Cambridge and My Crusade Against Mediocrity

Kate McInnes is a third-year Political Science major at the University of Alberta. 

Imposter syndrome — the constant fear of being undeserving of one’s accomplishments. This is something I think most university students have experienced at some point in their degree. I would posit that this feeling is more prominent among political science students than other majors within the Faculty of Arts. When you have fifteen Type A personalities in a 400-level seminar with a 20% participation mark, it is bound to breed insecurity and competition (especially when you realize most of your classmates will probably be applying to the same law and grad programs you will be).

Since I began at the U of A in 2014, I’ve attributed my academic successes partially to hard work, but also to easy profs and good luck. When a professor in my second year recommended I apply for an international politics program at the University of Cambridge – I seriously doubted my ability to be accepted. The program admits 40 undergraduate students a year, and these students are expected to complete a thesis in just six weeks under the supervision of a PhD candidate.

I submitted my transcripts, letter of intent, and paper proposal in early December, and I was stunned when I received my letter of acceptance and a very generous bursary from my college, Gonville and Caius. I remember reading the syllabus incredulously, as it required 56 textbooks and over 100 articles to be read before the course commenced. I felt the same sick feeling I often felt in seminars and discussions in my courses at the U of A, when I listened to my classmates and realized my intellect paled in comparison.

On the first day of classes, the head of the department told us that we supposedly represented the best of our respective universities. His speech didn’t help me feel anything less than hopelessly inadequate compared to the two other students in my thesis cohort — from the London School of Economics and the University of Paris — who were well-spoken, well-read, well-traveled, and fluent in multiple languages. I began to panic that what had been “good enough” at the U of A would be insufficient at a place like Cambridge, and that I wouldn’t be able to convince the people here that I was smart.

It turns out that my fears were unfounded. The course load, while astonishingly demanding and strenuous, was doable. I polished off my 30-page thesis on sustainable opium eradication in Afghanistan and completed the course with a starred first (the equivalent of an A in Canada) and the feeling that my success could be attributed to nothing other than hard work.

It’s easy in competitive environments to feel as though everyone else is more worthy of being there than you are. During my time in Cambridge, I met a number of extraordinarily intelligent and ambitious people in my classes and my college, including a med student from New Zealand, a Kazak studying fashion in Milan, a Mennonite from Indiana, and a prince from Qatar. But what made these people inspiring rather than intimidating was the fact that, despite their accomplishments, they were down-to-earth, unafraid of failure, and never took themselves too seriously. 

Though my time in England made me realize how lucky I am to study at a school like the U of A, which gave me the skills to do well at this program, it’s hard to live in a place like Cambridge and not be constantly appreciative of it. Cambridge is a visual wonderland, with sprawling college courts, magnificent stone fortresses, swaying willow trees, and the river Cam running under shallow bridges. The university’s beauty is only strengthened by its human history: Chaucer, Milton, Cromwell, Byron, Wordsworth, Darwin, Malthus, Hawking (who, according to the porter of my college, has Corn Flakes every morning and dressed up to see Batman vs. Superman when it came out), and 90 Nobel Prize winners. But outnumbering those greats by the thousands are the ordinary students who made no mark in history, but whose feet wore away a dip in the stone steps, who passed under the same ancient archways, who surely felt incompetent by the cleverness of their peers, who churned out half-decent essays at 4 am, and who came with the same hopes and apprehensions and left with a sense of purpose and the pride of a job well done.

I’ve already forgotten the names of the diplomats, ambassadors, and government officials who taught me at Cambridge. What stays with me is the confidence I developed, the friends from around the world who I remain close with, and the under-lit cobbled passages I walked every night as I made my way home.

-Kate McInnes 

 

My Summer Experience in Municipal Government

Sam Goertz is a first-year student at the University of Alberta majoring in Political Science.

This summer I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for my favourite politician, City Councillor Michael Walters. I got to work full-time as his Summer Communications and Research Assistant at City Hall. Going in, I already loved Municipal politics, but through my experience, I gained an even deeper appreciation for our Council and moreover a deeper appreciation for Government.

