Yany Siek, Political Science Enthusiast and Budding Researcher
Our March Leader in the Spotlight features Yany Siek, a fourth year University of Alberta Honours Political Science student with a passion for research, international affairs and Canadian politics. In addition to juggling an honours thesis in international security and China-US relations, Yany works at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights as a Canadian History Researcher and as a dietary aide in a seniors’ home. In our interview, Yany discusses the process of writing an honours thesis, his decision to pursue political science, and shares advice on course selection.
- How did you decide to pursue a degree in political science? Why did you choose an honours degree over majoring in political science?
My decision to pursue a degree in political science came out of a strong interest in world affairs. In my last year of high school, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Art degree. After searching through the potential majors, I thought Political Science would be best for me. As I continued through my first and second year, I became extremely interested in the subject, particularly the sub-field of international relations.
I learned about the Honors program through a professor who encouraged me to apply. The honours degree has allowed me to forgo a minor, concentrating most of my courses in Political Science. This was desirable because I found myself taking courses from a minor that were irrelevant to my interests. Unlike many, I couldn’t find a minor that fit with my major. Also, an honours degree was the perfect opportunity to determine if I truly enjoyed the field of political science.
During my degree, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with a supervisor, complete a project on a topic that deeply interested me, and establish new relationships with an amazing cohort of fellow honours students. These relationships enhanced my undergraduate experience greatly. I credit my honours degree with influencing my decision to pursue a master’s degree next year. If you have a deep interest in a subject, consider taking an honours degree!
- You’re currently writing an honours thesis on how American security policies with Southeast Asian nations affect Chinese in the South China Sea territorial disputes. Lead us through how you selected your topic and the research process.
Ideally, the process of selecting a research topic for an honours thesis should begin in your third year. However, sometimes life hits you with a brick and plans don’t work out. This is likely to happen at the undergraduate level when your interests are constantly changing. Beginning in September of my final year, I completely changed my research topic. Originally, I chose to research media representations of foreign fighters and then switched to my current topic. As you can probably tell these topics are completely different from one another!
It’s extremely important to choose a topic that you are very interested in. If you don’t, it will be very difficult to sustain the energy required to complete the thesis in 8 months. I chose my topic by doing three things. Firstly, I asked myself which subfield in Political Science interested me the most. Next, I asked myself which topic within that subfield I found most intriguing. This part is quite difficult because you must choose something that isn’t too broad and can’t be completed, and one that isn’t too focused that you might have nothing to say. Thirdly, I started to read. I read books, articles, journals and news stories to help me continue to narrow down the topic to something manageable. Once I found a topic that was narrow enough, I was all set.
I divide the research process into three steps. Firstly, I begin by reading very broadly on my narrowed topic. I tend to start with news articles and online postings to get a sense of the material. Although many teachers criticize students who use Wikipedia, I believe it’s extremely useful. I wouldn’t recommend using Wikipedia as a source for your final project, but the information on its web pages provides succinct and thorough summaries of nearly every topic imaginable. I also find the references quite useful as they often cite useful books and academic journals that are relevant to the project.
After reading broadly, I identify particular areas of research that need to be completed. Some common questions I ask myself are: What is the historical background of my topic? Who are the major actors and players? Are there any parts of what I’ve read that interest me? From here, I transition to academic articles and books. I find books in libraries to be incredible resources for both broad overviews and narrowed analysis of topics. I take notes on these journal articles and write down major thoughts or ideas that popped into my head.
Next, I organize my thoughts into a coherent structure and identify gaps in research. I return to the library and online databases and research those specific areas. After this, I have all I need! I review everything I’ve researched and then the writing process begins!
- What do you consider to be the most pressing issue in international affairs right now?
I believe that the most pressing issue in international affairs is Middle Eastern insecurity and the absence of regional peace. Since the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the Middle East has failed to stabilize. The current refugee crisis highlights the international impact that the region’s problems can have on the rest of the world. The pressures on all states, the emergence of ISIS, and the terrorist attacks in Paris, Belgium, and African nations can be sourced back to conflict in the Middle East.
- You work part-time as a dietary aide, where you work with occupational therapists, rehab attendants, registered nurses and dieticians to provide nutritious meals to seniors. What lessons have you learned from this job?
In my job as a dietary aide, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is to remember that life should be about more than just school and work. As we grow older, our simple lives turn into complex ones. We have bills to pay, assignments to complete, and eventually, our own families.
My interactions and conversations with the elderly have taught me to cherish my youth and to take advantage of all the time I have.
- What has been the best experience of your undergraduate degree, thus far?
The best experience of my undergraduate degree has been courses taken in my fourth year. I dread classes with too many students because it’s extremely difficult to connect with the instructors, the students, and the course material. In small 10-12 person seminar classes, you can connect with each person and meaningful relationships are created. This is my final year, and these classes were reminiscent of my elementary school experience where I developed long-lasting friendships. My advice to everyone is to take a small seminar class! You won’t regret it!
Thank you for reading! As I mentioned previously, I recently got accepted into a master’s program at Carleton and the University of Ottawa. The application process has been long and daunting, so stay tuned for an upcoming NSN article in which I share advice on how to get into the graduate school and program of your dreams!
Want to ask Yany a question? Schedule a chat with him today! Yany is happy to provide advice on graduate studies admissions and pursuing political sciences through our free National Young Leader mentorship program.