Review of PS3240 – International Security

For other reviewed modules, check here.

(Alternate title: PS3240 – Welcome to hell, kid)

Introduction

I had heard horror stories of this module – insane amounts of readings (120 to 180 pages per week) and content covered, lots of work to do, but this module still seemed very interesting to me because of its nature. It seemed like a good foundation for someone interested in a broader perspective of security problems that was based, but not exclusively drawn from, international relations. And so despite misgivings about this module’s workload, I felt that interest in the content would be sufficient to get me through it relatively unscathed.

What I expected

I thought my friend who had done this module before was perhaps exaggerating when she mentioned that the readings averaged 150 pages per week. So I went in expecting about 100 pages a week, which I felt was tough but reasonably manageable. Also expected to see more about IR theories of war and other random stuff that impact security.

What I got

Haha, the stories were true.

sobs

But I’ll get to the workload later. Topics wise, they are VERY, VERY interesting. The Prof (Prof T.Lee) goes through in an extremely methodical fashion the causes, prosecution and termination of war, followed by a crash course in other forms of security threats such as the proliferation of drones and PMCs (Private Military Companies). Those looking for a more ecological slant (climate change related/caused threats) or a more tech feel (cyberthreats and cyberespionage impacting international security) won’t find those in this module however, but by and large it gives one a boost in their knowledge of traditional IR paradigms and how they explain war through their different theories. Also a solid foundation in the NTST (non-trad. security threats) studies, so..it’s pretty damn good.

[Webcasted?] Nope.

[Course Materials?] PDF readings, yay for saving money!

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Tutorial participation: 20%. Generally the format involves breaking up into smaller groups and the usual discussion + representative presentation of what group has discussed, but my tutor also included some roleplaying (somewhat like MUN) in one or two tutorials to add depth to our discussions. Preparing for the tutorials is an absolute must if one wants to be able to constructively and substantively contribute, otherwise one will be quickly overshadowed by others and can’t really do well for this component.
  2. Research Paper: 30%. Involving a ten page essay (including footnotes, however), there are varied questions to choose from and they offer sufficient breadth, but expect to do a shitload of research for your particular topic because the Prof will grade VERY harshly and he warned us of this in the first lecture as well. More on this in the tips section at the bottom, but at 30% it’s not something one can ignore.
  3. Finals: 50%. The big daddy, with half of your performance in this module being judged through a 2 hour examination where everyone else has had time to study through all the topics covered within the semester. The format is 10C5 ID questions worth 10 points each and 2C1 essay questions worth 50 points each, so one has to both know the key terminology used in the module as well as being able to give a very good analytical or argumentative essay with namedrop citations to theoretical arguments in order to do decently for this section.

Workload. Haha.

Ha.

The workload for this module is heavy. A lot heavier than other PS mods I’ve taken thus far, expect 120 to 150 pages every week as a minimum. There aren’t a lot of extra readings, but even within the mandatory readings, one can easily see 180 to 200 pages of reading on a weekly basis. Thankfully one of the endpoint weeks had a movie screening (Eye in The Sky is pretty cool) but yea, this module is most definitely not a cakewalk. Put aside at least three hours every week to plow through the readings: 3×40 pages for a total of 120 pages that CANNOT be skimmed through will be a good test of one’s ability to concentrate. But well, the content’s pretty damn cool so it makes up for the heavy workload somewhat.

Expected Grade

I only received my research paper’s grade a few days before my finals paper, so for most of the module all I could judge my grades on were my class participation. I don’t think it was too shabby so I was expecting a B+ or A- at best for this module if I didn’t screw it up. Closer to a B+ or a B when I ran into difficulties formulating a clear argument for my research paper, though, and so in the end I had rather low morale and would’ve been really happy with a B+.

Actual Grade

By golly God blessed me with a full A. The research paper that I had no idea where I was going with and actually thought it would score a flat B or a B+ at best came back to me with a short comment and a circled ‘A’, so I was like ‘Dafaq?’. And after finals were over, I wasn’t sure whether I had done my best for the essay question so I thought maybe an A- at best but I’m still pretty shocked that I got a full A for what I would consider to be my most difficult module thus far in my undergrad studies. TGBTG, TBIYTB ^^

Conclusion & Tips

This module’s tough on one’s time, but the depth of content and breadth covered is well worth it if you’re interested in the topics. Definitely something for every war-mongering or peace-loving IR student to consider, and we even had some from other faculties (engineering/biz/law I think) take this module because they had heard of its reputation and wanted to see what it was like (international law is also covered as one of the themes in this module). I’d say take this module and balance its workload out with other core/major modules that have a lighter workload, and one can possibly pray to get themselves through it (as I often ended up doing).

  1. For the essay: Consult, consult, consult. The Prof I consulted ripped into me during the two times that I had consulted him because he felt that I lacked a personal voice and also that I was fishing for answers by trying to find out what the boundaries of the essay were. Really harsh criticism and really strict and it’s the first time I’ve actually been torn two new ones, but it’s a great humbling experience and he really, REALLY knows his stuff as a military geek. Take whatever he says to heart because he does have your interests at heart – I ended up going back after the second consultation feeling demoralized that my essay’s direction was heading nowhere and had to rewrite half of my essay that had already been completed. It was a tough, tedious process, but I’d like to think it was the rethinking and rewriting (born of harsh constructive criticism) that improved the quality of my essay and got me a good grade for it.
  2. For the finals: Attend the last lecture, I can’t stress it enough. Some content is covered there, but the recommendations for what one should study will save one a lot of time when trying to decide how best to allocate their limited time in studying for this module. Spotting questions isn’t the way to go, but attending all lectures is.
  3. Keep up with the readings and ensure one has a really good grasp on the theories after the lectures are over. Without understanding the core assumptions, tenets and principles of every theory covered in the module, one might just get blindsided at the finals and end up quite regretful that they hadn’t studied more.

Click here for a preview of the materials I went through!

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5 thoughts on “Review of PS3240 – International Security

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