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Postgraduate studies in International Studies at SOAS or Durham? Watch

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    Dear all,

    I am about to complete my undergraduate degree with Sciences Po Paris and am looking on to move on by pursuing a Masters in International Studies in the UK.

    I have been offered places at Durham (international studies) and at SOAS (international studies and diplomacy), and I would appreciate any advice/arguments/opinions as to which university would be a more suitable choice, bearing in mind that I am someone who:

    1) wishes to pursue a career in the foreign service
    2) has a background in the Middle East
    3) is competent in the French Language
    4) looking for a quality education in International affairs
    5) is aware that prestige plays a part in UK degrees

    Thank you in advance for your input!
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    (Original post by funkyclamz)
    Dear all,

    I am about to complete my undergraduate degree with Sciences Po Paris and am looking on to move on by pursuing a Masters in International Studies in the UK.

    I have been offered places at Durham (international studies) and at SOAS (international studies and diplomacy), and I would appreciate any advice/arguments/opinions as to which university would be a more suitable choice, bearing in mind that I am someone who:

    1) wishes to pursue a career in the foreign service
    2) has a background in the Middle East
    3) is competent in the French Language
    4) looking for a quality education in International affairs
    5) is aware that prestige plays a part in UK degrees

    Thank you in advance for your input!
    I would personally strongly recommend the SOAS course - this course is based at the CISD centre in SOAS and is one of the most esteemed postgraduate courses offered at SOAS.

    The MA IS & D programme is IMO much better in terms of employability and practical experience than the other International Politics courses at SOAS.

    I must say that I am a SOAS graduate and obviously know more about SOAS than Durham, which is also a good university. In this field however this course is exceptional, and the links with embassies and London-based organisations cannot be matched in Durham.

    I will try and find you some links to support this but I have seen think tanks and organisations where their younger members of staff exclusively have this particular masters degree. If you do wish to build a career in any foreign service then the links you would make while pursuing this course would be invaluable.

    (I don't mean this to sound overly biased in favour of SOAS, I am sure the courses at Durham are also great, but I have spent the last couple of years researching my own postgraduate options and simply found this to be one of the best courses around in this field.)
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    (Original post by sufjan)
    I would personally strongly recommend the SOAS course - this course is based at the CISD centre in SOAS and is one of the most esteemed postgraduate courses offered at SOAS.

    The MA IS & D programme is IMO much better in terms of employability and practical experience than the other International Politics courses at SOAS.

    I must say that I am a SOAS graduate and obviously know more about SOAS than Durham, which is also a good university. In this field however this course is exceptional, and the links with embassies and London-based organisations cannot be matched in Durham.

    I will try and find you some links to support this but I have seen think tanks and organisations where their younger members of staff exclusively have this particular masters degree. If you do wish to build a career in any foreign service then the links you would make while pursuing this course would be invaluable.

    (I don't mean this to sound overly biased in favour of SOAS, I am sure the courses at Durham are also great, but I have spent the last couple of years researching my own postgraduate options and simply found this to be one of the best courses around in this field.)
    Hi Sufjan,

    Thank you for so much for your two cents' worth. I did also have graduates from SOAS tell me of their disappointment with the course as well, hinting that this might be more marxist than expected, and others saying that the diplomacy aspect isn't as strong as it sounds.

    Then again, I am fully aware a one-year masters programme is more than just paper syllabus and like you said, networking plays a part and will help in the future, so SOAS is definitely a great place to be with your other coursemates, and needless to say London.

    My only concern with the programme at SOAS is with its syllabus. IMO, the courses appear too general, and while the practical aspect is there, I am actually eager to take in much more academic knowledge as well. On the other hand, Durham's courses for its MA in International Studies are specific and appeal to me, for example "The European as a Global Actor" and "Region, Nation and Citizen in Southeast Asia."

    Of course, SOAS' strength is in specialized area of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and that said, there is a possibility to take up a language elective as part of the MA IS and D. But that also means that 1 out of 3 units is taken up.
    1 for an elective, and the remaining 2 for 2 other core modules. For that reason, the degree doesn't look as diversified as it appears to be.

