What is Global Studies: Careers, Skills, and Trends

Industry Advice Political Science & Security

For individuals hoping to work and make a difference on a global level, an advanced degree in global studies is a great way to obtain the skills and hands-on experience they need to succeed. But what exactly is global studies, and what does working in the field entail?

Below, Northeastern University associate teaching professor, Fiona Creed, PhD, provides some clarity into the careers, skills, and trends that define the industry. 

Understanding Global Studies

Global studies, international relations, and international business are three key disciplines in this area of work. They are intrinsically linked to one another, which can sometimes cause confusion when trying to understand what scope of work aligns with each unique sector. However, Creed explains that these three disciplines have some very distinct differences that set them apart:

Global Studies

“Global studies…refers to globalization in all its forms—including political, biological, digital, cultural, and economic issues,” she says. “It is an interdisciplinary exploration of a set of global issues through a more comprehensive lens, and delves into people, goods, ideas, and even diseases moving around the world. Global studies is [also] generally more complicated [than international relations, for example].”

International Relations

“International relations involves policymakers working on issues such as war and peace, and economic development,” she says. “In this field, there is a strong focus on diplomacy.” She also explains that the work completed by those in the global studies sector often “informs our debates in international relations.”

International Business

“International business examines how for-profit corporations trade goods and services,” she says. “In part, this involves cross-cultural communication. Practitioners need to navigate the nuances of political and cultural sensitivities.” 

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Careers in Global Studies

Despite the differences in the focus and goals of these three disciplines, each presents meaningful career opportunities for those who can master the skills required. What’s more, increased political, social, and economic globalization is also expanding the various career options for adept professionals in this field.

“The career opportunities in global studies are so wide and varied,” Creed says. “Graduates from Northeastern’s programs, for example, have gone on to work for the United Nations, the Foreign Service, the Red Cross, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some have set up their own NGOs or consulting firms. Others have gone on to become international business consultants, conflict resolution consultants, or international development advisors.”

Because there are such diverse work opportunities, Creed says job satisfaction in the field is enormous. “In a world where there is so much complexity and bad news associated with international relations and how countries interact with each other, global studies professionals working in international organizations or NGOs feel that they can truly make a difference.”

Unique Career Paths for Global Studies Professionals

One of the benefits of pursuing a career in global studies is the opportunity for individuals to find a cause or issue that they are passionate about, and leverage their personal experiences and knowledge in this field to make a positive difference.

Creed recalls one recent graduate of the Northeastern’s Master of Science in Global Studies program, for example, who discovered that children in remote areas of the world were dying from venomous snake bites and that their deaths were highly preventable. To address this problem, he recruited paramedic specialists from across the globe and co-founded a nonprofit with the purpose of bringing together a global network of doctors to train people in remote areas to provide emergency medical care. 

This isn’t the only instance Creed has seen in which her students have gone on to translate their education into personalized work in the global studies field. “One Kenyan student…lost many family members to neglected infectious disease that could have been treated if they had the right support,” she says. “She is [now] channeling her research efforts brilliantly.”

Although these are just two examples of the powerful difference global studies professionals can make with their work, it is very common that individuals in this field will have the opportunity to work on initiatives with serious implications.

“Diplomats, scientists, engineers, and lawyers may represent a company or a country at an international treaty conference,” Creed provides as another example. “To navigate this, they need to understand the different cultures and negotiating styles of each delegate [and] learn how to identify commonalities and shared interests that can help them come to a consensus.”

Emerging Trends in Global Studies

The priorities and needs of our international society continue to shift and change over time. As the work of global studies professionals ties so closely to the various needs of people, countries, and organizations across the globe, it is important that they stay on top of these changing trends.

Creed explains that the particular set of trends shaping the industry has the potential to make a powerful and lasting impact:

“Globalization affects businesses enormously…Technological advances are having significant consequences on shaping policies and socio-economic environments. Employers need practitioners who can analyze not only how these changes impact how government works but how this impacts those in the private and nonprofit sectors.  

So many organizations like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are becoming aware that no amount of training in computer science or artificial intelligence can compare when working in a complicated and counterintuitive global environment. Someone may have a phenomenal idea, but if they don’t understand the political implications of the deal, it’s not going to go anywhere, so having this global knowledge is critical.”

Understanding and embracing the changing trends of the industry is only half the battle when beginning a career in global studies, however. Often, it’s just as important to obtain the correct sets of skills and abilities needed to excel in this work.

Top Skills for Working in Global Studies

Critical thinking. Global studies professionals need to be able to look at the “big picture” and how it affects specific countries and communities. “Practitioners need to have a big vision as well as the ability to dive into small details and be able to apply both to solve problems,” Creed says.

Problem-solving skills. Global challenges are highly complex, and often have serious implications for people’s lives. Professionals in the field need the ability to look at a variety of problems and come up with convincing arguments and clever solutions.

Research and writing skills. The ability to back up research and write policy briefs and research papers convincingly using this data is critical for those working in global studies-related careers. “Your manager isn’t likely to want to read a 30-page report,” Creed explains. “They’re more likely to expect to read a two-page policy brief over coffee, so you need to be able to get across a critical issue succinctly. That’s one of the toughest challenges, particularly when there is so much to say.”

Public speaking and communication skills. “Global studies professionals constantly need to communicate their ideas, and be comfortable both operating by themselves and jumping in to be part of a team,” Creed says.

High tolerance for ambiguity. “When operating within an international organization or in a conflict zone, there can be a lot of ambiguity,” Creed says. “So professionals need to have an element of resilience.”

Finding Success in a Global Studies Career

Even for those who possess these abilities and traits, finding a job in this demanding field is not always easy.

“Those who are looking to pursue a career in international relations or global studies should be aware that it can be quite competitive,” Creed says. “The candidate pool has widened massively, with many candidates applying at the U.N. and other international organizations.” 

While her caution may sound daunting, she assures prospective students that they can develop the qualities they need in order to make their mark in this field. “People often enter global studies to make the world a better place,” she says. “These are individuals with a social conscience who have resolved to make a difference. They tend to be very determined people with great focus, and can improve their skills to effect change.”

Creed explains that perhaps one of the most direct ways to prepare to excel in this competitive field is to earn an advanced degree.

Earning a Global Studies Degree

Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Global Studies program is designed to provide students with the skills and training necessary to analyze, research, and evaluate a topic of interest in a global location. Through the pursuit of this degree, students will gain foundational knowledge in:

  • Globalization, global politics, and economics
  • Global literacy, culture, and community
  • Peace and conflict

The program also offers concentrations in areas such as diplomacy, international economics, and global health.

“Students gain exposure to the diverse field of global studies and issues facing the international community of today,” Creed says. “Overall, the program curriculum focuses on the themes of transition and development in the global world.”

Alongside tailored specializations and courses led by industry professionals, graduates of the master’s in global studies program also have the chance to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world scenarios. Through Northeastern’s experiential learning opportunities, students are able to gain relevant experience in the unique area of global studies work they wish to pursue after graduation.

Even for those in the program who don’t have a clear idea of what sector of the industry they’d like to work in, however, an interest in the global society and a desire to implement change in the world is often enough to start them on the path toward a successful career in global studies.

“You don’t need to have a definitive sense of a career path before entering the program,” she adds. “You simply need to have a passion for how the world works, and then we work together to develop career objectives as you go through the program. It’s a brilliant space that is constantly evolving.”

To learn more about advancing your career in global studies and international relations, download our free guide below. 


Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Global Studies and International Relations