15 Pros and Cons of Studying International Relations

Disclosure: International Relations Careers may be compensated by course providers.

In today’s interconnected world, international relations play an important role. They encompass political, economic, social, and environmental relationships among sovereign countries, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, international corporations, as well as public institutions at various levels. Understanding this complex field is crucial to comprehending global issues. Studying international relations offers rewarding insights into the political-economic as well as social dynamics shaping our world. However, like any other major discipline, it has both advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding whether to pursue it or not. Here are some pros and cons that should be considered while choosing whether it’s worth studying international relations:

Pros of Studying International Relations

Studying international relations offers a myriad of benefits for those interested in understanding global dynamics and pursuing careers in diplomacy, government, non-profits, or academia. Here are some of the pros of studying international relations:

#1. Wide-ranging career opportunities

Studying international relations opens many career options in both the public and private sectors. Graduates use their skills for diplomacy, government agencies, non-profit organizations, think tanks, and multinational corporations.

For example, a degree in international relations can lead to such positions as a diplomat representing one’s country in foreign affairs or an analyst at an international organization like the United Nations.

#2. Greater cultural understanding

International relations studies train students to become culturally competent by exposing them to other cultures, languages, and common societal norms. Such knowledge is critical in helping a person navigate across global relationships and work effectively with persons from diverse backgrounds.

So, US citizens, when studying the politics of the Middle East, can gain insight into the complex interplay between religion and politics in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

#3. Development of critical thinking skills

Analyzing complex global issues requires strong critical thinking skills. International relations courses teach students to critically evaluate arguments, gather evidence from various sources, and draw logical conclusions based on empirical data.

#4. Enhanced communication skills

If you want to get a degree in international relations, effective communication is a must. For example, diplomats have to negotiate treaties or even mediate conflicts while considering multiple perspectives and ensuring clear communication to reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

So, an important “pro” of studying international relations is that you’ll greatly improve your written and verbal communication skills. You’ll be able to engage with diverse audiences and convey complex ideas clearly both in your native and foreign language.

#5. Social awareness

The next benefit of this degree is that you can foster a sense of social responsibility. By exploring issues like poverty, human rights violations, global health crises, and inequality, you will take a deep look at the most acute world issues. Thus, IR is inspiring students to work towards making positive global changes.

#6. Knowledge of current events

Apart from enhanced communication and social awareness, you will concentrate on contemporary global issues like climate change, human rights violations, or political conflict. IR students keep themselves updated regarding current affairs through coursework. It helps them understand the real-world implications of these events.

#7. Personal development

By examining different perspectives and analyzing complex issues, students become more intellectually mature and develop their individual points of view on global matters—enhancing personal growth outside academia too.

#8. Ability to navigate global networks

Studying international relations enables students to develop skills necessary for building as well as maintaining valuable connections within a global network of professional people.

For example, alumni associations or professional organizations devoted to international relations enable graduates to broaden their connections by attending conferences, workshops, and networking events. These networks help in career advancement while offering collaboration opportunities across various fields.

#9. Engaging Coursework

An international relations curriculum often covers exciting topics like global governance structures (such as United Nations), globalization impacts on societies (such as migration patterns), human rights issues (such as refugee crises), and environmental sustainability (such as climate change agreements). This engaging coursework keeps students up-to-date with current events while expanding their knowledge base.

#10. Policy analysis skills

International relations teach students to analyze and evaluate public policies, making them able contributors toward effectively formulating well-informed policies.

#11. Problem-solving abilities

Students studying international relations develop problem-solving skills in finding out solutions for complex global problems. They learn how to assess multiple factors influencing an issue and formulate effective strategies based on that analysis.

For instance, when taking into account the humanitarian crisis caused by contemporary conflicts, students gain insight into different stakeholders’ motivations and recommend policies addressing root causes as well as short-term relief efforts.

#12. Pursuit of peace and justice

Studying international relations often ignites a passion for tackling global issues related to peacebuilding initiatives or promoting social justice across borders. It inspires students to make positive changes at both local and global levels through activism or public service careers.

Many international relations graduates opt to work for non-governmental organizations involved in humanitarian aid projects or human rights advocacy groups to contribute to global betterment.

