Niels got his dream job right after graduating: ‘You work with the best here’
What would it be like if you could work with the best in your field every day? Alumnus in International Studies Niels Drost knows just what that’s like. He currently works as a junior researcher at the Clingendael Institute.
‘The Clingendael Institute is a think tank for international relations and an academy for diplomats. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are two of our most important clients. We form a bridge between academic research and the world of policies,’ he explains. As a junior researcher at the Clingendael Russia & Eastern Europe Centre and the EU & Global Affairs Unit, he does research in contemporary politics and security issues in Russia and Eastern Europe. ‘Doing research is truly my favourite thing to do.’
Learning to understand the world
It would have been hard to guess that this would be his current career path considering that, after finishing secondary school, he decided to take up pen and paper – or camera and pop filter – to study journalism. ‘I loved being involved with news all day, but I was looking for something with a little more substance. That's why I decided to enrol in the bachelor’s in International Studies,’ says Drost. ‘What appealed to me was that on the one hand your courses teach you to understand the world in its entirety better, but on the other hand you also specialise in one specific region.’
Drost decided to specialise in Russia and Eurasia. And he does not regret his choice one bit. ‘The teachers were very passionate, which helped me learn a fair amount of Russian. I’m still in contact with some of my teachers and we occasionally go out for a drink together.’
Aside from the enthusiastic instructors, Drost also fondly remembers the interdisciplinary character of the study programme. ‘It’s a big advantage when you know how to approach subjects from different perspectives. In practice, many elements overlap and influence each other. I believe that without such knowledge you can’t fully understand certain issues,’ he says. ‘Take a look at the war in Ukraine: it has so many aspects to it, such as political, historical and cultural perspectives, among others. Putin often uses historical perspectives to justify the reasons why he’s waging this war.’
Drost is currently doing research on the former countries of the Soviet Union. ‘I’m mostly focusing on the war in Ukraine. Right now I’m working on a piece about global food security as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war,’ he says. ‘It’s so much fun to fully immerse yourself in subjects and share information about them with people for whom it’s relevant.’
These people are usually government officials, but sometimes Niels’ research reaches a wider audience. ‘A little while ago, I was asked to take part in a TV discussion for EenVandaag, a Dutch news and current affairs programme. It was about Putin’s speech for Victory Day on 9 May. That was a subject about which there was a lot of controversy. I found it a little nerve-racking, but it was an honour to be invited to talk about it.'
Internship with the best
Drost landed his current position through an internship during his master’s. ‘I liked that five-month internship so much that I wanted to keep working there. It’s hard work, but also a lot of fun. Here, you get to work with the best Dutch researchers and experts,’ he says. That is why Drost wholeheartedly recommends it, including for international students. ‘You’re trusted with a lot of responsibilities and you get to experience everything from close up. Depending on how much initiative you take, there’s a lot you can accomplish.’ However, he does note: ‘It happens quite regularly that I end up working late to finish a report before the deadline. You need to be really passionate about the work, otherwise it can be very tough.’