Helia I. Hock is an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense, working on Middle East issues. Prior to her government service, she held positions at several think tanks in Washington, DC, including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, U.S. Institute of Peace, and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). At her last position at CFR, Hock served as associate director of the Center for Preventive Action, focusing on U.S. efforts to mitigate global conflicts and prevent future mass atrocities. She is fluent in Persian (Farsi) and Italian, and has studied Arabic. She received her MA in Middle East Studies from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her BA in political science from the University of California, Irvine.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
I have wanted to work on international issues from a young age. Growing up in California, I didn’t feel that there were as many international opportunities to connect to the rest of the world, which felt pretty isolating at times. During my summer internship at the National Archives in 2008, I began to actively explore international opportunities outside of my home state following graduation. My search quickly led me back to DC. I felt that by pursuing a Master’s degree at Elliott School, I could gain the requisite knowledge and skills, simultaneously intern to get practical experience, and eventually work on global issues after I graduated—which luckily is the way things worked out.
Describe your current position and what new skills have you developed since starting?
I currently serve as an analyst on Middle East issues at the U.S. Department of Defense, where I continue to sharpen my research skills and deepen my political and social knowledge of the region that I love. A lot has changed in the region since I was in graduate school nearly a decade ago. To put in some context, the Arab Uprisings were just beginning to unfold. Since graduation from GW, I have learned to hold things in perspective and think both historically and presently about unfolding events. In recent years, I also underwent a career transition when I switched from working in private sector for a think tank to working as a civilian for the U.S. government/military. I had to be flexible and quickly adapt my writing and speaking skills to meet different customers’ unique needs.
What part of your experience at the Elliott School best prepared you for your current position?
The supportive faculty in the Institute for Middle East Studies, as well as many of the courses I took at the Elliott School helped prepare me for my current position. Some that jump out in particular are Rhea Siers’s course on “Intelligence Agencies of the Middle East” and Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm’s course on “The Role of an Embassy in the Conduct of Foreign Policy.” I thought both of these classes did a great job at walking through different scenarios that could arise between the United States and foreign governments, while also providing helpful overviews of different government positions and institutions.
What advice do you have for prospective students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in international relations?
I would highly recommend having a regional focus, either formally or informally. Some think that this can pigeon-hole you into a specific type of job after you graduate. However, I think that it can provide a greater advantage of having subject matter expertise—and you can always later transition to other regional/thematic areas of interest. Bonus points for mastering a language, even if you don’t use it as a regular part of your current/future job. You never know when it can come in handy or provide you with an edge over someone else.
How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?
It’s not the worst thing in the world, but I probably would not go out of my way to have it (since I’d also want to pick off the ham that usually accompanies it). Nothing beats Margherita.
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.