How to be a successful student? – Interview with Jonas Carinhas, alumni, who did both studies at the same time.
First time I met Jonas 3,5 years ago. Back then, I first was confronted with a difficult choice – go to study in Leiden the Security Studies or choose for the Safety and Security Management program in
Den Haag. To make the best choice, I contacted the faculty of the Security Studies, and they later sent me an e-mail stating that I could make an appointment with Jonas Carinhas who agreed to help me with my question. We met in a café on the campus of the Leiden University in Den Haag and over a cup of tea, I learned that Jonas is also a student in SSMS, doing both studies at the same time. It was like winning a lottery ticket. During the two hours, he told me about both courses, his experience, pros and cons, and that helped me to make the right choice.
Therefore, when a couple of weeks ago, Benjamin (President of the Centuria) suggested contacting Jonas for the interview – I knew that no-one could be better for this role.
Luckily, Jonas agreed to give an interview to me through the Zoom where I would ask him a couple of question – so here we go:
T: Why did you decide to commence with the second study in Leiden after your first year in THUAS?
J: Halfway through my first year of SSMS, teachers mentioned that Leiden University was also starting a security program. They thought it might be an interesting challenge for me since I was always looking for more stuff to do and had a lot of energy.
T: And was it really 'more challenging' in your opinion?
J: In the beginning, it was more of a copy-paste of what we had in SSMS. Before the first block was over I realized I was already looking for more electives to enroll in, so I decided to just continue with SSMS as well. The most striking difference is the amount of practice and real-life experience that you get in SSMS, compared to Leiden University. In Leiden, you do have group projects, but they rarely offer the opportunity to work with a client and when they do it's very limited, so you don't get any real work experience with a real client. But you get to write a lot more. Every week I had a deadline for something. You usually had a final exam and a paper to register for a course, at least. So yes, they make you write a lot, but you also get guidance on how to write and it will increase the quality of your papers. In SSMS, you get less intense guidance. In Leiden, they are really training you to a career in the academic world.
T: Do you think in Security Studies they have been stricter with grading the writing assignments?
J: Yes, in Leiden it happened a few times that I got, let's say 7 when I was expecting a much higher grade. When I would try to discuss my grade with the teacher so I know what to improve, they would often become really defensive and say that everything I need to know was discussed during the lectures. I quickly dropped the idea that I could graduate with honors. In THUAS it's different. Many teachers come from the professional world, and are more down to earth, meaning that you have much more freedom when writing a report and better chances of getting a good grade if you delivered a good product.
T: Where do you think you enjoyed studying more?
J: I always said that if I had to pick one, I would always choose SSMS. The things that I learned at Leiden were good to complement what I already knew from SSMS, and studying at Leiden was an exciting experience. Still, I missed the real-life projects and personal connections that you have in SSMS. Unfortunately, the Dutch system will have you believe that it's better if you graduate from a research university; it's not better, though, it's different. If I had to choose again – I would still go for SSMS. In Leiden, students are not ready to do real-life projects on their own. We only really got one real-life project at the end of the bachelor program, and the client wasn't really involved in the whole process. The experience that you get from SSMS is gold in this field. When you start with an internship, they expect you to know your stuff, to be able to work independently and SSMS prepares you for that.
T: Personally, when you started to work in the field, did the knowledge you got from SSMS was enough for you to feel confident and ready to work?
J: Definitely! I already did an internship in year three at TNO, and they really liked my work. I did much more than I initially was expected to do, which they were pleasantly surprised about. But it was really nice, and I felt prepared for it. I was there working almost independently, and I was the only intern that they had on the strategic level, even the first intern, so it was great. They treat you as a professional – because you are one! I could work on real things based on what I had learned to do during my first two years in SSMS. I feel that if I did it after Leiden, I wouldn't be so comfortable. They teach you this resourcefulness in SSMS. In the year three internship, I had to conduct lots of interviews, and I used everything they taught me in the Research Methods course. Also, during the internship, I felt like not only I had the resources, but also the network that could help me to fill the gap if it was needed. I felt confident talking to the Research Methods teacher when I needed to ask for advice from their personal experience, and sometimes we would have an hour-long discussion sharing tips on how I could do certain things. I could also always contact a teacher through email and get a quick reply to a question., and in Leiden, I didn't feel that I had that kind of support. Also, I knew that at SSMS if I wanted to go higher, to go beyond what's necessary, I would always get support from the teachers, and I really appreciated that. I could invest myself in projects and make the best of that opportunity without worrying that it would not fit a particular box and get me a bad grade.