    If I may ask, how was your experience with the CISD?
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    What a tough choice...

    I really liked SOAS when I visited but I turned down my offer to go there for the IS&D course and took up my offer from KCL for Intel and Intl. Security. I actually accepted the SOAS offer but had to decline it because I want to work for the UK government but the career path I saw after SOAS was too limited in scope and there didn't seem to be any TRULY specialised knowledge that I could gain from studying there. Also SOAS looks like way too fun of a place to be at and I could genuinely see myself wasting hours in the SU Bar chilling and doing nothing lol. Kings (un)fortunately looks like a boring place where I can knuckle down and get some serious work done.


    But back to your Durham vs SOAS dilemma, like Sufjan says, you'll be part of the UoL at SOAS and as such will have access to a lot of the other London Schools libraries and resources and talks. You'll also be in London, one of the power centres of the world and find networking a lot easier than by being in Durham. But from league tables and general reputation Durham has got the edge on SOAS and from looking at the modules on Durham's course if you wanted to tailor the course towards a middle eastern focus it would be so much more easier to do so at Durham than it would at SOAS.


    BTW, what is your nationality? You say you're looking to work for the foreign service, but SOAS has a massive pull in the commonewealth countries, but is a lot less well known in Europe and America
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    Hi Socto,

    Thanks for your feedback, I've been doing some serious thinking and it really hasn't been easy. When it looks like I'm more inclined to one side, someone comes up with a positive comment about the other. But yes, I do agree with you on the point about focus as I understand the dissertation requires a fair amount of concentration...which makes Durham a more conducive environment actually, as opposed to London's fantastic appeal as a city with resources.

    To be honest, I have read the course descriptions over and over again and I still feel that Durham has more to offer. If I were to choose SOAS then I would like to master an additional oriental language as an elective, but that leaves me with little room to explore in other areas.

    In general the London universities has a pull in the commonwealth countries I suppose. I'm from Singapore, and I am certain that in UK universities, on a general basis, are highly regarded in my home country

    Well...still in a dilemma. Of course there's still time to think through and I've accepted SOAS' offer as there was a deadline.

    (Original post by Socto)
    What a tough choice...

    I really liked SOAS when I visited but I turned down my offer to go there for the IS&D course and took up my offer from KCL for Intel and Intl. Security. I actually accepted the SOAS offer but had to decline it because I want to work for the UK government but the career path I saw after SOAS was too limited in scope and there didn't seem to be any TRULY specialised knowledge that I could gain from studying there. Also SOAS looks like way too fun of a place to be at and I could genuinely see myself wasting hours in the SU Bar chilling and doing nothing lol. Kings (un)fortunately looks like a boring place where I can knuckle down and get some serious work done.


    But back to your Durham vs SOAS dilemma, like Sufjan says, you'll be part of the UoL at SOAS and as such will have access to a lot of the other London Schools libraries and resources and talks. You'll also be in London, one of the power centres of the world and find networking a lot easier than by being in Durham. But from league tables and general reputation Durham has got the edge on SOAS and from looking at the modules on Durham's course if you wanted to tailor the course towards a middle eastern focus it would be so much more easier to do so at Durham than it would at SOAS.


    BTW, what is your nationality? You say you're looking to work for the foreign service, but SOAS has a massive pull in the commonewealth countries, but is a lot less well known in Europe and America
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    Dude I'm about to be dead honest...

    I don't know your circumstances but Singapore cant be too different from Ghana, where my family is from (I hold dual nationality as well as being from the UK), but if I went back to Ghana with an undergrad from SciencesPo and a Masters in IS & Diplomacy from the University of London, SOAS. I'd be GUARANTEED to get a job for the Ghanaian Foreign Ministry.

