Student Experiences - MSc in Contemporary India
The MSc in Contemporary India serves as a stand-alone training for those wishing to specialise in India, either in preparation for an academic career or for work in the private sector, government, NGOs, multi-lateral aid and development agencies, international organisations, international relations, publishing and the media.
The MSc Contemporary India was a deeply rewarding nine months. The subject matter was fascinating, the teaching quality was excellent, and the overall experience was always enjoyable. I made many valuable friendships over this period. The interdisciplinary nature of the course structure ensured that students gained a strong grounding in different approaches, from economics and political science to sociology and anthropology, and acquired skills in different social science research methods. Students could decide to specialise in any of these through the dissertation component. My field was politics, and the Excel and R classes that were organised helped me hone the quantitative aspects of my research methodology.
I came to the course with a background in philosophy and international public policy, and experience of research work in New Delhi. While this was a useful basis, the course significantly expanded my knowledge of contemporary India and its mercurial political scene. I continue to pursue research in this area, and am currently working with Dr Kate Sullivan on a project on India and the UN Security Council, which we presented at the Contemporary South Asia research seminar series in early 2015. After completing the course, I began working as a research assistant at the Accenture Institute of High Performance, where the research skills developed on the course have proven invaluable.
I was a student on the MSc Contemporary India programme in 2013-14 and a recipient of the generous Pran Nath Bahl Scholarship. I came to the MSc with a background in literature and conflict studies and found the CSASP to be a vibrant space which encouraged diversity of thought within classrooms and in our essays and exams. The MSc is comprised of compulsory and interdisciplinary modules which provide a critical understanding of contemporary India and in fact, encourages an exploration of wider South Asia. At the same time, there are opportunities for specialization, especially through the dissertation where the department’s multidisciplinary resources enable a deeper examination of specific interests. Moreover, interdisciplinary thinking is inculcated through everyday teaching. Thus, we got perspectives from various fields on major social science theorists and had several group sessions to unpack the multidisciplinary meanings in words which are used commonly in social science. The department was also proactive in organizing regular social events through which we could bond with fellow students, faculty and staff.
Currently, I am a Research Analyst at Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and also serve as Director of Studies (India) for a British educational organization. Both jobs require in-depth knowledge of India though in different ways; the deficiencies in public schooling forms the focus of my work at CPR while I work with high income groups in my other role. The MSc’s training has helped in conducting research on Indian education systems and drawing inference for policy. I have extremely fond memories at the department and closely follow its activities; even as the CSASP continues to push new boundaries in teaching and research in Area Studies.
Reading the MSc in Contemporary India at Oxford was a fascinating experience. Not only did I enjoy the intense pressure of the short Oxford terms but I also managed to experience the equally intense socializing and merry making. As a small and committed group of students on the course, I inevitably ended up making some wonderful and close friends with whom I spent numerous hours in Oxford’s many libraries as well as bars and cafes. Trying out food in each other’s college dinning halls as well as exchanging books from our college libraries became very much second nature to me and my friends during the Masters.
The course offered excellent and rigorous teaching about India form interdisciplinary experts in their fields. We were set stimulating and relevant readings before all our lectures and classes and we always had access to the fantastic teaching team through a round of question and answers at the end of all lectures. I particularly valued the opportunity to spend time with my course supervisor discussing my various essays and thoughts because this provided a unique space to engage with my own work.
The MSc in Contemporary India was my first experience of life as a student at Oxford and I very quickly became hooked. After finishing my Masters I have stayed on at Oxford to start my PhD on gender in contemporary India with the Department of International Development. I am still very much in touch with CSASP and regularly attend their many interesting events relating to India or South Asia more broadly. I am thrilled to have been part of the MSc in Contemporary India cohort of 2013-14 and I take away lots of fond memories and laughter as well as a very different way of looking and thinking about India.
The extremely fulfilling year at Oxford opened doors to many things for me. The interdisciplinary nature of the MSc Contemporary India course equipped me with both the political/economic and cultural/social background necessary for my later experiences. Right after finishing the MSc I was selected as a fully funded exchange student to UC Berkeley, studying the interplay of media and global social movements. Later I went to Beijing and started my internship at United Nations Development Programme in China, which eventually led to a full-time position focusing on governance and gender issues in China. My current work constantly draws inspiration from the course, especially when writing my dissertation on the geography of gender-based violence in urban India. I am particularly grateful for how the course trained me with critical and analytical thinking, skills that I did not fully possess but were proven essential to my life as a professional and an individual.