T: Sounds amazing! By the way, what kind of support you get from the teaching staff in Leiden?
J: We have study advisors, people with whom you can to talk to if you didn't get enough credits, had problems with attendance or were struggling with your studies in any way. Also, every year, you have to create a study plan for that year, and if they have any concerns about it, they invite you for a talk and help you figure out how you can pull through. My study advisor was really cool, and we could talk about many things. Still, it's more a person who is helping students from different faculties at the same time. It's more about general student support and they'll back you up if you come into trouble. There were also mentors, who were usually around 24 to 26 years old, so they understood student issues quite well and treated us as equals. They often worked as our unofficial moderators with the professors if we were having issues with something, too, which helped a lot, especially since the program was brand new and had a lot of quirks. You could talk to them if you need advice or recommendations on a more individual level, but they had a lot of students under their care, so of course, their time was very limited.
T: What kind of skills you think you need before starting with an internship/traineeship you think?
J: I think many people focus too much on the content part, and that'snot really as necessary as you think it is. SSMS teaches you enough knowledge in your field and you don't have to worry about knowing everything to get started. Many professionals in the field right now didn't get the type of education you are getting now, they don't know what you know now; you always have something to share. But skills, yes, they will expect you to have a good work ethic. People who find themselves struggling to stay committed and contribute to a group project are going to struggle in a real-world environment. Find a way to enjoy the projects, find a way to be nice to work with, deliver things on time - that's what you need. If you want to learn new things and are ready to help out then the employer will want to hire you. They want to know that you are able to sit down and pick up some projects by yourself.
T: What would you recommend to people who would also like to do two studies at the same time? How did you manage it all?
J: Well, if someone wants to do two studies at the same time, they do have to really like studying, because it's going to be a full-time job, six days a week. If you are not the kind of person who consistently looks for challenges, is organized, and delivers work on time, I wouldn't recommend it. You have to learn to prioritize one thing over another. For example, I prioritized projects and everything that had mandatory attendance, because that's really difficult to schedule. If you leave the group projects to the end, you are screwed. But you have to say no to a lot of other things, fun things, for a long time. So, I think only if you are very ambitious, good with multitasking and always looking for extra challenges – then you can consider going for it. Ask your teachers, they'll be able to help you figure out if that is for you.
T: Did you happen to have exams in Leiden and THUAS at the same time?
J: No. That was great, actually. Leiden and SSMS have a slightly different schedule. I always had exams two-three weeks apart from each other. So, I still had time to study for both. It's really doable in that sense. If exams were at the same time, I wouldn't have been able to do that.
T: How did you study for the courses? What's your study strategy? Because I know that you were scoring very high, almost in all the subjects.
J: Reading. You need to be prepared to read a lot. Also, go to all the lectures, pay attention, take notes. Learn how to figure out which information is essential for exams and assignments. I used to study really meticulously and memorize everything, but with two studies you have to adjust your approach and start sorting the information. You have to be good at this to successfully manage two studies at the same time. From the Research Methods course, I learned tricks that really are helpful. SSMS is really gentle and charitable with this. You also have to be able to explain what you learned to another person. Study in small groups, talk about the material, ask for opinions - you will remember the material so much better this way. Use flashcards, you can do those on the train even. Study systematically, a little bit every day, then you never have to stress out. And sleep properly. Sleep enough, don't study the whole night. Stop on time. You'll remember it better the next morning. Exercise. Have fun.
T: To finalize our short interview, could you please name two pros and cons of both the Security studies program in Leiden and SSMS in THUAS?
J: Leiden University
+ Best environment if you want access to the most academic-focused research practice, and wish to follow a career in academia after completing the program
+ Best environment if you want extensive writing and reading practice, every week there is a deadline for these
- A more traditional connection with study staff, distant professors, but at least tutor-based support
- A shorter course drawing from fewer disciplines
+ Best environment if you want access to the most client-focused practical experience, and wish to work after completing the program or get professional experience before a masters
+ Best environment for a more casual connection with your peers and study staff, with an extensive network in different safety and security fields, and more support in finding internships and jobs
- The intensive group project-based approach can be a challenge for those not used to working in serious teams
- Despite new arrangements with Leiden University regarding the Crisis and Security Management masters, which allows some SSMS students to enroll in the masters directly, most of those who want to follow an academic career might have to do a pre-master.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Jonas again for agreeing on this interview – it was really great to talk to you! If you are like me and many other students struggle to make the best right choice – I hope that reading this article clarified some of your doubts and you know what to choose next. My choice was SSMS, and there was no day that I regretted it. Thank you for reading :)