I learned of the scope of what Council and the City take care of is far deeper than I could have imagined. There are people who work to make nearly everything you observe in the City as good as it can possibly be. I also learned that to be successful politically, one needs to be a "consensus builder." Prior to working in government I thought that "consensus builder" was the world's most mundane phrase, wildly overused and meaning little. However, from meetings with constituents and communicating with Administration to establishing strong relationships with other members of Council, "consensus" truly is vital.

I also discovered the less glamorous side of politics, in fact, the majority of it is not glamorous. The amount of time and sweat that is put in by politicians to make their community better is astounding, from reading 300 pages reports on Utility updates, to carefully crafting motions and inquiries in order to spark a positive policy change.

I learned how imperative it is to strike a healthy work-life balance. Thankfully, I got to work for the model Politician in all of these areas. Councillor Walters taught me that no matter what the issues at play are, our loved ones are what make life worth living, and we need to honour that. Working at City Hall was a dream come true for me, and I hope to be back in the Council hallways one day, in whatever capacity.

Additionally, I have the privilege of being the President of Greenfield Community League. It has been enormously fulfilling and has taught me that there is so much richness to be found in communities, regardless of if you have just moved there or have been there for 44 years.

This job has never felt like volunteer work, and I'm so thankful for that. Community League's allow for people to establish strong relationships with the people around them and to flex their creative muscles in making a strong community. The value of community can hardly be overstated in its importance for happiness and fulfillment in life, and regardless of if you know the people in your community or not, or if they're even the same demographic as you, you can always make friends, and establish connections.

Being able to do this work, with the incredible support and respect of people (some of whom with kids older than me) has enriched my life immensely, and it's served to reinforce my love and faith in humankind. Local politics can take many shapes and sizes, and if you look for it, there is an opportunity almost anywhere for you to make a difference.

-Sam Goertz

Welcome to the PSUA blog!

Welcome back to school! 

My name is Marina and I am the 2015-2016 President of the Political Science Undergraduate Association. Hopefully everyone knows who we are, but just in case, here is the low down. 

The Political Science Undergraduate Association, or PSUA, is the Department Association for all undergraduate Political Science students. All students enrolled in at least one political science class within the last year are automatically members of the PSUA. Our mission to represent you and your concerns to staff and professors in the department to make sure the student voice is being heard. We also put on great events and social activities with the end goal of fostering a community within political science at the UofA. 

This is an exciting year! We are planning a panel event with Alberta MLAs in the fall, as well as a Federal Election viewing party. Also, stay tuned for our annual Bonspiel and a Women in Politics event in the winter semester. 

If you are looking to volunteer with the PSUA and also want to foster critical writing skills, you are in luck. This year we will be launching the Political Science Undergraduate Review (PSUR), if you have received an excellent grade on a political science paper you can submit it to the PSUR and we may publish it in our Fall or Winter publication. This is a great resource to have if you are looking to apply for grad school or just something to have in your portfolio. We are currently accepting applications to be on the editorial board (check out uapsua.com for details).

We are also starting a blog this year. If you have participated in a cool internship, studied political science abroad, or have any story to share about your experience in political science, consider contributing to the PSUA blog! We are excited to turn the spotlight back on some of the awesome people in our department. The PSUA is looking for both one-time and regular bloggers, so if you are interested, please contact Ben at psua.communications@gmail.com.

Lastly, whether this is your first or your fifth year of study, remember to enjoy yourself. Grades are important, but so is enjoying yourself and your classes, not to mention finding a community to be a part of. Sometimes we can learn just as much from staying a bit too late at Dewey’s talking about the federal election with classmates and friends as we can in class. This year, get to know a professor, say hello to the person sitting next to you in class, and remember to take care of yourself. Know that the PSUA is here to try to make your University experience the best it can be and that we are cheering for you all the way. 

If you ever want to talk about how we can make the Political Science department or student experience better never hesitate to contact me at psua.president@gmail.com or drop by our office in Tory 15-04. 

Here is to a great year!

Marina Banister
President