Project Assistant at Security and Defence Agenda

"Don't take anything for granted in the realm of international relations"

Andris-PS-testimonialnieuwAndris Banka, aged 27
Graduated in 2011 
Project Assistant at Security
and Defence Agenda

What do you do for a living?
I work as a Project Assistant at Security and Defence Agenda. That is a political center in Brussels for discussing defence and security issues. Like a think tank, mainly for specialists from NATO and the EU.

What do you really like about your job?
I get to meet people I read and heard about while studying, like former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and many other ambassadors and policy makers. That’s exciting. I can learn a tremendous amount of things from seeing professional politicains in action. It challenges and pushes me to become better.

How did you find this job?
I was actually still studying at VU University. As the semester approached its last months, I deliberately started to send applications, and one of very many got lucky.

What aspects of your job relate to the Master’s programme you followed at VU University Amsterdam?
The programme at VU University Amsterdam helped me significantly to prepare for the job. First of all the professors are quite demanding. That might not seem too nice when studying, but it does prepare you to do you work exactly as asked and to manage deadlines at the same time. Moreover, some courses gave me the needed push to think critically about the world of politics, such as ‘Theories of International Relations’ and ‘International Security’. Not everything you learn in the classroom is directly relevant for real life, but VU University really taught me to reflect critically about the realm of international relations and not take anything for granted.  

Did having this Master’s degree help in any way to get your job?
Yes, absolutely. The job market is really competitive and nowadays there are students that have two bachelors and two masters, therefore a postgraduate degree is a must have. What is more, VU University Amsterdam is a university with a recognized name. People know about it and have a respect for its academic standing.

Why did you choose this Master’s, and what job did you expect to find with this degree?
I was lucky enough to receive the VU international scholarship for which I am very thankful. The advantage of VU University is that completing the Master’s degree takes only one year.
Also, Amsterdam is a well known location. People in Europe know about its international character. Amsterdam is in close proximity to all of Europe’s political cities – Paris, Berlin, London, and of course Brussels. When the opportunity arose, I simply took the two hour train to Brussels to do the interview. The perfect location of VU University Amsterdam should not be underestimated.

What should (prospective) students expect of life after graduation?
Nothing easy. Nothing is guaranteed after the graduation. In order to succeed in this field you really have to like what you are doing because in many cases (at least at the very start), you will be doing it for free.

Do you have any recommendations for (prospective) students for their education or careers?
Apply! Many students start to doubt themselves after four or five unsuccessful applications. In most cases negative response has nothing to do with a person’s potential or capabilities. Even for unpaid EU internships there are usually are like 200 applications. Let this not discourage you. If a student fills out twenty applications per week, there will be an opportunity sooner or later. You just have to look for it over and over again. At the moment you succeed, those rejected applications will be forgotten the next day.