“Trading my briefcase for a backpack helped to boost my career”

Clara Thompson-Lipponen graduated cum laude in 2015 from a one-year Master’s programme at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA). Now a consultant for the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, she tells us how the Master’s degree at Sciences Po helped her boost her career after an initial ten years working in EU policy.

  • Sciences Po: Why did you decide to pursue a one-year Master's degree at Sciences Po?

Clara Thompson-Lipponen: I had worked in EU policy in Brussels for ten years – both for the U.S. State Department and the European food and drink industry – however, after relocating to Paris for my husband’s work and taking a career break in order to look after our son, restarting my career turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. After looking into different options, I decided that the wisest strategy would be to return to university to refresh my skills and complement these with more quantitative subjects, such as Statistics and Economics, as well as other subjects which I had long wanted to study, such as Agriculture and International Trade Law. The one-year Master’s degree at Sciences Po offered the ideal opportunity to re-boost my career within the shortest time-frame while ticking all the boxes in terms of subject material.

  • What did this experience change for your career? 

It’s still early days, to be honest, but I have worked continuously since graduating in July, and there is no question that this is thanks to my latest qualifications. My previous Masters – in EU Affairs – from the National University of Ireland had served me very well while I was based in Brussels. However, after taking time off work and changing location, I needed to prove to future employers that my skills were both relevant and up-to-date.

  • Among the skills you gained during your one-year Master's programme at Sciences Po, which are the most valuable for you in your current position?

 Firstly, the content of the subjects which I took – Agriculture, Economics and Trade Law included – proved to be very relevant for my current position as a consultant for the Trade and Agriculture Directorate of the OECD. Secondly, on a broader level, the intensity of the workload taught me how to perform well under greater pressure than I had ever experienced before! The Masters took me well outside my comfort zone, both in terms of the sheer volume of work and the content of some of the more quantitative subjects. I’ll never forget the gut-wrenching terror of walking into my first exam (Macroeconomics) in 15 years! But it was well and truly worth it – trading my briefcase for a backpack helped to give my career the boost that it needed.

  • Anything else to say about the course? 

Three important elements will always stay with me. A number of the lecturers were inspirational characters who invested a lot in their students. The Academic Advisor for the course was a rock of sense who went the extra mile for many of us. And finally, my classmates – both the tight-knit, supportive group of professionals in my Masters and a good few of the enthusiastic younger students with whom we shared a number of classes – opened my eyes in many ways and will never be forgotten. It was honestly a privilege both to return to study at this stage in life and to work with people such as these.

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