Prior to joining the Contemporary India course, I faced the dilemma of choosing between two of my favourite subjects for my Master’s research – India’s foreign policy and the Maoist insurgency in tribal areas of India. But thanks to the course’s interdisciplinary structure (and of course to the amazing lectures by George, Kate and Matthew), I believe I had my hands on the entire wish list and more. Dr. Kunnath’s supervision in particular helped me to understand the complexities of insurgent-state dynamics within the large context of government’s neoliberal agenda. Also, I must duly acknowledge the importance of Pran Nath Bahl Scholarship for me, without which Oxford would have been a distant dream.
After completing my Masters, I was keen on observing and contributing towards the tribal movements in my home state Jharkhand, and hence based myself in one of the insurgency-prone areas of the state. The interdisciplinary skills acquired at Oxford helps me to juxtapose the regional scenarios with the broader national-level social-economic-political scene. I have, for the past nine months, been employed as a researcher at the Sociology Department, Cambridge, and have since then been carrying out ethnographic research works in these insurgency-affected areas. I’m hoping to join the ‘other side’s’ PhD program by the end of this year. Presently, I am about to switch tracks and will shortly be joining a history project in the Indian President’s office. Besides my mundane academic pursuits, I have had sporadic engagement with the strategic cum security studies, which often reminds me of the very riveting discussions during Kate’s lecture; nostalgic me!
An exceptionally invigorating year – the coursework was demanding but highly thought-provoking, rich and comprehensive. The entire process of writing my dissertation on Indo-US relations and critical theory essay on unlocking the dualities of Satyagraha under the expert guidance of Dr Kate Sullivan was very fulfilling. It fitted my background in International Relations and current work in the field of political risk analysis very well. I have great memories of a wonderful year with my classmates – whether it was 'studying’ at the Social Sciences library together, celebrating the end of submissions at the tuck shop on North Parade road, dinning in the medieval halls of Balliol or going to exams together wearing Harry Potter gowns. Wish I could repeat it all over again!
I am very thankful for all for the guidance, teaching and support during my time at Oxford from 2011 to 2012 on the MSc Contemporary India course. It was an incredible experience and I thoroughly enjoyed the course - particularly the opportunity to explore India through different academic disciplines.For the past few months I have been working for Professors Gyanesh Kudaisya and Vineeta Sinha at the National University of Singapore, I will then be starting work at the Institute of South Asian Studies at NUS under Professor John Harriss.
Following a ODI Fellowship posting to South Africa for two years, I am now a Senior Economist at the National Treasury of South Africa working on policy issues surrounding fiscal decentralisation and sub-national infrastructure investment. Though using them in an African rather South Asian context now, the interdisciplinary analytical skills I learnt via the MSc in Contemporary India continue to be invaluable in my daily policy discussions and assignments. The degree content, the staff and my classmates made the whole environment at Oxford a brilliant experience that I remember very fondly and is one that undoubtedly helped kick-start my career.
Yash joined the MSc Contemporary India programme in October 2010 and graduated in July 2011. He was based at Wolfson College. After his academic journey at Oxford, Yash joined the Government of Gujarat, where he worked till May 2014, after which he shifted to New Delhi to work for the Prime Minister's Office, where is working even at present.
"I graduated in history from St. Stephen's College, where our course material stopped at 1947. In that sense, the MSc at Oxford was a logical continuation of my study and passion towards Indian history. The course picked up from where we left at the UG level. At Oxford, I had the opportunity to be taught by a diverse and dedicated faculty that devoted great time and resources in making every module interesting and intellectually enriching. The discussions with faculty and peers were equally enriching. I took back enhanced writing skills during my stay in Oxford- things that seem simple but things many of us did not posses in plenty such as how to present a strong argument, referencing, substantiating an argument with facts and theory. The reading list which we were given was all encompassing.
I thought the MSc remained an ideal course for Indian as well as non-Indian students who want to pursue academic study about India or want to work in India either in the policy or academic world."
