International Relations Professional’s Day: quantitative data is trend in field, says professor
The role of international relations professionals is to focus on global careers, investing in the integration of theoretical and methodological knowledge to solve concrete problems involving international politics and the global economy.
Today, September 26, is International Relations Professional’s Day in Brazil. To mark the occasion, FGV News talked to Professor Oliver Stuenkel of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ School of International Relations (FGV RI).
According to him, the school’s international relations course has changed significantly in recent years in terms of students’ preparation, the topics covered and professional choices to be made. “It used to be predominantly a course to train future diplomats, but today, more and more alumni are working in the private sector, in international organizations and in civil society. These are areas in which new technologies are having a big impact,” he said.
How has digital acceleration affected the field of international relations?
New technologies have had a great impact on the field of international relations and here at FGV we always emphasize the need to adapt to these new conditions, not least to ensure that our students are competitive in the job market.
So, there have been a lot of technological changes. Many geopolitical analysts are now using very sophisticated models involving big data, for example. Our international relations undergraduate course has changed in line with these transformations.
What was the area like before this digital acceleration boom?
In the past, our international relations course was mainly designed to train future diplomats. This is a more traditional area, which places a lot of emphasis on the history of geopolitics, diplomatic negotiations and international politics. Today, however, more and more of our alumni are working in the private sector, in international organizations and in civil society. These are areas in which new technologies are having a big impact.
So, the area as a whole has changed profoundly. This explains why we now teach quantitative analysis, for example, as many of our alumni work together with economists or even in roles formerly performed by economists.
What is digital acceleration’s main challenge for the profession and what is its main benefit?
The main benefit of these new technologies is that we can analyze and monitor processes much more easily. That is to say that, in addition to qualitative analysis, there are now sophisticated models to assess the impact of Western sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, for example.
Likewise, it is possible to make very concrete predictions about how international events will affect Brazilian economic growth, politicians’ approval ratings and Brazil’s conduct abroad.
Now, this also poses many challenges, because as well as maintaining contacts in a network of dialogue with other decision makers, we also need to stay abreast of new technologies and new tools that help us analyze what is happening.
How has the international relations area contributed to digital acceleration?
Above all, I would say that the international relations area has made a major contribution to quantifying decision making in the private sector. For example, political issues have always been hard to measure and they are often rather vague, but increasingly, especially in the area of political risk analysis, our area has managed to provide valuable inputs to help companies, governments and civil society make decisions with greater confidence.
How has digital acceleration changed the education of new international relations professionals?
In the past, those who studied international relations managed to avoid the quantitative world. So, they were generally people who really liked history, diplomacy and geography. Now, however, due to these new technologies, especially in the area of big data, we can evaluate huge amounts of data, so we have made a lot of progress in areas such as public opinion, consumer issues in Brazil and global economic trends.
As a result, international relations students now need to have a sophisticated understanding of topics such as econometrics, statistics and probability. In general, the world of mathematics has become much more important. This has made our area more challenging, but it has also greatly increased our ability to make a real contribution in the job market.
What skills should professionals pay attention to in light of this digital boom?
There are many areas that are now fundamental to prepare well for a career in international relations. You need to have a clear understanding of new technologies in areas such as programming, regression models and big data.
What new career options have emerged because of digital acceleration?
Most of our graduates now work in the private sector, which is a new thing, because this course traditionally prepared students for the diplomatic service and the public sector. Now, however, many companies are hiring international relations analysts to interpret geopolitical challenges. For example, a Brazilian agribusiness group may want help in adapting to new conditions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which raised the cost of fertilizers. Another example is the trade war between the United States and China, which is posing challenges but also generating many opportunities. So, this type of monitoring is crucial today.
What can we expect in future?
My perception is that technological changes will happen increasingly quickly and the impacts will grow ever bigger. In addition, there will be a need to work with global teams, with people in totally different places, with very different worldviews. There is also a need to work in a number of very different areas that have traditionally been covered by different professions.
This article is part of a special series called “Connections for the Future,” launched on July 22, which is Social Scientists’ Day in Brazil.
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