It would not do justice to the year I spent at Royal Holloway (academic year 2014-15) to sum up reflections on the MSc Geopolitics and Security course in a hundred or so words, so I wanted to take the time here to provide a ‘year-in-the-life’ recap for others who may be interested in the course, and to offer something in return for all that I was lucky enough to experience. The MSc was a hugely important and enjoyable year of being constantly challenged to work and think in a different way than I had at undergraduate level, and of being rewarded for doing so.
I came to the course from a Geography degree at Swansea, inspired by modules that I had encountered in third year and attracted by the themes that were similar in the MSc course description. While the background of the majority of the cohort is Geography based, there is a strong connection to themes in International Relations and Politics and the opportunity to take modules from the International Relations department, which allowed for those Geography graduates among the cohort to experience and benefit from new ways of engaging with topics, as well as for non-geographers in turn to be exposed to critical geopolitics and human geography.
From a relaxed first day where we met and interacted with the rest of the cohort, there was an intense week of inductions and introductions, that was made easier – and more entertaining – by wine receptions (an essential part of postgraduate interaction) and an engaging field trip on the first Friday to the Runnymede Air Force Memorial, JFK Memorial, and Magna Carta Memorial led by staff member Al Pinkerton.
Over the course of the next year we were provided some fantastic occasions to engage with others outside of the lecture hall, which are owed to the lecturers who went above and beyond to organise them. From a trip to the battlefields and cemeteries of Belgium, where lecturers and Geopolitics and Security PhD students engaged with living history experts, to visits to institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, International Maritime Organization and Royal United Services Institute led by Klaus Dodds and Duncan Depledge, where we were able to experience how organisations do work; the MSc offered a significant chance to build and expand on academic understandings in a practical context. Critically, we were encouraged to reflect on this, which helped to develop our sense of the type of institution or organisation we wanted to be part of, as individuals dreaming of long careers in similar fields.
This level of professional integration makes the MSc stand out compared to other courses, and prepares the students for the context of professional life, rather than insulating them in an exclusively academic context. Working with elites was encouraged through specific sessions on elite engagement and ethics prior to undertaking dissertation work, which helped greatly during the research process.
The skills that are gained from completing the MSc reflect the high standard that is expected and taught at all times, and are useful not only during the course but after – as justifiable transferrable skills which employers seek. To be not only knowledgeable, but employable, was an important personal goal, which I am glad that the MSc helped to improve through the practicing and developing of transferrable skills. Presentation skills were an integral part of many modules, and were developed over the year, as well as decision-making and group working skills, which were necessary when undertaking group projects, such as the security mapping workshop our cohort undertook with the Universitie de Cergy-Pointoise led by program director, Peter Adey. The practical benefits of interacting with different stakeholders and delivering, under pressure, a high-quality presentation is something that cannot be replicated by just lectures alone. We learned through undertaking projects, and working together – a process which the MSc really emphasises and understands the value of.
On a personal level, the Resilience and the Governing of Emergency module taught by Peter Adey sparked an interest in the subject, which prompted me to apply for the role of Resilience Planner – a post I now occupy with the British Transport Police. While lacking in any professional experience, I was still able to interview successfully and talk from an academic and theoretical perspective of what is expected of resilience planners, a skill I owe to the MSc. In an interview context it was exceptionally useful to be able to talk confidently and accurately about the theoretical background of subjects such as the Civil Contingencies Act, Local Resilience Forums, and exercising emergency plans. The course material I had studied in the Resilience module informs, in one way or another, everything that I do now, and adds a depth of understanding to the daily work.
Speaking very personally again, the MSc gave us something else, that will outlast any other skill or qualification: through the experience of project and dissertation writing; of managing stress, malnutrition, deadlines, sleep-deprivation, and the rollercoaster of emotions of elation, success, pride and doubt, a small group of us were united by this experience and will be – no doubt – lifetime colleagues, confidantes, and, most importantly, friends.
When considering the academic experiences that the MSc gave me, it would be meaningless without also talking about all of the late study nights, meals ordered to the department, spontaneous laughter, help in proofreading, and conflict management skills (that we all became experts in), and while this may seem trivial in the context of a qualification and the work produced, I hope potential future students see this and understand the importance of simply being surrounded by peers who brought out the best in each other, and made the MSc such a wonderful year for all of us.
Helen Turner (MSc Graduate 2015)