Alumni profile - Bilal Khan
Studying politics at Queen Mary gave me the opportunity to further research and understand how politics influences economic decision-making, and further piqued my career interests of becoming a political figure.
What influenced your decision to study Politics at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind? I’ve always been interested in politics from a young age, as my father has worked in and around local government for 25+ years. We would always talk about politics, which led me to picking it as an A-level. It was then when I developed a greater appreciation of politics and, more importantly, a political connection to a political party. My A-level result showed this, as I achieved within the top 1% of students in the borough for Government and Politics. This really motivated me to pursue my passion and study Politics as a degree.
Picking Queen Mary was the easy choice. My uncle studied at the university back when it was called Queen Mary College, and really sold me on the teaching, reputation and nightlife as a Queen Mary student. When I came for a visit, I liked the make-up of the campus – especially how everything was close together and the accommodation was all on campus.
I always wanted to pursue a career in political economy. Studying politics at Queen Mary gave me the opportunity to further research and understand how politics influences economic decision-making, and further piqued my career interests of becoming a political figure. Also, the modules throughout the degree spoke for themselves, covering many angles, phenomena and personal interests of mine that I couldn’t wait to explore.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you enjoy learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I really enjoyed the entire program. There were a wide range of modules to pick from, each covering a particular area of politics, some of which provided amazing opportunities for us. I personally felt that British Politics, Global Governance, Globalisation, and Parliamentary Studies were all very well taught and knowledgeable modules.
During the first semester of my final year, when I studied Parliamentary Studies, I had to carry out a research project that involved contacting MPs which was very insightful and provided an opportunity to intern in Parliament for an MP. Fortunately, I was selected by an MP and this covered 60 credits of my final year, making my path to graduation much simpler. My experience as an intern was the best of my life; I loved the environment, the people I worked with and the tasks I was set. Picking Parliamentary Studies as a module was the best decision I ever made, and I will forever be grateful to Professor Tim Bale and Queen Mary for the opportunity. I was most surprised about how well-connected the university was with parliamentarians, and how our lecturers were closely associated with MP’s and political parties. There was also the ‘in-conversation’ series hosted by Phil Cowley, where many political figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Bercow, would come in and engage with a live audience – which was a pleasant surprise as it gave passionate students like myself the platform to ask and learn from important people in our field as well as critique them on certain political views.
You did a few internships while you were studying. Can you talk about how you got into these roles and what they were like? I did a Parliamentary Internship for a Member of Parliament and worked as his Parliamentary Researcher. I, alongside a friend of mine from Queen Mary, were selected by the same MP and worked in the same office. This internship was in collaboration with the university, and due to the connections of Professor Tim Bale. I emailed the MP and explained the modular scheme that my department was hosting, alongside my CV and Cover Letter and later received a successful invite. Working in Parliament was challenging but very exciting. I had the privilege to meet, learn and connect with many successful people and at the same time get valuable insight into how public affairs is run. I really enjoyed the office environment where senior researchers, and the MP himself, were extremely welcoming, supportive and inclusive throughout. Also, the nature of tasks was exhilarating and having the opportunity to organise and execute my own project gave me a real idea of what working for an MP in the House of Commons is like. I’ve also worked in other fields, such as law and banking – which I enjoyed but I didn’t have the same passion for. These were more straightforward to get into, with application procedures for banking and a connection for the law placement.
What advice would you give to current students interested in getting internships? What I’d recommend to any students looking for internships, is to get involved as much as you can with career fairs, university societies, events and all other networking opportunities. I would advise you to do your research about your career choice and ask people already in that field, what they do and the everyday nature of their role. A perfect place to start is LinkedIn – I’ve met so many connections purely from asking questions and really showing an interest in other people’s careers. Also, a lot of companies offer Spring Weeks in the summer of your first year – this is something I wish I had done, where you’re given an opportunity to intern in a large company for a week and if you impress, you’re offered a summer internship the following year.
If you’re interested in politics specifically; I’d get in touch with your local MP, kindly requesting experience in their parliamentary or constituency office (as most MPs are very happy to offer their constituents experience in their offices and usually encourage it on their websites), contact your lecturers and course organisers, who are usually very connected with people in parliamentary positions, and lastly – look for volunteering work in closely related fields such as journalism or local campaigning – these often lead to bigger and better placements and always make your profile look much more proactive when applying for bigger roles.
Ultimately, any experience is better than no experience and any skills you learn working or volunteering, are usually transferable and applicable to future roles.
