Meet Monika Surma ’97 (BA Hons Political Science)

With a 20-year career in policy development with the federal government under her belt, Monkia Surma ’97 shares insights into the rewards and challenges of her field, along with tips for career success and networking strategies. 

Can you provide a brief overview of your career and your current position?

After obtaining my BA (Hons Political Science) from King’s, I pursued an MA in political science at Western University and a law degree at the University of Ottawa. I applied this skillset to a career in policy development in the federal government, where I have worked on a variety of files over the last 20 years. 

At the beginning of my government career, I worked at Industry Canada on amendments to the Copyright Act (at the time of Napster) and Broadcasting Treaty negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). I then joined Foreign Affairs and International Trade and spent the bulk of the next 18 years as a trade policy analyst and free trade agreement (FTA) negotiator. I was the lead on cross-Canada consultations with the private sector for a possible Canada-China FTA, and a negotiator in NAFTA/CUSMA and Mercosur. 

Recently, I was responsible for coordinating Canada’s $250M International Assistance Budget for the Indo-Pacific region and developed a data analytics unit to support our international work. I also served abroad in Japan and Washington, DC, where I advanced Canada’s bilateral and multilateral interests. I am now the Director for International Telecommunications and Internet Policy at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. 

How do you feel King’s prepared you for where you are in your career today?

King’s was a great introduction to post-secondary academic life, and the skills I acquired there set me up for success in my future academic endeavours. The small class (and campus) size, along with access to Western campus programming, were an ideal combination. I still remember many King’s professors and the care they took to support students in their academic development. 

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

I like finding solutions to challenging issues. I also enjoy leading teams and supporting the professional development of my staff. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your field?

Social media and the broader distortion of what is fact vs fiction have been challenging to many fields, including policy development. The skills students learn to validate sources and for critical thinking cannot be underestimated. They will be more important than ever, especially as we head into a future of artificial intelligence and a much narrower trust environment. Being a participant, not just a recipient, in this space is a key challenge and opportunity for new graduates. 

What do you think are the most important skills for success in your field?

Being eager to learn and using the best tools possible to do our jobs.

What are your favourite networking tips or strategies?

Attend events, even virtual, and try to say something at each meeting – have your presence registered with your thoughtful comments. And follow up with those who you met, whether in person or virtually, with a proper introduction. It’s about finding connections and building those relationships. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Ottawa is 10 minutes from Gatineau Park, which has an amazing path system for hiking, cross-country skiing and cycling. I try to make it out for a full day of outdoor activity to Gatineau Park each season.