Patrick Griffiths works as a Communications Officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He moved to Canberra to study a Master of International Relations at The Australian National University (ANU) after completing an undergrad double-degree in journalism and international studies.
Why did you choose to study a Master of International Relations and what made you choose ANU? Blame Kelloggs. It’s all because I pulled that ‘Age of Empires’ computer game demo out of a special promotion Nutri-Grain packet and fell in love with ancient history. That’s the nerdy origin story.
But really – I felt a strong desire to continue learning in an academic space after finishing my undergrad, and have always been fascinated by history and contemporary politics in and beyond Australia. With its focus on the intersection of history, culture and politics, a Masters in International Relations at ANU became a pretty clear choice. I’ve always been curious about Australia’s place in the world, so I chose ANU because of its proximity to government in Canberra and its high international rankings. I wanted a degree that would complement my undergraduate studies in journalism. The program encourages curiosity in understanding and applying theory to real-world challenges, which held strong appeal for me. I’m glad I made the decision, it’s been paying dividends ever since.
What was your undergraduate study? Did this influence your decision in pursuing your current postgraduate program?
I studied an undergraduate double-degree in journalism and international studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. The international studies aspect of the degree had always been the real attraction for me but I wanted to tie it to something more practical - so I chose journalism. I’m pretty glad I made this decision since the course was incredibly practical and embedded within the media industry. It led to opportunities to work with the ABC and News Corp Australia as well as community media outlets like 2SER. On the international studies side of things, I spent one year of in-country study at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China in 2015. Learning Mandarin coupled with widespread travels through China and northeast Asia made for one of the most memorable years of my life. My undergrad studies cemented my passion for journalism and kindled a strong interest in exploring further avenues regarding international relations. A Masters in International Relations at The Australian National University offered the natural next step for the welcome collision of journalism and international studies from my undergraduate years.
What are some of the skills that you’ve learnt in this program?
One of the great things about the Master of IR program is the ability to tailor it to your own specific interests. If diplomacy is your jam, there are electives to match. If global security is your cup of tea, same again. Whether by region, topic, perspective or method, there are courses available - some dipping into the shared brains trust of academics from different master’s programs. Two standout courses for me were International Relations Theory (IRT) and Making Foreign Policy (MFP). Seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum between abstract and concrete, in combination they were actually great a complement to each other. When IRT seemed frustratingly far from reality, MFP was never too shy to examine the real consequences of decisions in the here and now. Likewise, when analysing the psychology of Donald Trump in micro seemed too short-sighted, IRT was always there with a handy theoretical framework. Overall, the Master of International Relations degree develops the ability to think critically, communicate complex ideas, and apply theory to practice – these are takeaways I’ve definitely come to appreciate.
How have the skills you’ve learnt in the program helped you in the work place?
Since moving to Canberra, I’ve been lucky enough to find work that combined my interest in both journalism and international relations. I worked as a journalist with the Australian Associated Press in the Canberra Press Gallery during parliamentary sittings, and helped out in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs communications team when parliament was adjourned. Working at parliament has given me the opportunity to talk to and write about key decision-makers in Australian foreign policy. At the same time, it was an incredible privilege to both study and work within the Coral Bell School – I felt pretty lucky. Being taught by some amazing academics, and then being able to interview them about their own research has only fuelled my interest in international relations. In that way, my work and study have turned out to be mutually beneficial. To combine journalism and international relations is to combine the 24-hour news cycle with forward thinking, instant reportage with long-term analysis. What I learned from my masters degree fed into and informed my journalism interests, and vice versa. What’s more, it seems to generate more opportunities, to open up doors in both directions. I’d recommend the combination to anyone wondering how to move from the theory of international relations into professional practice.
Currently, I work as a Communications Officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Canberra. Our work involves helping people affected by conflict across the globe. Australia is a global actor, so one aim of the ICRC’s work here is to raise awareness of the humanitarian issues and concerns that define our work elsewhere. In particular, we focus on promoting international humanitarian law in order to prevent violations of these ‘laws of war’ around the world. My role involves talking to people – whether in academia or media – to raise awareness of who we are and what we do. Often, the biggest trick is figuring out how to expand people’s circles of concern to communities caught in conflict oceans away.
Tell us about your experience studying at ANU and living in Canberra.
I love Canberra. Everything I need – uni, work, food, lake, mountain – is within a half hour’s cycling radius. However, a true highlight for me has been how friendly and approachable the people are. I’ve really appreciated how generous the academic and professional staff alike have been with their time, to share their research or take questions. That’s been a huge factor in the extent to which I’ve enjoyed this Masters program. While essential services are never far away in Canberra, it’s also pretty easy to escape the city and I’m a big fan of how green the ANU campus is – a river runs through it! It’s a pretty strong contrast to my undergraduate university, UTS, which was right in the middle of the CBD. I appreciate the difference.
What are some of your future goals?
I am excited to be back at the Bell School as a part-time PhD student this year. My thesis question focuses on the relationship between empathy and narrative in international relations. Essentially, it explores why we care about certain communities and the stories we tell, consume or share that might justify our beliefs and actions. There’s a strong overlap with my work inherent in this question, which, to me, underscores its relevance.