This blog is part of our MSc in Migration Studies guest blog series: Viewing Life Through the Migration Lens: experiences and thoughts post-MSc
The best advice I received about attending graduate school—of any kind—was from an undergraduate professor that asked me a very simple question: “Is there a question you still feel, for yourself, that you need to investigate? If so, then graduate school could be right for you.”
When I was asked this, I knew that there was an important question still pervading my life, and it was related to human migration. For reasons that go beyond a short blog post, I knew that wanted to understand mobility and all related phenomena better, in all contexts.
How does migration affect the world around us? How can we understand it better? Why does it happen?
These questions led me to apply to the MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, and the generous Clarendon Scholarship made that a financial reality for me.
Three years on from completing the program, I can definitely say that I have come to at least some of that understanding I was searching for. As we know, academic inquiry often produces more questions than answers, and I was not able to totally answer the questions I had before I entered the program. I think if I did answer those questions, instead of writing a blog I would currently be accepting an international award.
But failing to answer the big questions was in no way a failure for me—the very process of investigating migration and its related topics somehow brought me a certain intellectual clarity that I was searching for. When it now comes to understanding myself and my identity as a child of immigrants and refugees, or when it comes to understanding the role migration plays in history and our contemporary world, I at least feel like I can analyze and see things that would not have been apparent to me without this degree. For that, I am grateful that I have checked something off of a ‘bucket-list’ of scholarly inquiry.
However, the more material implications of life after this degree were a bit more complicated. As someone without authorization to work in the European Union, it was essentially impossible to find employment in the large NGOs, IGOs or government bodies that work in the migration and forced migration fields.
Additionally, I didn’t feel ready for any further study given my desire to first apply what I learned to a real-life context. In the United States—where I am indeed able to work—the employment landscape for people interested in migration is somewhat limited. I quickly found that most opportunities in the migration field were linked to working for government, and save for a few exceptions, largely focused on border control, anti-terrorism, and migration management. Given the implications of current U.S. policies on these fronts, these roles did not fit my interests.
Outside of those fields, I soon learned that the migration and refugee nonprofit landscape was not only quite neglected and underfunded in the U.S., but also that the emphasis was on legal expertise and legal practitioners much to the exclusion of other skill sets such as research, interdisciplinary inquiry, or policy analysis. It was a bit of a disheartening time in my life to say the least, and something hard to prepare for given the intensity of the 9-month MSc degree that requires total immersion in one’s studies.
However, I quickly found that I learned many other skills in the program that I could parlay into other roles. Particularly, graduates should take care to highlight the rich methodological training that comes from the Migration Studies degree, and the strong humanitarian and development knowledge that comes from the course of study. Migration Studies is still a very new field in terms of a formal title as a degree, and while this initially worried me when approaching employers, I found that I could also take the opportunity to define this field of inquiry as I saw fit. When I finally was able to craft my own narrative on the degree, I was able to find other career opportunities in the international development and global health fields. Although this was not my primary focus, I was happy to take on these roles particularly as they often had intersections with questions relevant to the field of migration studies: drivers of migration, causes of mobility/immobility, and human development.
After a brief detour, I finally found my way back to the field with my current position at Refugee Solidarity Network, a US-based nonprofit that works with NGOs in host countries to support legal aid and other measures related to refugee protection. As the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Manager, almost every day I apply the knowledge and analytical tools from the Migration Studies MSc as I help my organization produce and analyze data from the services it provides. Just as I am thankful for having gone through the MSc program, I also understand my good fortune in finding an opportunity that allows me to take that knowledge and apply it to making a positive change in the global refugee protection landscape. Such opportunities, as I learned for myself, do not grow on trees.
Looking back at my experience at Oxford, and looking forward at where my career path my take me, I am able to take my graduate experience off a pedestal and examine it for what it was.
For myself, someone endlessly curious with regards to the field of migration, the degree was a way to satisfy a lifelong interest in a topic and also open doors to certain professional and academic paths. At the same time, I think that given the state of the global economy and the rise of the precariat classes, it is invariably difficult to transition from Oxford to a position in the job market. With that realistic viewpoint in mind, prospective and current students need to prepare themselves for a potentially complicated path to the next chapter in their lives in part by taking time to see the range of skills and knowledge that the Migration Studies MSc offers. Despite the challenges in today’s world, students should find that this degree equips them with a range of tools to shape their place in the world.
Kamyar Jarahzadeh is an alumnus of the MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. He currently works at Refugee Solidarity Network as the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Manager.