Following graduation, I started working as an intern at the International Waters Cluster of the United Nations Office for Project Services in Copenhagen, Denmark. After six months I moved to one of the projects of this portfolio in Pretoria, South Africa where I could learn more about transboundary water management and of course enjoy the exceptional nature of southern Africa. After six months, I returned to Berlin, my home city, where I wrote a PhD proposal, as I realised how much I had enjoyed research and analysis while at university. Meanwhile, I received an offer from another UN agency to work as a research and advocacy officer on a climate change mitigation programme in Indonesia and am now excited to move to Jakarta next month. The knowledge that I gathered about issues pertaining to climate change during my year at Oxford was not only decisive in being selected for my forthcoming position but also makes me feel confident to be able to deliver. Writing this, I am on my way to England to visit a friend from the MSc. The programme not only prepared me with knowledge and skills but also enabled me to meet friends for life.
After finishing my MSc in Oxford, I returned to Singapore where I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have since been attached to the ASEAN Directorate and eagerly awaiting news of my next assignment. Work at the MFA is fascinating, although there are times when it can be mentally and physically exhausting. Just recently, I was in Cambodia for the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits. I recall being barely four feet away from US President Barack Obama at the East Asia Summit. I also had the opportunity to attend the bilateral meeting between Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Days after I finished the M.Sc., I began classes at Columbia Law School in New York City in pursuit of my Juris Doctor (J.D.). While the pedagogy in law school was very different to the one at Oxford, I strongly believe my master’s degree helped me with my J.D. The interdisciplinary nature of the M.Sc. and its epistemology component allowed me to reflect on the philosophical underpinnings of the laws of contract, property, and tort, among others. Moreover, the research and writing skills I developed when writing my thesis were useful in writing legal memos and research papers.
While in law school, I continued to be active in international human rights and development work, which had been a focus of my M.Sc. thesis. For example, I interned at the Bertha Foundation in London and at the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch in New York. I also worked in Burma with Justice For All, a local independent law firm, on issues ranging from constitutional reform to land confiscation to grass roots advocacy strategies--themes that were all covered in some manner or other in the various modules of the M.Sc. In fact, I was surprised by many of the parallels between India's and Myanmar's legal and developmental trajectories despite their distinct political and economic histories.
Currently, I work as an attorney in New York at Skadden Arps, a full service international law firm. In my spare time, I read Indian diasporan fiction and volunteer at a few nonprofits, including South Asian Youth Action, a group that mentors high school students of South Asian background--interests that drew me to apply for the M.Sc. in the first place.
Since leaving Oxford (where I spent a lot of time researching on Indian dance), I have taught at schools and dance institutions - I have taught dance theory and history (a whole chunk of which I started researching in Oxford while I was doing my dissertation on the multiple modernities of Indian dance). I also write a fortnightly column on dance for a leading Indian newspaper 'The Hindu'. That aside, I am performing (I'm a dancer by profession - Indian classical dance and contemporary dance) regularly in India and occasionally abroad as well.
Before I came to Oxford, I read development studies in Jaipur/India and political science, sociology and conflict studies towards my first postgraduate degree in Marburg/Germany. Before embarking on my PhD about the experience of belonging in North India, I was in dire need of a solid grounding in broader debates about the area - and the MSc in Contemporary India gave me precisely that: fresh ideas about the political economy, social anthropology and the environment of India as well as a broader perspective in my own disciplines political science, international relations and development studies. Well equipped, I returned to Germany to write my PhD and work as research fellow in comparative politics and international development studies at the University of Marburg. But you never really leave Oxford: my PhD is co-supervised in the city of dreaming spires, and I return as often as possible to benefit from the amazing academic culture of the South Asia Studies Programme.
2008 - 2009
Joyita Ghose completed the MSc in Contemporary India at Wolfson College in 2009. Her thesis focused on the politics of reservation of seats for women in local urban governing bodies. However, she also wrote on and engaged with debates outside of politics and gender during time at Oxford. After finishing her course she interned for a short time with UNIFEM India and is now working as a Research Associate with the Institute for Human Development, New Delhi. Her current research examines the impact of public – private partnerships in the social sector in India, looking at education and health sectors in particular. She credits her time as a student of Area Studies with providing her an interdisciplinary les with which to examine partnerships between the public and the private sectors in India. Prior to the MSc, she was a student of Political Science at the University of Delhi, where in her spare time she studied Spanish as well.