#13. Historical contextualization

Understanding international history enables students to contextualize current events within broader historical narratives and appreciate the long-term implications of certain political processes.

#14. Flexibility for further studies or specialization

A degree in international relations provides a solid foundation that allows individuals to further specialize or pursue advanced degrees in fields such as law, public policy, business administration, or regional studies (e.g., Middle Eastern studies).

For instance, someone interested in security studies could further specialize by pursuing a Master’s degree focusing on counter-terrorism strategies or cybersecurity policies.

#15. Understanding core institutions

Students gain a comprehensive understanding of key institutions in global governance, such as the United Nations or World Trade Organization which are crucial for comprehending global affairs.

Cons of Studying International Relations

Studying international relations can be rewarding and open one’s horizon to many possibilities. But it is necessary not to forget the challenges and drawbacks involved. Here are some of the cons of studying international relations:

#1. Complexity and frustration

Achieving this degree involves understanding complex concepts, theories, and international systems. Sometimes the sheer depths of the subject matter can overwhelm students in their assignments.

Understanding different ideologies, political systems, and world issues calls for dedication as well as persistence. This complexity could make it quite hard for students to grasp and analyze all the interconnected issues.

#2. Emotional toll

Studying international relations requires a body of knowledge about troublesome events across the globe, such as war crimes, human rights violations, and poverty. Students likely would experience an emotional toll in dealing with difficult subjects by merely being exposed to them.

#3. Constant change and uncertainty

International relations are affected by ever-changing political landscapes, economic trends, and technological advancements accompanied by a shifting societal structure. The permanent flux makes forecasting global outcomes difficult.

Brexit is a prime example where many experts underestimated the impact it would have on the European Union (EU) member-states economies and Britain’s geopolitical standing on the global stage.

#4. Complicated data analysis

Many theories in international relations use quantitative analysis to make sense of global trends and patterns. This aspect might be difficult if you have a problem working with statistics or data analysis software.

#5. Language barriers

International relations entail studying different cultures and getting their perspectives understood. Language can be a barrier to effective communication in diplomatic negotiations or while conducting fieldwork.

Take, for example, diplomatic negotiations between Chinese officials speaking Mandarin and American diplomats speaking English; misinterpretations due to cultural nuances or language disparities can potentially derail productive discussions.

#6. Ethical dilemmas

Studying international relations confronts students with ethical dilemmas related to governance systems, human rights abuses, environmental concerns, global inequality, and military interventions. Balancing different perspectives can be emotionally challenging.

#7. Limited practical experience

While studying international relations provides theoretical knowledge, it often lacks hands-on experience, which can make it challenging to apply concepts in the real world.

#8. Lack of tangible results

Efforts to resolve conflicts or address global challenges in international relations often yield limited tangible outcomes. Despite efforts, achieving lasting peace or resolving complex issues can be elusive or take years to materialize.

For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades, with numerous peace processes and diplomatic negotiations failing to achieve a sustainable solution that satisfies all parties involved.

#9. Career uncertainty

While students studying international relations might want to work for a specific country, it does not promise particular job opportunities. Graduates might face stiff competition in getting jobs in desired fields, with volatility of the job markets.

Many graduates of an international relations degree find themselves applying for such varied roles as policy analysts, journalists, consultants or higher education because of the scarcity of specialized positions.

#10. Security risks

International relations students working in conflict-prone regions may face security risks associated with political violence of terrorism.  Journalists covering war zones are not immune to physical danger as they document conflict situations and report on geopolitical developments across the world.

#11. Bias in academic discourse

Scholars’ biases and inte­llectual frameworks rooted in their specific cultural or national backgrounds often shape inte­rnational relations theories, pote­ntially thwarting objective analysis for students.

#12. Need for constant learning

In the ever-changing landscape of international relations, professionals must continuously update their knowledge and skills throughout their careers. This requirement for life-long learning can be grueling in terms of both effort and time investment.

#13. Personal sacrifice

A future caree­r in international relations of­ten de­mands long working hours and frequent travels. So, it puts at risk your pe­rsonal relationships and results in limited stability or social life­ for the individuals involved.