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James Waller: Keelite of the Month June 2016
2001 International Relations
What am I doing now?
I work for the Ministry of Defence in London, where I run a team looking after UK defence policy on Arms Control and counter proliferation and exports policy.
How did you get to where you are now?
After Keele I did an MSc in Global Security through Cranfield. I joined the MOD by a graduate recruitment scheme in 2003 as a research analyst on international relations issues. Since then I’ve taken on an incredibly diverse range of roles within the MOD which has taken me to 26 different countries around the world from Afghanistan to Australia.
I was also an Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, essentially a part time member of the Armed Forces as well for nearly 20 years – I joined at Keele through the University Royal Naval Unit scheme, and only left last year. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to combine a civilian and part time military career that has given me an enormous amount of expertise and experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people, and be part of some incredibly exciting work that has helped shape national policy, saved lives and helped make the UK a safer place. I am incredibly proud of how the work I’ve been involved in has made a really tangible difference to the UK.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Professionally, successfully completing two very busy and incredibly challenging 6 month long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, where I managed to be involved in some incredibly challenging work, and had to help make some very tough decisions that had major longer term ramifications in both countries.
And your biggest mistake?
From my student days, I was lucky enough to do an exchange to York University in Toronto, Canada. I’d say my mistake was in deciding to only do a single term overseas in Canada rather than a full academic year. I had an incredible time studying overseas and regret not taking the full year – although this would have meant less time at Keele!
What are your ambitions now?
Continue working in really exciting and challenging posts where I’m able to help make a tangible difference to making the UK a safer place.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
A lot of people assume the only way into the Civil Service is via the Fast-stream scheme. This is but one way to join, and it’s worth looking at all the other opportunities advertised via the civil service jobs website.
It’s also important to understand that the civil service recruits via a competence based framework. Spend time reading up on this, and trying to take your university experiences and translating them into evidence. You’d be amazed at how much useful experience people get at university that they never realise is great for helping them at job interviews.
What made you choose Keele University?
I knew that I wanted to go to a campus university, and to read International Relations, and that I wanted to do a period of time studying abroad, and finally go to a University which had access to a ‘University Royal Navy Unit’ to see what life in the Navy was like. Keele ticked all those boxes, so it was a complete “no brainer” to apply. I first visited the campus on the day after my 18th birthday in the pouring rain, and was absolutely hooked in seconds.
What kind of a student were you?
I loved the university campus and the course, but I was quite shy in my first year and didn’t really know many people, or take the best advantage of all the opportunities on offer. It took going to Canada and maturing a bit to make the most of campus life from the 2nd year onwards. I’d describe myself as a very average normal student, last minute in places and keen to find reasons why attending a 9am lecture was far too early for me!
I was lucky enough in my third year to get heavily into Fencing through the Athletics Union, and I represented the university at Epee (albeit badly!) I also took part in the Harvard Model UN competition, going to Turkey and meeting students from across the world.
How has Keele influenced your life?
Living and studying at Keele gave me access to so many opportunities, and introduced me to many wonderful people. It really helped shape and develop me as a person.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
I’m torn between representing the University at the Model UN in Istanbul, and thinking about the incredible friends I made, some of whom I still hear from now, and the way that we were able to study, party and look ahead to our futures. The number of 3am deep meaningful chats about life that you can have at Keele is pretty impressive.
What is your impression of Keele now?
I’ve been back a couple of times in the last few years, particularly to talk about career opportunities in the MOD. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting students today and think that not only are they incredibly talented and very capable, but that the university itself is going from strength to strength. I’m also very struck at the real strength of the ‘Keele bond’ and the way alumni come together to help give advice to former students. The first ‘mini Keele in the City’ last year of alumni who work in Whitehall and current students helped to show how much those of us who have gone before want to help the next generation get ahead!
Anything else you would like to add?
Take every opportunity you can get at Keele to make the most of your time there. It feels at the start like three years will last forever, but it’s over so quickly. Don’t waste the opportunity!