Natalie O’Brien

Bachelor of International Studies

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of International Studies - majoring in European Studies & International Studies

Current Position:Chief of Staff at GetUp

1. What attracted you to studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW?

Honestly it was the Bachelor of International Studies degree itself. It uniquely combined my areas of interest: politics, history, languages, and then combined them into something coherent and mutually reinforcing. One of the core degree requirements was studying overseas for 12 months, which was hugely attractive. I could think of no better personal growth and academic learning opportunity!

2. Did you always have a clear idea of what you wanted to do after completing your degree?

Ha, of course not! I had a very broad sense of wanting to work in a 'for purpose' industry but that was about it. Looking back, I had a lot of blind faith that if I studied stuff that genuinely interested me and I worked hard, then it would lead me to interesting places. And it did.

3. How did your time at UNSW help shape who you are today?

More than anything I learnt in the classroom, UNSW gave me a brilliant cohort of peers – people who are genuinely interested in the world around us, who want to interrogate how power works, how narratives of national identity work, how American hegemony and American-Sino relations shape the world we live in. Many of these people are my closest friends and they continue to inspire and challenge me.

4. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help you develop transferable skills? 

For me, this is what an Arts degree is all about. Not teaching specific content per se, but using that content to teach you how to think, how to analyse, how to interrogate the world. Every single day I use the critical thinking and analytical skills that were cultivated in my time at UNSW.

5. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help form your view on the world and the contemporary issues we face today?

When I started my degree, I was convinced that Australian politics was imaginably boring and international politics was where the action was at. Nowadays, I work full time in Australian politics. That was a journey I went on throughout my international studies degree. It taught me to see the global political system as a whole and the interplay of all the different parts of it – including our own nation and economy. This gave me a stronger sense of accountability for the actions ofour politics and politicians – and I came to see it was the job of you and I to hold those politicians to account.

6. How did UNSW Arts & Social Sciences help prepare you for the workforce throughout your degree?

I was really grateful to the Faculty for allowing me to tailor my degree to meet my specific career objectives. I received course credit points for an internship I did with AID/WATCH, which was a program that wasn't technically on offer in my degree. I also received credit for two courses that weren't technically in the course curriculum because I was able to demonstrate how they equated to equivalent course learning. This flexibility to make my degree really work for me and my needs was hugely valuable.

7. How did you get your foot in the door as a graduate, following the completion of your degree?

I had worked hard through university to ensure that when I finished my degree I had more than just the degree itself to point to. I got involved in Arc, I volunteered for the exchange program and did high school mentoring, I did an internship, and I worked part time to give me some office experience. I think this combination of things made me a competitive entry-level candidate. Then, once I graduated, I identified a long list of people who were working in areas that I was interested in and cold-contacted them. Lots of people were more than happy to sit down for a coffee and chat.

8. What advice would you give to someone considering studying Arts at UNSW?

Ask yourself: what excites you? what engages you? what do you genuinely like to think about? Arts degrees come in so many shapes and sizes, and will be enhanced or diminished by what you bring to the table. If you're someone who is interested in the what and the why and the how of the world we live in, and you're bursting with questions and desperate for answers, then Arts is going to challenge you in all the right ways.

9. What is your most memorable experience from your time at UNSW?

Setting aside the very many afternoons spent in the sun on the Library Lawn, I had a wonderful honours supervisor who really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I started my honours year set on writing about one thing and ended up writing my thesis on something totally different. He really mentored me through that journey, which was an invaluable learning curve.

10. Why do you Love What You Do?

There's not a day that goes by where I don't feel challenged. Challenged to do something new or think about a problem in a slightly different way. It's invigorating!