Alumni perspectives: Frederik Traut (MIA 2017)

MIA graduate and current PhD researcher answers a few questions ahead of today’s virtual coffee chat.

Frederik Traut was part of the first cohort of Master of International Affairs students at the Hertie School, where he specialised in international trade and finance and graduated from the programme in 2017. Frederik worked as an advisor to members of the German parliament and is currently pursuing his PhD at the Hertie School. Ahead of the virtual alumni coffee chat scheduled today at 6:00 pm CEST, Frederik answered a few questions about his experience at the Hertie School and beyond.

What have you been doing since you graduated from the Hertie School?

I started doing my PhD in political economics at Hertie right after graduating from the MIA programme in 2017. Besides that, I have been working as a parliamentary advisor to two MPs for some time before I fully focused on my PhD. There I worked on European economic governance and related topics such as ECB monetary policy and Brexit. I also wrote speeches and prepared publications for MPs.

Why did you choose the MIA programme?

In 2015, I had just decided to leave a PhD programme in economics in Bonn because I saw too little possibility to work on practical problems there. I wanted to move the focus of my education a bit away from theoretical economics towards the more applied aspects of the field, and Hertie offered the opportunity to do exactly that. I originally applied for the MPP, but one of my letters of recommendation was handed in late and there were no spots left in that year. I had to choose whether to join the newly created MIA programme or to wait one more year. Actually, the MIA turned out to be a good fit because I could focus on applied international economics while also getting some insights into international politics, which is what I was always interested in.

What was your favourite course and why?

A number of courses were really great such as European Economic Governance with Mark Hallerberg, International Organisations with Nina Hall, or History of Economic Thought with Robert Lepenies. But my favourite one certainly was Economic Order and Law: Contested Traditions with Christian Joerges. This class was basically a discussion group about the tensions between law and economics in different historical and current settings. I learned a lot about different, less well-known traditions of thinking about economic policy. The best thing was that Christian facilitated the discussion but participated in them as if he were a student, and everyone contributed thoughts based on their experiences. This way, our discussions in class were as open as if one would discuss with a couple of friends, which I liked a lot. 

Why did you decide to do a PhD after the MIA?

Doing a PhD gives you room to develop your own project. You are more like a freelancer but you have some guidance and supervisors you can rely on – which was quite appealing to me. As a child of the financial crisis years, I was also always interested in the intersection between banking and politics and wanted to learn more about that. If you’re really into a certain topic, a PhD is a great option to learn more about it in more detail than any course could teach you. The PhD also enables me to continue teaching economics, which I enjoy a lot.

What advice would you give to incoming students interested in working in and around German politics?

Trust is more important than competence. This sounds bad but it’s actually pretty obvious: if you’re not trustworthy, you can be extraordinarily skilled but people can’t trust what you do with that. Hence, it’s most important to be a reliable, trustworthy person and to show that to others so that they can decide to rely on you for advice or as a key employee. A good way to get started is to work as a student assistant even if the tasks in these positions might not be that interesting. Unfortunately, almost everything in German politics is in German – there are barely any opportunities for non-German speakers to work in German politics directly (this means for MPs, ministries, etc.) but think tanks and similar organisations might offer jobs for people with relatively basic German skills.

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