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Policy Advisor (Political Science, BA)

Barbara Ciochon, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Government of Ontario

Barbara graduated from Laurier in 2011 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. She has always had a keen interest in politics and world issues, particularly international trade, but it was a trade policy course Barbara took in her third year that confirmed her interest in pursuing this as a career. Barbara knew that to get into her field of interest and secure a policy position with the federal government, a graduate degree was not only a major asset, but a requirement. Therefore, following her graduation from Laurier, Barbara completed a Master of Public Administration at Queen’s University.

During her graduate degree she was exposed to ways of solving policy issues through both theoretical and practical approaches. Barbara completed two co-op terms with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada (DFATD). Following graduation, she was offered full-time employment with DFATD as a trade policy officer within the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) coordinating division. There, she conducted significant research and analysis on the agreement, played a role in stakeholder relations and communication efforts, and was even able to travel to Brunei Darussalam for the 19th round of negotiations.

More recently, Barbara accepted a position in the provincial government as a policy advisor which she found through a posting on the Ontario Public Service (OPS) careers website. Now within the provincial government, she is still working on international trade, including TPP, Canada-EU, Canada-Korea and WTO. She also supports the Quebec-Ontario file and coordinates foreign delegations. Barbara points out that there is a great emphasis on international trade at all levels of government, particularly given the priority that the current federal government has placed on its trade agenda. “Throughout the time that I have been working in government, the main provincial point of contact in Ontario for trade has been another ministry. My ministry serves an advisory role and provides technical and strategic expertise on issues within the areas of agriculture, agri-food and rural. While the federal government regularly seeks input and feedback from the provinces, it is the authority in negotiations. However, provinces do play an important role in trade negotiations; in the case of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU, provinces are also present at the negotiating table. Provinces’ involvement in interprovincial trade is equally as significant.”

Barbara enjoys the fast-paced environment within this line of work, particularly managing short-term deadlines. “By and large, a policy advisor will devote a significant amount of time engaging in consultations with internal and external stakeholders, and researching and writing on the file their team is responsible for.”

In addition to time management, strong research, communication and analytical skills are all essential for success in the field of public policy. It is also helpful to keep an open mind and not limit yourself to one particular policy field, as other opportunities may come along that could help you to extend your network and knowledge. Speaking more specifically to international-focused jobs, although there is no specific mould for an ideal candidate, Barbara highlights four key competencies that candidates who were coming on board to DFATD typically had, as a general reference. First, a graduate degree is a requirement for most (if not all) policy positions at DFATD, and this would likely be the case with other similar organizations. Secondly, French is mandatory for a position within the federal government, and a number of other candidates will also speak a third language. In addition, employers like DFATD look favourably upon individuals who have international experience, in an academic, volunteer, or work capacity, as this demonstrates an understanding of, and exposure to, other cultures. Finally, candidates should demonstrate knowledge and interest in world issues and current affairs. During interviews, candidates will be assessed on their knowledge of world issues, especially as they pertain to the position. A relevant degree, or even specialized classes, will be helpful in gaining at least a base for this knowledge.

Barbara gives some helpful advice to individuals who are targeting a career in this field in the future. She stresses the importance of co-op, not only to gain meaningful employment experiences, but also to develop an idea of what area of policy you are interested in pursuing. In addition, the connections made during those terms of employment may be critical when looking for a job following graduation. She also suggests getting involved as much as possible while at university, in a wide variety of activities. Barbara herself was a member of the Laurier Political Science Association, volunteered with the Academic Council on the United Nations System, co-led the Laurier Polish Students’ Association, and wrote for The Cord. She also spent a semester at a university in Quebec to refine her French language skills, and was a research and teaching assistant for two years. All of these varied experiences gave Barbara the opportunity to meet like-minded students, build strong relationships with faculty and staff, and explore her interests in further detail.