Universiteit Leiden

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Colm O'Flynn wins Best Thesis Award at SAIS Bologna

Leiden alumn Colm O'Flynn joined the second MA programme at SAIS Bologna in 2015, and with good result: his final thesis was named the best of the year! Here, Colm shares his journey from Leiden to Bologna and beyond.

Incredible Opportunities

'When I first started my MA in International Relations at Leiden University, the cooperative degree partnership between Leiden and Johns Hopkins University at SAIS Bologna had only just been launched. Although I was aware of the partnership, I had never really considered applying to SAIS. From my standpoint, I was already enrolled in a great graduate program, from a top European university and pursuing a second MA degree seemed rather redundant. My attitude quickly changed following a presentation at my school by Amina from the SAIS admissions team. I began to immediately realize the incredible opportunities the cooperative degree program offered, and although I was somewhat dissuaded by the tuition costs, the long-term career benefits won me over. I applied in January 2015, and was lucky enough to be accepted a couple of months later.'

Leiden: a broader outlook

'Looking back on both degrees, the European style of graduate studies at Leiden suited me a little better, at least initially. The class was smaller, the onus was very much on the student to keep up to date with the course material, and the approach focused more on the theoretical aspects of International Relations, which I greatly enjoyed. Although the approach was a little more hands-off, when I did struggle with some course content, the lecturers always made themselves readily available to answer any of my questions. Indeed, much of what I learned at Leiden helped shape not only what I would study at SAIS, but also my broader outlook on global political developments, particularly with regard to Sub-Saharan Africa.'

An invaluable network

'The American system at SAIS took a little more adjusting to. Unlike my studies at Leiden, the SAIS program adopted a more hands-on approach with language classes, weekly problem sets and TA sessions all supplementing an already busy class schedule. Thankfully, I was able to adjust to the more quantitative elements of my studies during pre-term (with the help of Dr. Meucci, Mathematics magician) and, in the end, I grew to very much enjoy the economics-based focus SAIS is known for. For me, however, the true worth of my SAIS degree can be found less in the course content and more in the people whom I share that degree with. I was fortunate enough to meet and befriend some extraordinary students while at SAIS, and whether I am looking for a job or a couch to crash on, this network will be invaluable for me going forward in life.'

Diverse educational background

'I now work for One Acre Fund, an East African based NGO that specializes in agricultural development. It is very difficult for me to imagine working here in Kenya without the experience of having studied both at Leiden and at SAIS. It was during my studies at Leiden where I first developed a real interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. This helped inform my decision at SAIS to take a deeper dive into some of the more pressing political and economic issues specific to the region. Given that my work experience was minimal before I started at One Acre Fund, I am convinced that my diverse educational background helped push through my candidacy to the latter stages of the interview selection process. It also helped that my housemate at SAIS had a friend working for the organization who kindly wrote me a referral. As I said, the network is invaluable!'

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