By Jordan Guthrie
As I was wrapping up my dissertation in the spring of 2014, I was attracted to the prospect of applying the skills and experiences I gained in grad school outside academia. The public service seemed to offer that opportunity in an intellectually engaging environment where I could have a tangible and direct impact on public policy. It was a way to break out of my comfort zone, gain new perspectives on the workings of the state, and learn about new policy areas.
I didn’t realize just how steep that learning curve could be. My academic research was on agrarian political economy and, by the time of my defense, I was working at Environment Canada as a senior adviser on climate change policy. In that role I learned about and advised on files ranging from emissions reductions in Canadian domestic sectors to Canada’s engagement on environmental issues at the United Nations and Arctic Council. Almost two years on and realizing that I missed subject matter closer to my academic interests, I made the move in early 2016 to Global Affairs Canada’s Strategic Policy Branch, where as a senior economic policy adviser I could build on my background in comparative political economy and international relations.
My time working in the public service has been rich and rewarding, and it was made possible by a critical enabling mechanism—the Recruitment of Policy Leaders (RPL) program. RPL aims to attract top recruits with advanced degrees, policy experience and strong community engagement into the federal public service in ways that offer them the opportunity to make a real difference in policy- and decision-making. I entered that first job at Environment Canada through RPL, and it was through RPL’s vibrant network that I was able to identify the opportunity to move to Global Affairs Canada. I’m now Deputy Director of a division that helps shape Canada’s international economic strategy as well as Canadian engagement on economic issues in international fora.
It’s the range of possibilities that excites me most about working in the public service. Opportunities for movement within and across departments are not uncommon, and offer exposure to a staggering range of policy areas. If I were to give one piece of advice to those considering a career in public policy it would be to set your sights wide and avoid over-specialization. The career of a “policy generalist” is never boring. It often spans several policy areas and departments, and helps develop the agility and perspective necessary to excel and lead in a dynamic environment.
From environment to foreign policy and from advising to managing, I haven’t stopped learning. I think that’s something we can all agree is fundamental to a rewarding career, in or outside academe.
Jordan Guthrie (PhD (Toronto), MA (Dalhousie), BA (McGill))
Deputy Director, International Economic Strategy
Strategic Policy Branch, Global Affairs Canada