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Rowan Laird

Like most undergraduates, I spent several dark moments in university questioning whether or not my degree was going to be truly worth it. Such doubts get even darker when you’re an Arts and Social Sciences major—the constant jokes about our lack of rigor and job opportunities get old, fast.

While I was studying History at Dalhousie, I always really resented those jokes. History students work hard, and nowhere is this more apparent than in our ability to write and research papers that are daunting in both scope and size. I like to say that History requires you “to know a lot about a lot,” because without lateral thinking and a deep knowledge base you’d be utterly lost in a mire of dubious conclusions.

In my final year of undergraduate studies I found myself worrying about what I was going to actually do after graduating. Law school was the obvious choice for someone as talkative and opinionated as me, but I also had a deep passion for working with communities in pursuit of the public good. Working in government was a real dream of mine; nothing makes me happier than helping others and truly being of service.

After a flurry of Googling, CV-updating, and begging for references (not to mention the always dreaded ‘phone interview’) I was privileged enough to land on my feet with the British Columbia Legislative Internship Program (BCLIP). Six months in duration, the program is open to B.C. residents with a recent degree from a Canadian university. Interns spend one month in a Ministry and four months working in caucus at the Legislative Assembly.

I spent one month at the Ministry of International Trade, where many of the people I worked with held history degrees, not finance or business degrees. (Surprise!) I wondered why this was, and here’s my conclusion: a liberal arts education teaches you to see connections quickly, and share those connections with others accessibly. I’m grateful that my Dalhousie degree enabled me to take courses in History, Sociology, languages, Philosophy and Biology; I left as a generalist, rather than a specialist. As the saying goes, I may be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none—but as the lesser-known conclusion of the rhyme posits, that’s “ofttimes better than master of one.”

I also spent four months working in Opposition Caucus, mainly researching public policy issues, legislation, and writing questions for Estimates (the provincial budgetary process). Once again, my degree had prepared me well; I was well-used to reading quickly, writing succinctly, and presenting all sides of an argument. 

I absolutely loved my time as a BCLIP intern, and I was lucky enough to have some incredible experiences as a result. I was a guest at Rideau Hall, and got to have an extended discussion with His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston. Elizabeth May (a fellow Dalhousie alumna) gave me and my fellow interns a personal tour of Parliament Hill. Current Speaker of the House the Hon. Geoff Regan (another Dal alumnus—are you seeing the pattern here?) gave us a personal tour of his chamber, complete with fascinating stories of the history the walls had seen—for example, the famous portrait of Winston Churchill scowling was captured in the Speaker's Chamber right here in Canada. We also had tea at Government House with the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Her Honour Judith Guichon—before Will and Kate did, I might add! 

So, to return to those jokes about an education in Arts and Social Sciences: they’re simply not true. Do what you love, and do it well. Surround yourself with good people. Work hard to see the connections and find meaning. Seek out mentors who inspire you. Read always, write often. You’ll find your way. 

As far as I know, I’m the only British Columbia Legislative Internship Program participant to date to hold a degree from Dalhousie University. Given Dal’s strong tradition of public service, as well as its emphasis on developing meaningful connections with faculty members, I believe it’s one of the best places in Canada to immerse yourself in big ideas while keeping your feet on the ground. I want to encourage other B.C.-based Dalhousie alumni to consider the British Columbia Legislative Internship Program. Sometimes an East Coast perspective is just what the West Coast needs! 

I am now studying for my MA in Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, but my undergraduate training and Dalhousie experience continues to influence me. When you’re used to dealing in centuries, you can afford to have a little extra patience and perspective—and that’s invaluable no matter what you choose to do in life.  

Rowan Laird
BA  2015 (Hons.) in History and Sociology, Dalhousie University/King’s College