Following your BA, you studied for an MSc in International Public Policy at UCL. How did postgraduate study differ to undergraduate study? Was it an easy transition for you? Postgraduate was a different challenge to undergraduate. It differed majorly, as I had transitioned from a heavily politics-related BA to a more economically related Masters. I enjoyed my course at UCL, I had the freedom to learn both about politics and economics – which was closely aligned to the career choice I’ve always wanted to pursue. There were challenging modules such as Quantitative Research Analysis, a predominantly maths and statistics related module – a course that really triggered a new way of thinking and analysing for me. PG is also more specific than UG – once you graduate with a Masters, you are now a specialised academic in that field and it really does open up many more avenues for you. Furthermore, the teaching is more advanced, thus the assessments require a greater deal of focus, interpretation and analysis.
You’re now an incoming Civil Servant for the Department of Health and Social Care. What will this role involve? Yes. By the time this is published, I would’ve started my new role. I am a Civil Servant for the Department of Health and Social Care which also works closely with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. My role in particular, is working on the EU and Trade Directorate focusing on our Brexit Deal as well as Britain’s Health and Business moving forward.
It is absolutely vital that we secure our long-term future post-Brexit, and I am very committed to working with the Government and the Civil Service to develop the best-devised strategy regarding health, now more importantly than ever, to protect our health services and ensure we are fully prepared for a second wave of coronavirus, if it were to arise.
What are your hopes and plans for your career going forwards? I hope, like many other politics students and lovers do, to one day become an MP for the area I’ve grown up in. But I’ve really felt welcome here at the Civil Service and I would love to further develop my career here. I would love to work my way up, and eventually become a senior civil servant advising the Cabinet Office directly. The diversity in the Civil Service is clear and growing, the nature of projects is phenomenal and the direct exposure to political decision-making is everything I studied for. Looking ahead into the future, I really believe the Civil Service is the optimal place for me to develop my skills and qualities as a political leader. Quite recently, Simon Case (another Queen Mary alumnus) accepted a new role as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service – this is quite literally an ideal career path and I hope to replicate similar success to him.
Looking back, how did your time and study at Queen Mary help prepare you for your career? Aside from political knowledge, working on assessments and meeting deadlines really helped me develop time-management and organisational skills. As well as this, the dissertation process really polished my analytical skills and my ability to conduct extensive research to fit into a specific literature.
Getting involved with the Mile End Insititute was very helpful. Constructing a job add for a role in Parliament and of course, working in Parliament was extremely beneficial and during the dissertation period, my one-on-one supervision by James Strong was crucial. I have thanked James for his commitment to my learning and his consistency in improving my writing ability to transition from writing 3,000-word pieces to constructing a well-analysed 12,000 word research project. His constructive criticism and feedback on my initial writing style completely changed the way I write and improved the clarity of my work. The academics at Queen Mary, and, in particular, the School of Politics and International Relations, deserve immense credit for making the degree productive and well-preparing me for a career in politics.
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments or favourite places on campus? Firstly, I really loved the diversity at Queen Mary. Secondly, any time you entered the ground floor library, you’d see many familiar faces and many new ones too. Anyone that knew me well, knew that the Queen Mary library was, by far, my favourite place on campus. Each floor brought something new to it and you could always find help from others if you ever needed it.
I have many memories at Queen Mary as I saw myself grow from a young man in year one, to a grown graduate by my final year. My favourite moment has to be when my friends and I all submitted our dissertations that we had worked on non-stop for months, doing all-nighters almost every day. We had just submitted after spending 36 hours in the library, and we thought we’d revisit the silent area on the second floor (where we had written the majority of our dissertations) and cause a loud but amusing scene. All four of us celebrated our submissions, thinking we would anger many hard-working students around us, only to hear a round of applause from many other Queen Mary students who were still working in silence preparing for exams and assessments. It wasn’t the reaction we anticipated, but it was an amazing gesture from other students and really the icing on the cake. That had to be my most memorable moment during my three years at Queen Mary. I’m even smiling now as I write this.
What would your advice be to students interested in studying Politics at Queen Mary? My advice for any students that wish to study Politics at Queen Mary is, go for it. Queen Mary is a top Russell Group university, one with a highly rated politics department. There is much more to offer than just a degree; there are opportunities to network, grow and secure a long-term career during your time at the university.
When you choose Queen Mary, make the most of the teaching and all the extra events that are around campus. The people you meet are phenomenal. I’ve met many long-term friends, some that I now consider as family. But, most importantly - have fun. Go to Drapers with your friends (occasionally and only once your deadlines have been met), grab a coffee from The Ground Café (I’d recommend a white chocolate mocha), spend some time by the canal (don’t jump in) and try some of the imported sweets at the village shop (I’d recommend the Mike & Ikes candy).
Also, I know that it will be challenging and there will be stressful periods where you have many things to do at once – but I can assure you that these are the moments that make you as an individual. Your time spent at university will be the best time of your life – so enjoy it!
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Bilal or engage him in your work, please contact Nathalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.