#WeAreElliott: Aaron Irion

#WeAreElliott: Aaron Irion

Aaron Irion, M.A. in International Affairs, 2023, #WeAreElliott
Aaron Irion is a second-year Masters student at the Elliott School, where he studies International Affairs and U.S. Foreign Policy. He received his Bachelors degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Montana in 2019. He is currently a Research Specialist at the Illiberalism Studies Program where he researches and writes about populism, illiberalism, and the far-right. He previously worked in politics, as the Deputy Operations Director on a U.S. Senate race in 2020 and at the Montana House of Representatives and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. He also interned at the U.S. Embassy in Malta in 2018. He is interested in political economy and the political-economic roots of international relations, and hopes to work at a think tank upon graduation. He loves reading, travel, coffee, and food and is impatiently waiting for his first trip abroad since the pandemic.

When did you realize you wanted an international career? What led you to choose the Elliott School?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but from a very early age I was interested in international affairs. When I reflect on the events that informed my politics and trajectory, they are almost all international-adjacent. The U.S.-led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the U.S. actions in Libya and Syria were formative for me, as was the 2008 financial crisis which had its own international repercussions. I studied International Relations as an undergraduate and interned for the U.S. State Department and my interest never wavered. I chose the Elliott School because I appreciated the immense talent of its professors and faculty, and was drawn to how much freedom and flexibility the different programs at Elliott offered. I have somewhat multifarious interests, but I knew I would be able to pursue them all at the Elliott School without sacrificing. Additionally, I knew its reputation and D.C. location would open professional doors for me.

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

I’m currently a Research Specialist at the Illiberalism Studies Program (ISP), housed at GW’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian studies. It’s a wonderful opportunity. I occasionally get to write and publish under my own name, as well as conduct research with amazing scholars. The program’s director, Dr. Marlene Laruelle, is brilliant and a mentor. I recommend her classes to everyone at GW. My work at the Program is a great opportunity to build a valuable skill-set that will help me in my career. Having publications under your belt is always an advantage in D.C. and having a track record of deep, relevant, meaningful, research is also a résumé booster. After graduation, I would like to work at a think tank and I know the skills I’ve gained in my role at ISP will aid me in that pursuit. Moreover, I’ve learned so much from my research, which is a benefit in and of itself.

What has been your most rewarding academic experience at the Elliott School and why?

My most rewarding academic experience is probably the work I’ve done at the Illiberalism Studies Program, for a few reasons. For one, the fact that I work at ISP at all is because I wrote a paper in Dr. Marlene Laruelle’s Populism and Illiberalism class that she liked enough to publish on the Program’s website. That alone felt good, but the experience spiraled into a conversation that ended with me working for her at the Program. It was rewarding not just because it feels good to have your work noticed, but also because it helped with my imposter syndrome. The Elliott School is full of really incredible people, from amazing and diverse backgrounds. I’m a relatively confident person, but I’m also a working-class kid from a flyover state who went to a public university that most people haven’t heard of. Imposter syndrome affects us all and having one experience that boosts your confidence can really curb your self-doubts and make you remember that you belong here, which is how we should all feel!

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time vs. part-time student at the Elliott School.

I’ll start with the cons, but only because the list is short. Being a full-time student means you have less time to explore professional opportunities, to have a vibrant social life, etc. and that is a con. However, in my experience, it is not too severe. Because all classes at the Elliott School are offered in the evening, it is absolutely possible to work while attending classes full-time. This is a pro and helps mitigate the natural trade-offs involved in attending graduate school full-time. Another pro is the opportunities at the Elliott School itself. There is always an event, a webinar, a panel, etc. going on, and having the opportunity to attend them is truly a pro. They are so insightful and interesting and I can’t recommend them enough. On that note, another pro of being a student at Elliott is the community. There is a vibrant community at the Elliott School (and GW more broadly) and it makes it a really welcoming place, especially if you’re new to D.C. It is hard to move somewhere and not know anyone, but Elliott has built a strong community infrastructure that will make you feel welcome.

What advice do you have for incoming students who are starting to think about internship and work opportunities?

Take the leap. It can be scary, but if you’re interested in an opportunity make sure you do everything you can to pursue it. I’ve swung Twitter DMs and one-off emails into internships, jobs, and publications and you can too. Most people in D.C. are receptive to that kind of thing because they were once in your shoes. So, if you really want an internship or job, submit an application, do all that stuff, but also connect with someone who already works there and make yourself stand out. Get in touch however you can. That being said, make friends, not LinkedIn connections. What I mean by that is stop thinking about networking as such, and just make friends in D.C. There are so many interesting people here, and you’re bound to meet lots of them. After a while, you’ll have met lots of people with similar interests and that will open many, many doors for you. Lastly, your physical and mental health is more important than the bullet points on your résumé. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you reasonably can, but not too many.

What are 3 books everyone should read and why?

a. It’s cheating to list two books as one, but they really go together. Vladislav Zubok’s A Failed Empire and Collapse inadvertently explain so much about Russia’s war in Ukraine today, by way of explaining the Soviet Union and its demise.

b. Ghost Wars by Steve Coll explores U.S. support for the mujahideen in 1980s Afghanistan and its consequences. As the U.S. stumbles towards a new Cold War with Russia and China, I’ve been thinking a lot about the actions we may take, and the price we may pay.

c. Finally, a fun, non-academic, non-political one. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s long, but fun and compelling, and will make you remember what the important things in life are.

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The #WeAreElliott 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.