also notes that during his time at TROY many of his cohort were in the military and were getting qualified for a foreign liaison position. Olsen says, “It would also make good preparation for a job in the intelligence community or diplomatic corps. There are jobs in large corporations as well.” Currently Olsen is the business development manager at Cisco Systems, Inc., a company that manufactures and sells networking hardware, software, telecommunications equipment and other high-technology services and products. 

“Multinational corporations like Cisco are essentially non-state actors in the international system and they typically have departments within them that track regulations, supervise lobbyists, and negotiate with governments. The MSIR program is supplemental for those types of jobs,” Olsen says.  “I negotiate technology licensing agreements for Cisco. One thing I learned from my readings in the classics of the field of International Relations is game theory. Thinking in terms of payoffs and incentives has made me a better negotiator.”

Business leaders, especially those looking to shift toward international NGO (non-governmental organization) or humanitarian work or expand into international markets, are often drawn to the MSIR program at TROY.

“A background in international relations can be extremely important in business,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff, citing that international trade and international law are two especially beneficial areas of knowledge that today’s business organizations need. 

Specialize with an International Relations Degree Concentration

It’s a big world out there. At TROY, students can focus their master’s studies on a specific area of international expertise with one of three concentrations: global studies, national security and regional affairs. 

  • Global Studies

The breadth of the global studies concentration, says Dr. Slobodchikoff, is ideal for anyone looking to expand their overall international focus. This could include people already working in government services or international trade looking to advance in their careers, or professionals who want to pursue opportunities with global companies, even those based in the United States. 

  • National Security Affairs

The national security/international affairs concentration is suited for MSIR students interested primarily in intelligence and security work. The concentration encompasses topics from United States military history to contemporary foreign policy to Arctic security to cyberwarfare. 

  • Regional Affairs

Specialized global knowledge can take a student far — literally. The regional affairs concentration allows TROY students to focus studies in Latin America, Europe, Asia, or the Middle East/North Africa. With the ability to dive deeper into one region of the world, this concentration might also suit students looking to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually teach and do academic research.   

Complete a Capstone Project

As part of the master’s-level international relations degree, students end the program with a capstone project, a research project that demonstrates the global knowledge they’ve acquired. Not only does the capstone project tie together everything students learned in the program, but Dr. Slobodchikoff says it’s also excellent professional preparation. 

“This paper is also useful to the person’s career moving forward,” he says. In fact, he encourages students to research a topic or geographic region related to their career interests. 

What Can You Do With an International Relations Degree?

As Dr. Slobodchikoff indicates, many MSIR students already have professional government, military, and foreign service backgrounds. Others may come to the master’s program looking to transition into a more international career, and others enroll directly after their undergraduate experience with a goal of working in a global environment. In all three of these scenarios, there’s an incredible range of careers that involve international relations. 

International Relations Jobs in Government, Diplomacy and Foreign Service

Some of the most common international relations-related jobs take graduates into foreign service and diplomacy. The United States Foreign Service is the primary personnel agency for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. embassies in other nations. According to the State Department, Foreign Service Officers can choose one of five career tracks: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy.

Within government agencies (such as the United Nations and USAID) and private sector companies that contract with the government (such as Boeing and BAE systems), there are many positions related to international relations, including: 

  • Program manager
  • Foreign affairs specialist
  • Government affairs specialist
  • Regulatory affairs specialist 
  • Policy officer
  • Political affairs officer
  • Advocacy director
  • Operations specialist
  • Media officer

Around the World: International Relations Jobs in National Security

The CIA, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are likely some of the first agencies that come to mind when we think about national security. Large agencies like these and private companies alike offer job opportunities such as: 

  • Intelligence analyst
  • Counterintelligence analyst
  • Nuclear intelligence analyst
  • Crisis response intelligence analyst
  • Threat analyst
  • Intelligence research specialist
  • Criminal intelligence analyst
  • Security consultant

The World Wide Web: International Relations Jobs in Cybersecurity 

National security is no longer about physical borders. Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing career field in itself. One of the fastest-growing occupations today is an information security analyst; according to the U.S. Department of Labor, demand is expected to increase by 31% between now and 2029. An influx of these positions indicates an increase in agencies and companies, in both the public and private sectors, devoted to national cybersecurity. It also reflects the heightened risk faced by businesses and government from the increasing number and sophistication of cyberattacks they face daily.  

