Alva Nilsson

From International Master's Programme to employment

Alva Nilsson studied the international master's programme War and Defence

A bachelor's thesis in political science at Stockholm University opened her eyes to the field of security. This led Alva Nilsson to the Swedish Defence University's international master's programme in War Studies: War and Defence.

Before the master's programme in War and Defence, Alva Nilsson had studied for a bachelor's degree in political science at Stockholm University. She considered applying to the master's degree at the Swedish Defence University, but when she completed her bachelor's in January, she had to wait six months for the new term to start. S,o she squeezed in an advanced course in political science just to get a feel for the atmosphere here.

"I got a good feeling, and applied to the master's programme. And that's the path I took," she says.

The international situation sparked an interest in security

Alva explains that it was the global situation that made it clear to her how important the field of security is.

"My first in-depth study was my bachelor's thesis on cybersecurity. And once I developed an interest in security and crisis management, it was natural to look into the Swedish Defence University. Everyone studying and working here is interested in the same thing, but from different perspectives."

Describe your first impression of the master's program.

"It immediately felt more serious and advanced. You had to 'step up,' and everyone I studied with was so knowledgeable. Everything was simply at a higher level, and more serious."

"I appreciate the teachers' experiences"

Even after she completed her education, she finds it impressive that all the teachers have extensive resumes with significant experiences and published research articles in their fields.

"The teachers have a very strong interest in both their subjects and in teaching it to us. Maybe that happens when you are in a smaller class at a smaller institution and program? It makes a difference. Anyway, I experience a different kind of contact than in previous studies, and there is more time and space to ask questions and discuss texts."

Interested in civil-military relations

During the second semester of the master's programme, which included four elective courses, she studied civil-military relations, focusing on the USA and developing countries.

"That's when I got my idea for the thesis, but I became interested in looking at civil-military relations in Sweden. The fact that we joined NATO during the time of my master's thesis was a clear sign that the relationship had changed."

Choosing the topic proved to be a challenge.

"There wasn't much written on the subject. At the same time, it became clear what the thesis was supposed to achieve. We need to find a knowledge gap and fill it."

Alva looked at the government's relationship with the Swedish Armed Forces by analyzing publications from governments and the Ministry of Defence. She examined the demands they had made, and how the Armed Forces had met these demands.

"I conducted a discourse analysis and looked at how the relationship evolved in response to an increasing threat to Sweden and Europe."

Great Support from Supervisor When Writing Master's Thesis

Alva describes how she worked on her thesis and received excellent support from both her supervisor, Leena, and her classmates.

"My supervisor, Leena, devoted a lot of time. During group seminars, we students read each other's drafts and provided ideas. In addition to that, we had individual seminars with Leena. I realized how important all this ongoing input was during the semester because it's easy to get tunnel vision when you're working alone."

She explains how a supervisor should support a student while allowing them to find their own path.

"It was very enriching to be able to do that. Just managing and sticking to a schedule for an independent project due many months in the future... Sure, there were days when it felt like it would never work out. But you just had to keep going according to the plan, even if you couldn't see the end. And then one beautiful day, you end up with a finished product! It was incredibly rewarding to have followed the process and succeeded."

Internship Term Led to Employment

In the last term of the master's program, Alva interned at the consulting firm Ramboll's Resilience department.

"I started working here right after my graduation. I will work with exactly what I am most interested in today, namely crisis management, information security, and security protection legislation. It feels absolutely fantastic."

She appreciates being actively involved now, especially when there is so much happening in this area.

"There's really a new interest in security issues in society, and an interest in being able to manage a crisis. Joining NATO greatly affects civil defense, and we have a new NIS directive (The Directive on security of network and information systems) that sets requirements on how operations work with information security now that we face a broader threat landscape."

Skills from the master's programme

Alva explains that she has honed her analytical ability and her ability to make presentations in front of groups. And to absorb large amounts of text.

"There is so much material relevant to the field of security. We must be able to select what is important. Today, I can read a text of many pages and identify and summarize the core—summarizing 20 or 200 pages in half a page."

"And I also make great use of my written English skills. When Ramboll asks if I feel comfortable writing a report in English, I can say 'absolutely,' because that's exactly what I've done for the past two years."

"Lack of experience can be positive"

After a term out in "reality," Alva has reflected a bit on how one can actually use a lack of experience to something positive.

"For example, my department at Ramboll works a lot with continuity planning, i.e., how municipalities should build up their operations to be able to manage a crisis. My lack of experience means that I am close to how the clients experience the training, workshop, or group exercise, while I have the theory. That means I can help to sharpen what we do."

What are your thoughts on the future?

"I will soon be entering employment at a private company. I have gotten into the practice and work a lot with Swedish laws. It's interesting, and here I'm building a competence that I want to develop. In the future, I also want the experience of working for the government, because I think it's important to see both sides. There, I think both the Swedish Security Service and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency would be interesting, and fall under what I'm doing."

What would you say to someone who feels unsure about their future?

"There are many exciting opportunities, and it feels very exciting to enter the workforce. I'm so glad I chose to take that first course at the Swedish Defence University... This is absolutely right for me. I would never have been here otherwise."

"When I talk to people who don't know what to do, I always tell them to study at the Swedish Defence University. It's the obvious choice if you're interested in security issues in general, in leadership and crisis management, war and conflict, or history."

Quick questions for Alva Nilsson

Born: 1994

Grew up in: Stockholm

Upper secondary school programmes: Social Sciences, Specialisation in Journalism

Podcast tip: "P3 History"

Series tips: "Jack Ryan", "The Fall" and "Luther".

Favorite destinations: A beach holiday in Greece or a weekend in Copenhagen.

In his spare time: Cooking, spending time with family and friends

Favorite music: R'n'B, soul and all sorts of things.

Last book you read for pleasure: Magnus Ranstorp's "From the Front Lines of Terror"

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