Master’s graduate credits political science program for winning policy advisor job

October 22, 2020

Steven Nuss did not initially consider himself to be “a numbers guy” and had serious concerns about taking statistics and quantitative methods courses. Even so, before graduating with a Master of Arts in political science this fall, Nuss landed a job as a policy advisor with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce where, in addition to other responsibilities, he analyzes both qualitiative and quantitative data to help inform the Chamber’s advocacy efforts (for public policies that support the Calgary business community) to all orders of government and different external stakeholders.

“My time at SFU in the graduate program was directly responsible for me getting this job,” Nuss says. “The research experience I had at SFU—through my courses, research assistantships and ongoing work with Professor Mark Pickup—gave me the skillset to be successful.” 

Nuss cited a quantitative research methods course he took with Pickup that helped him develop a skillset that includes critical thinking, information synthesis, and how to collect and analyze empirical evidence. He also credits his coursework, research, and teaching assistant (TA) placements with developing a strong understanding of empirical research design, something he credits with both helping him complete his program and allowing him to make contributions to his current role.

After earning his Bachelor of Arts (Honours – First Class) from the University of Calgary in 2017, Nuss chose to attend SFU because he wanted to work with Pickup on political behaviour, his main research focus.

“During the the application process, the faculty in the Department made me feel like a person, compared to an application number,” he says. “They were interested in who I was, and really wanted to know what research areas I was interested in.”

In his three years in the graduate program, in addition to the program requirements, Nuss found his love of education and teaching continued through his TA positions. A self-described “big extrovert”, he loved standing at the front of the class.

“In addition to telling the odd joke, I loved helping students achieve ‘lightbulb’ moments where they didn’t understand something, but then you were able to explain it so that they understood it. It’s such a wonderful and rewarding feeling,” he says.

Last summer, Nuss defended his thesis, Is Donald Trump a Trendsetter for Canadians? The Effect of Trump and National Identity on Support for Immigration, in front of a large online audience. His research finds that anglophone Canadians view President Trump as a trendsetter; a risk-taker who disregards social norms. At the same time, Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric does not influence Canadians’ views toward immigrants, but that language about Canadian national identity does.

“The results from my research and other empirical work show that Canadians continue to believe that part of their national identity is multiculturalism and welcoming immigrants, and that this actually matters for Canadians’ political behaviour—it moves people,” says Nuss.

He acknowledges that more questions remain about both Trump’s influence in Canada and Canadian identity generally.

Nuss is undecided about pursuing a PhD, and is currently rolling his Master’s project into a larger research project he is working on with Pickup and scholars at other universities.

When asked about advice for current students, Nuss says, “don’t limit yourself. You can learn the skills you need to study the things you’re interested in.”