As technology and communication methods advance and expand, along comes the need for new roles. For instance, these are a few job titles we might not have seen 20 years ago: digital targeter, social media intel analyst and (social media) trusted partner program manager.

The World of Business: International Relations Jobs in Business

When it comes to business professionals — whether in sales, marketing, education, entertainment, finance or another area — Dr. Slobodchikoff reiterates, “This degree can expand their horizons to be more internationally focused.” 

The “international focus” could mean many things: working in the U.S. for a company with clients, customers and audiences around the world; working for a multinational corporation based in the U.S. or elsewhere; or even becoming an entrepreneur or international consultant.

International affairs/government relations positions are found in industries and business sectors of all kinds, including travel and tourism, retail, and manufacturing. And illustrating how international relations careers evolve and expand to meet our changing needs, international studies graduates are also keeping social media, search engine, mobile app, and e-commerce companies compliant with hundreds of internet laws and policies in place around the globe. 

For a more specific position example, the demand for market research analysts in the United States is expected to increase by 18% through 2029. Since international marketing is also an area of considerable growth, many of these analyst positions will likely require global business expertise. 

A World of Difference: International Affairs Jobs in Education and Humanitarian Aid 

Secondary school teachers often pursue graduate degrees to move up the ranks and pay scale within their district. For high school history, geography, business or government teachers, a master’s-level international relations degree could be a perfect choice. Colleges and universities also look for professionals with global knowledge for a range of administrative positions, such as in global education or international student recruitment and services.  

The Peace Corps might immediately come to mind when thinking of gaining international humanitarian experience. While the Peace Corps is a volunteer service program, the experience builds global knowledge and can open up a world of other career opportunities with NGOs and business enterprises.   

Why Choose TROY for an International Relations Degree?

Joint chief-of-staff. Four-star general. Astronaut. These are just some of the professional titles held by graduates of TROY’s MSIR program. 

“We have tremendously successful alumni,” Dr. Slobodchikoff says. “They made it through the program, and then they made it stronger.” The TROY MSIR alumni list reads like a Who’s Who in virtually every area of government, science and business. 

Dr. Slobodchikoff adds that each year’s new students continue to bring rich and varied experiences that further build upon the TROY program’s success. 

Students in the MSIR also benefit by learning from the international affairs experts and academics who make up the program’s faculty

“One of the biggest benefits of the MSIR program at TROY is our faculty; they’re tremendously knowledgeable in their area of expertise,” he says. 

Olsen agrees, noting that out of the many degrees he’s received at different institutions, “The best instruction I have received was at TROY. The readings were not fringe, but important in the field, and the quantity of work was reasonable for a person working full time and going to school. The MSIR program provides a good grounding in the theories of international relations, a survey of the field, and research methods. The fact that it has difficult exit exams is a plus, because you will leave knowing the field and prepared for future academic work.”

Dr. Slobodchikoff says the international relations faculty has extensive real-world and academic experience, including deep regional expertise. Dr. Slobodchikoff’s own research interests include Russia and the former Soviet Union. International media outlets have consulted him as a subject matter expert, including most recently the BBC who interviewed him about the Ukrainian crisis. Another department faculty member has become a go-to media resource for topics related to North Korea. 

Some International Relations Jobs are Really Out of this World

When it comes to putting their international relations degrees to work, TROY MSIR alumni continue to prove that it’s a degree that can take your career in many directions — sometimes even into the stratosphere. As Dr. Slobodchikoff shares, TROY MSIR graduates don’t just find careers around the globe; in the case of one program grad, his work literally took him off the globe. 

“Astronaut and (now-retired) U.S. Air Force Colonel Kevin Ford earned a master’s in international relations at TROY, among his many other academic achievements,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff. “He later went on to pilot a shuttle Discovery mission and command the international space station for 100 days. He’s had such an impressive career — Ford spent a total of 15 years in the Astronaut Office and more than three decades in U.S. government service.”  

While every program grad may not actually shoot for the stars, continued economic globalization, a growing concern for the environment and greater awareness of humanitarian issues will all contribute to the growth of opportunities and professional challenges in many career areas.

A network of successful alumni worldwide, highly-experienced faculty and a stated university mission to develop graduates with a global mindset make TROY one of the top universities for an international relations degree.

To learn more about earning a Master of Science in International Relations at Troy University,  visit the program page on our website.