#ElliottProud: Matej Siget

#ElliottProud: Matej Siget

Matej Siget is a recent graduate of the Elliott School where he obtained an M.A. in International Science and Technology Policy. He previously received his B.A. in International Affairs from Matej Bel University, Slovakia, and M.A. in the same field from St. Petersburg State University, Russia.

At GW, Matej focused on the topic of space policy and diplomacy at the Space Policy Institute. After several internships in both public (EUMETSAT) and private (ICE Cubes Service) space sectors, he currently works as a consultant for the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and supports the Office’s activities in the field of capacity building in space law. Matej has a passion for history, winter sports, and is a passionate traveler – his ultimate goal in life is to visit every country in the world.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you choose the Elliott School?

From a young age, I was interested in global politics and diplomacy, which I always considered a form of art. The decision to focus on international affairs thus came naturally and I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in this field.

During my previous graduate studies at St. Petersburg State University, I decided to focus my thesis on so-called space diplomacy and its role in the application of state power. This allowed me to see the important role space activities play not only in the advancement of our knowledge but also in achieving the foreign policy goals of individual states. I immediately found a great interest in this fascinating and still rather emerging topic.

I could’ve tried to look for space-related jobs with my previous education but I was eager to broaden my horizons and be prepared for my professional life in the best way possible. Since my goal was to attend a reputable university with strong research activity, I quickly came across the Space Policy Institute and the M.A. program in International Science and Technology Policy. What made the decision to apply even easier was the broader focus of the M.A. program. I really appreciate that it gives students the ability to become experts not only in their specific areas but trains them to become competent in understanding a wide range of S&T policy issues. Finally, I can’t overemphasize enough how great it is to learn about policymaking in Washington, D.C., where all the interesting stuff happens.  

Where do you currently work and how does it fit in with your career goals?

Since my first semester at the Elliott School, my goal was to effectively combine theoretical knowledge with invaluable practical experience in order to become best prepared for my professional life. Over the five semesters at GW, I had the opportunity to intern in both public and private space sectors and get familiar with various aspects of space policy, law, and strategy. The last internship of my graduate studies was at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which is a dedicated UN Office focusing on enhancing international cooperation in space matters and international space law. 

Like many international affairs students, I have always wondered how it is to work for such a crucial organization as the UN, where the whole world meets and discusses critical issues. And I must say, being given the opportunity to utilize your skills and knowledge for the benefit of the whole of mankind is a great feeling.  I’m proud to say I was offered a consultancy position at UNOOSA right after graduating from GW. Currently, I work on a capacity-building project in space law, focusing namely on helping emerging space nations to develop and amend their domestic legislative frameworks concerning space activities. Because I come from Slovakia (also an emerging space nation), I find this to be a unique opportunity to gather skills and expertise to eventually help my home country in the future.

What tools and strategies proved most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?

In my opinion, the key is to know what you want to achieve personally and professionally in both the short-term and long-term. If you know what your goals are, it is much easier to be able to prioritize things, plan your activities and maximize your time at Elliott School. Particularly prioritization is important – grad school offers so many opportunities that it is easy to get lost in your own calendar.

It is very important to create good relationships with your professors – they are not only your teachers but can become your mentors or even friends. Having a simple conversation after the class or exchanging emails about some particular topic could turn very useful and rewarding.

I’d also say that is great to get to know individual research institutes at the Elliott School – the research they do is extensive and very interesting. These institutes regularly organize various events – this is a great opportunity for students to not only broaden their horizons and possibly challenge existing concepts but also to connect with fellow students at Elliott School and professionals/academics from various fields.

One important thing I’d like to mention is that choosing electives should be taken seriously if students want to maximize their time at Elliott – many electives can expand your knowledge within your specialization. Yet, you also have the opportunity to take classes that are slightly further from your field but could turn out to be very beneficial for your future.

What advice do you have for students for staying motivated at work or in class?

Most of my studies took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and I spent two semesters studying from home (in a +6 time zone). Staying motivated was certainly a challenge!

I would once again say that the key is to know your goals and dreams and dedicate your efforts towards their realization. It will not always be easy but focusing on the bigger picture makes it easier to overcome the feelings when you find yourself unmotivated or feeling down. Of course, there will be moments when you won’t feel like thinking about school or work at all. This is natural and happens to everyone. 

I’m sure I don’t have to overemphasize this – it is very important to spend enough time with friends and family. Also, one should travel – it is great for mental health to change your surroundings from time to time (there are so many amazing places for day trips around Washington!) I, personally, was trying to travel home to Slovakia every time I had the opportunity. And after spending just a few days at home surrounded by lifelong friends and family, I was returning to classes with much more energy and motivation.

Also, particularly during the pandemic, what helped to keep focused on both studies and work was the Lerner Health & Wellness Center. I was really happy to add some new activity into my ypical daily routine and I actually started to enjoy exercise for the first time in my life!

What was your most memorable experience while studying at the Elliott School?

I had so many great and memorable experiences throughout my time at the Elliott School – from learning something totally unexpected in a class, to meeting successful and inspiring people on weekly basis. If I had to choose one event, however, I would pick the recent commencement. Sitting on the National Mall with other fellow students and family who share your happiness in a job well done was magical. Considering also the inspirational keynote speech of Elana Meyers Taylor, it was a truly memorable experience indeed.

It was the moment I felt rewarded for all those sleepless nights when I couldn’t go out with my friends because I had to work on a paper or do my readings. The commencement made eager to utilize everything I learned at the Elliott School throughout my studies – what a great motivation boost before embarking on a career journey. It was the perfect ending to a great and fulfilling journey I had at the Elliott School.

What is one book you think everyone should read and why?

This might sound like a cliché, but the book which had a tremendous impact on me was Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I was 14 years old when I read the book for the very first time and it resonated with me for a very long time. My parents and grandparents were born in a totalitarian system so to a certain extent, the book helped young me to get an idea how different ordinary life must’ve been for them. Of course, the regime in Czechoslovakia was far less strict than the one in dystopian Oceania, but the attack on the individuality of people was something communism did very effectively.

Why do I think everyone should read the book? Put simply, the story allows everyone to see and feel for themselves what totalitarian regimes can do with the human psyche and human nature – and how difficult it would be to resist. Although Orwell based his two novels on his experience with fascism and Stalinism, his critique is portrayed timelessly and universally. I think that in an age of an increasing number of authoritarian regimes and disinformation around us, the book is ever more actual than ever. It is a terrifying memento for humanity about the path authoritarian regimes can lead us to.

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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.