Question: Where did you go to school and what degree program did you follow?
Answer: I attended George Mason University, in Fairfax, VA. I was in the Accelerated Master’s program, so I received both a Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Politics and a Master of Arts in Political Science.
Question: What is the undergraduate curriculum like?
Answer: Students in the Government and International Politics major can choose to generalize their studies or focus on topics such as international relations, American government, or public administration. Aside from the standard general education classes, there were many different courses to choose from to focus my academics in the direction that I preferred. I chose to take as many foreign affairs classes as possible. I supplemented those with French and Japanese language courses.
Question: Can you elaborate upon your graduate studies at George Mason University?
Answer: My official concentration was comparative politics. The curriculum was flexible, with a reasonable number of core required classes and ample opportunity for students to shape their studies around what interested them most. As for me, I oriented my studies around comparative politics in the context of international affairs.
Question: What is the faculty like?
Answer: George Mason University boasts an incredibly diverse, highly qualified team of professors. With its convenient location just outside of Washington, D.C., GMU attracts faculty with extensive experience in their respective fields. Many are published authors and researchers. The courses offered by these bright individuals are intellectually stimulating. What makes the politics faculty extra special, however, is that they are all passionate and care deeply for the success of their students.
Because I attended GMU for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I was able to establish strong relationships with several professors. My favorite professor from my undergraduate days agreed to be my mentor and primary advisor for my thesis project.
Question: What did you do for your thesis?
Answer: I investigated the political motive behind suicide attacks. While this certainly addressed Islamic extremism, it also included hostage crises in which the perpetrators allegedly anticipated their personal death, public shootings where the gunman ultimately took his or her own life, and other suicide-murders in general. By comparing various case studies, I was able to raise questions and piece together answers about why individuals or groups of people may be willing to kill themselves for a broader political motive.
My thesis also had a multidisciplinary element, as I could not possibly hope to understand political motives behind suicide without understanding suicide in general. Therefore, I found myself sifting through psychology literature. It was all rather enlightening and my advisor was a big fan of the inclusion of academia beyond the realm of political science.
I was fortunate enough to have several professors with relevant backgrounds that were able to offer valuable insights into my thesis project.
Question: What opportunities are there for students of political science at George Mason University?
Answer: So many! Internships, study abroad, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, co-op work experiences, even the Peace Corps. In addition to building a student’s resume, these opportunities also usually included some form of financial assistance toward tuition or living expenses.
Question: You mentioned the Peace Corps?
Answer: Yes. Although I did not do this myself, one of my peers spent several years in Niger with the Peace Corps and was able to receive academic credit for doing so.
Question: How can students pursue these opportunities?
Answer: There are many resources. Career Services is particularly helpful, with resume workshops, job and internship fairs, mock interviews, and personal career advising sessions. I had many professors who occasionally emailed internship and job openings to their students. There are also plenty of resources available online, so students can learn more about various opportunities at their own convenience. Everyone is so friendly and helpful – if someone expresses interest in pursuing something special, they will have no trouble finding the appropriate points of contact.
Question: Did you participate in any extracurricular activities or clubs at George Mason University?
Answer: Absolutely. I am a flutist, so I participated in master classes on campus and played with the university’s symphonic band. I also was involved in various flute choirs. I ran with the running club and was involved in a community service group. As a resident advisor, I lived on campus, so I was constantly meeting new people and coordinating activities for resident students.
As for academics, I was inducted into Alpha Lambda Delta, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Golden Key International Honour Society. Pi Sigma Alpha is specifically for successful undergraduates in the government and politics majors. As a graduate student, I was in the university’s Graduate Political Science Society.
The beauty of GMU is that there is a club, organization, or group for anyone of any background.
Question: What were your favorite classes?
Answer: That’s a tough one. I think the easier way to answer this is to say I had favorite professors, who always taught an enjoyable course regardless of the topic. The wonderful thing about political science is that there is a lot of room for interpretation and intelligent discussion. I particularly enjoyed seminars in which we would read a political science journal article or book, then discuss as a class the strengths and flaws of that particular piece. You really learn how to think critically with an approach like that. It was also helpful when we did the same to our fellow students’ current research.
As for specific classes, I loved all of the foreign affairs courses. Most of the professors who teach about specific regions, cultures, or countries are either from that location or have extensively studied and visited that location. This sort of background allows professors to offer special insight into the subject matter. I also enjoyed a political theory course that I took. In that class, we tackled political science with a much more creative and thoughtful approach than is typical.
And while tedious at times, I really benefited from the research methods and statistics courses that I had to take. These courses were especially helpful in developing my ability to think and write like a political scientist.
Question: Can you be specific about the noteworthy nature of some of the professors you have referred to?
Answer: Sure! For starters, I took a class about the history of the Republican Party with a former congressman, Tom Davis. The brilliant Hugh Heclo, who conceptualized issue networks, is a Robinson Professor at GMU. I had professors who worked in or with foreign governments, worked on Capitol Hill, indirectly shaped the nation’s budget as an analyst in the Congressional Budget Office, lived overseas for research, and who have devoted their lives to the advancement of political science literature. George Mason University is truly a wonderful place to network as a political scientist.