2008 - 2009
Anna loved her Oxford year and is suitably nostalgic. Even for the quantitative Research Methods class when she and her fellow non-numerate students were panicked into mild hysteria.
Since finishing the course in 2009, Anna has been working as India Research Analyst at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The timing was entirely serendipitous and she considers herself lucky to have been so well-prepared by the MSc. Exposure to the policy world is proving fascinating, and being paid to talk and read and write about India is a great privilege. As is enjoying the cultural life of London, and going for aimless strolls on Hampstead Heath.
But that’s not to say that the dreaming spires aren’t very seductive at times, with their whispers of “DPhil…DPhil..” Horizon expansion, friends for life, and taking exams in fancy dress – it’s not easy leaving Oxford behind.
2008 - 2009
The course was an eye-opener for me for numerous reasons. Firstly, it gave me a world view on the debates focusing India and South Asia. Secondly, topics such as environment and human development gave me the much needed depth which helped me to grow as a budding journalist. After graduating, I have made many television programs on the issues such as global warming and climate change. These issues were almost neglected by the popular media hitherto. My organization especially encouraged me to cover these issues with a fresh perspective.
Interaction with the faculty members and my fellow classmates was a great source of learning. They made my stay at Oxford a lifetime experience to cherish. I feel really privileged to a part of the company of esteemed scholars. I would especially like to thank Professor Barbara Harriss-White. She was a great source of inspiration. Political economy as a subject will always hold a special place in my heart.
In 2012, I am working as a Senior Producer with ABP News, a leading hindi news channel in India. Its been more than three years since graduating from Oxford but the memories are still afresh. It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to be associated with the department. Even after coming back to India it has been a honour meeting fellow Oxonians here.
Recently during the visit of Mr. William J Conner of Wolfson College to Delhi he told about an initiative called South Asia cluster which was very exciting for me as an alumni. I would like to connect in any which way possible with the SIAS department and the college to become a part of debates focussing South Asia particularly India.
2008 - 2009
After an Oxford undergraduate degree in Modern History, I graduated from the MSc in its very first cohort, and travelled to Karnataka to ask a lot of people awkward questions about their toilet habits for UNICEF. In 2010 I returned to Oxford, migrating a little further south from the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies to begin PhD research on international development. Inspired by the MSc's Environment course , I am working on the politics of Indian electricity in the age of 'sustainable development' and increasing energy insecurity. I spent a substantial chunk of 2012 living in Delhi and carrying out interviews with officials, politicians, journalists, and others. Whilst studying for the MSc, I was elected an Examination Fellow of All Souls College, who have generously continued to support my research.
At the same time, I worked with Oxfam GB to research women in vulnerable livelihoods and the informal economy across the world. This year I am spicing up my doctoral work up by teaching classes and tutorials on the exciting Politics of South Asia course, a rich and rewarding opportunity to see Oxford from the other side of the lectern. In addition, I recently signed a contract with Random House India to write a travel book on Delhi—look out for it at the end of 2013!
Merlia Shaukath Tanseer
I consider the one year spent at Oxford, pursuing the MSc extremely valuable and it has gone a long way in helping me realise my personal and professional aspirations. My classmates were pretty incredible and so were the lecturers and the course gave me the chance to develop some fresh and unconventional perspectives about the socio political complexities in India. The skills and knowledge that I picked up as a student in Oxford, and particularly as an area studies student, have stood me in good stead as I got involved in the social sector here in India. My dissertation topic was 'Corporate Social Responsibility in the Indian context'. It's fascinating to realise that I've actually been able to implement the findings and have been able to contribute to the development and fund raising activities in my current role.
I currently work with Teach For India (a member of the Teach For All network, much like Teach First in the UK) and earlier in the year, led efforts towards the launch of a new site (Chennai is the 5th city to be launched in 4 years). I currently manage operations and government relations for Chennai. My work involves stakeholder management, government liaison and strategy. And...oh! I also managed to find time to get married two months after returning to India from Oxford!