7 brutal lessons I’ve learned 6 months on from the University of Oxford MSc in Migration Studies

Published 20 October 2015 / By Bobbie Mills

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I could be biased, but it’s difficult to imagine a better graduate programme than University of Oxford's MSc in Migration Studies. The Class of 2015 enjoyed genuinely outstanding teaching and such an inspiring supportive cohort you almost forgot the crazy price tag. It takes a good few weeks to recover from the Black Swan state of dissertation mania, but once you recover you’re left with satisfaction and affection.

Reckoning I needed a few years’ experience in the real non-student world before thinking about a PhD, job hunting through Career Connect led me to Scenes of Reason. Scenes works to get more young people engaged in the news by providing the tools – in the form of back-to-basics explainers – to understand and question things for themselves.

I’ve been writing for them on a voluntary basis for a few months now. It’s what’s necessary to build up the experience required for those elusive paid jobs. I’m happy to do it for free, though, because it’s been an opportunity to translate what is taught by MSc Migration Studies into accessible articles, graphics and videos which will reach a broader range of people. A lot of the class of 2015 felt the same impulse.  For me, getting it right has been a learning curve. Here are 7 brutally honest lessons you’ll learn trying to take MSc Migration Studies to the outside world.

  1. Listicles. You’ll learn the word listicle (it’s what you’re reading right now). Then you’ll learn that if you want people to read your stuff you’ll never write in any other form ever again. But it turns out your essays are ready made listicles. My post on 4 Things The Media Gets Wrong About Migrant Smugglers could have been a tutorial essay on network theory, or titled 4 Things I Learned From Hein De Haas.
  2. Writing something that is both accessible and critically accurate is equally if not more difficult than writing your dissertation. Learning to use concepts like governmentality felt at times like banging a carrot against a cooking pot and yelling “Look Mum I’m cooking!”, but just try getting by without them.
  3. Trying to be impartial on migration leaves you feeling dirty and confused – like your first tutorial essay. An imperative of writing for Scenes of Reason is presenting both sides of the argument equally so people can decide for themselves. Great plan, but writing this infinite repeating infographic on the UK immigration debate was viciously difficult. It made me engage with the immigration debate in a frank practical way which the MSc had never asked me to do.
  4. You can easily miss the wave of media interest, and then no one cares. I was excited to publish my listicle on what the media gets wrong on people smugglers, as it offered such a different perspective to the mainstream in such a shamelessly clickable format. Turns out not even my attempt at an edgy accompanying graphic could get it the attention I’d hoped for. Don’t catch yourself hoping for the next wave of media attention, as it won’t come from anything good.
  5. On a subject like migration even the leading well-intentioned liberal media can get it dead wrong, so stay on your toes. Al Jazeera’s bold decision to abandon the dehumanised word migrant back in August got absolutely everything right except for the word they replaced it with – refugee. Profesor Jørgen Carling was quicker than I was in pointing out that insisting that refugees are fundamentally different to migrants and thus more deserving of our help only hardens the dehumanised status of anyone who does not qualify as a helpless victim of conflict.
  6. Politicians and commentators like their victims ideal and helpless. Displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of how people escape war zones, as pointed out by course mate Faraz Shibli, Theresa May and others have held up the young able-bodied men at Europe’s borders as evidence that Britain cannot indiscriminately offer help to these people, as not all are deserving of it. This argument contains so many holes it was easy to counter.
  7. The MSc in Migration Studies really does equip you with unique perspectives and language, particularly if you combine it with the platforms available to us to communicate it in an accessible way, like my plain English explainer of liberal constraint theory. Whose mind isn’t blown when they learn that most states actually want irregular immigration? The world wants to know what you know – get it out there.

 Bloggers and researchers mentioned in this post:

About the author: Bobbie Mills is Political Editor at Scenes of Reason and a former MSc student in Migration Studies. Email:

This guest post is part of series featuring writing by current and former students of the MSc in Migration Studies programme