Name: Sven Schirmer
Position Title: Policy Researcher
Workplace: Policy Horizons Canada (Horizons)
NPSIA cluster: Intelligence & National Security
Position obtained through the Carleton co-op process?: Yes
Undergrad school(s): Vancouver Island University
Undergrad major(s): Global Studies, Political Science & History
What is your commute to work like? My office is located right downtown on Albert and Kent, which is about a 35-minute, two-buses ride from my place in east Ottawa. While driving would be faster, the parking situation and a “free” semester pass made public transit the logical choice.
How would you describe the dress code at your work? Horizons has a very liberal dress code since it is a government internal shop. While it is officially business casual, jeans and polo shirts are wide-spread, or on hot days shorts, and not frowned upon at all. Occasionally someone even sports flip flops. I personally think that the “dress to impress” and “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” notions are important, especially for co-op students, but full suit and tie are a bit overkill (unless you are doing an external engagement). So, jeans and polo was the most casual outfit I dared to wear all summer.
Are there many other NPSIAns at your workplace? Yes, there were three of us NPSIANs in total.
What are the lunch options like nearby your work? Being downtown definitely has its advantages when it comes to lunch as there are plenty of options around, but its less good for your wallet if you are not disciplined enough to bring your own lunch every day.
How many jobs did you apply to this summer? I applied for seven jobs that resulted in two interviews.
What is your favourite part about your job? My co-workers and the atmosphere at Horizons. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, and your opinions and views are valued and incorporated into the projects.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Staying focused on the area I am scanning in (for potential disruptive change) because there are so many…. Oh look! Squirrel!
What is an average day like for you? My day usually starts between 7:30am and 7:45am, depending on whether I catch my first bus or not, and I spend a good portion of my day scanning the news, tech sites, etc. for signals of change that could have an impact for policy making in the area/topic I am working on. We have quite a few meetings throughout the week as well as ad-hoc working groups for our projects. Friday mornings from 9:30-11:00am is our weekly Weak Signals Scanning Session in which analysts present the coolest of the cool stuff we find during the week.
Is your workplace fully bilingual, or does it favour English over French (or vice versa)? Most people are bilingual, but it is not officially bilingual and English is the more dominant language.
What are some exciting things happening in your workplace right now? The four studies Horizons is currently doing, as well as external engagements with various departments across the federal government.
What surprised you the most about your workplace/position? How truly amazing the work is that Horizons is doing.
Are you also taking classes (NPSIA, language training, etc.) and/or studying abroad this summer? I took one night class, National Security Policy and Law with Prof. Jeffrey Smith, which I can highly recommend to anyone thinking about taking a summer course next year.
Which NPSIA course best-prepared you for your position? Professor Wilner’s Strategic Foresight class. He teaches you the basic building blocks, methodology, language, and tools required to succeed in this position from day one. The course essentially eliminated a two week learning curve that others had to go through and allowed me to jump right into it.
What sort of work experience did you have before this position? I used to work in tourism for three years in between my BA and my MA, and the cultural and social interactions with people from around the world comes in handy.
What are your hours like? I am able to make my own hours, as long as I work 7.5 hours between 6am and 6pm. I try to be in the office between 7:30am and 7:45am every day, so I can go home between 3:30pm and 4:00pm and enjoy some of the summer (or to go to class). Nobody was in before 7:30am, most people showed up between 8am and 10am.
What is some advice you’d give to a student hoping to get hired/intern at your workplace? Take the foresight class, have an open mind, be a generalist, creative and forward-thinking. And be prepared to read and write a lot.
Anything else to add? Probably the best job I have ever had.