    If I went for a job interview at the Ghanaian foreign ministry, the interviewer would be looking at someone who:

    - is a masters graduate in a relevant field
    - has studied at a reputable international university (UoL, SOAS)
    - has studied in Paris and London, showing that I am capable of living in the power centres of the world without fuss or drama and can speak both languages well
    - is already familiar with the UN (where they might send you one day), knows how it works (through the course and free study trip) and made contacts out there already (take the time to visit the Singapore ambassador if you can whilst out there, just to network)
    - has had media training (free as part of SOAS's course), allowing me to adequately represent the government on TV and such
    - has had a possible internship whilst here in London with one of the many NGO's based here (very few if any based in Durham)

    All of these are things that are out of reach for not only Durham students but also Singaporean and Ghanaian locals... But I'm not trying to work for the Ghanaian government, I'm trying to work for the UK govt, where things work a lot differently.

    I was so happy to be going to SOAS but part of the reason why I turned them down is that because of the way the UK govt works, you just need a degree, hell, you can have a degree in music and get a job at the Foreign Office as long as you do well in the civil service faststream application process, having a diplomacy degree really doesn't help you at all. That's why I feel I need to become specialised in another related field in order to get into the system the normal way and then transfer to the FCO after a few years, bypassing the CSFS, but back in Ghana it works like most jobs where you just need to have relevant qualifications and experience to get in. If It wasnt for how annoying the UK system is I would 100% be your classmate this September at SOAS if you decided to go there

    Also, this might sound like shady advice but its true. Durham's course from the looks of it looks harder than SOAS's course, in addition to the dissertation being 50% longer. But will that extra work and hassle which comes with the added risk of a lesser grade give you the necessary advantage over SOAS's simpler structure whilst not giving you all the previous things I mentioned earlier?

    Does the Singaporean government need booksmart international relations academics or does it need diplomats?
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    Hi Socto,

    I understand your point when it comes to the qualities that the Foreign Ministry is looking out for. I fully agree with decorating your CV along the lines of the Ministry's requirements, but in the end, having done some serious thinking, I'd love to give Durham a nod based on a few reasons.

    For one, I have always chosen different paths, hence a degree in France (in French), a year abroad in Kuwait and I don't see why it wouldn't be positive to give it a shot in the North East. Secondly, even though SOAS' course would give me an edge in terms of theoretical and practical knowledge about diplomacy, I'd say that from a value for money perspective, Durham would probably satisfy me more (not forgetting that I'm looking to pay the full tuition fees).

    Furthermore, unlike the career path that you choose to take, working up through the civil service, I am keen on joining the Foreign Ministry but I refuse to let myself be restricted to just one job option. In fact, I do not believe that one's passion should solely be tied to a particular industry so to speak, but should be tied to a desire - a desire to lead, to teach, to build a network with people etc. Therefore, while I will be ecstatic to be accepted by the Foreign Service, at some point in my life, I would want to teach, as an academic in a university abroad, and that is where I feel, my knowledge from Durham would prove to be more useful and malleable in that sense.

    The piece of advice which you deemed as shady...I believe you're being pragmatic, which is not wrong in any way. And yet, quite the opposite, I refuse to be bogged down by the workload, and I'm really interested in the modules offered by Durham, ranging from US foreign policy, to the European Union, and to Southeast Asia. The extra 5,000 words for the dissertation really doesn't bother me too much and for that part, I have to admit, that if I were to shift my MA focus to a more Middle Eastern outlook (especially on the Gulf), Durham has certainly very competent staff to supervise a dissertation on the Gulf!

    That is probably why, right now, I am very positive about Durham. That said, in terms of school culture and what I want to get out of it, Durham has that sort of intriguing appeal to me. Of course things could still take a turn...but yes Durham sounds pretty firm now.

    (Original post by Socto)
    Dude I'm about to be dead honest...

    I don't know your circumstances but Singapore cant be too different from Ghana, where my family is from (I hold dual nationality as well as being from the UK), but if I went back to Ghana with an undergrad from SciencesPo and a Masters in IS & Diplomacy from the University of London, SOAS. I'd be GUARANTEED to get a job for the Ghanaian Foreign Ministry.

    If I went for a job interview at the Ghanaian foreign ministry, the interviewer would be looking at someone who:

    - is a masters graduate in a relevant field
    - has studied at a reputable international university (UoL, SOAS)
    - has studied in Paris and London, showing that I am capable of living in the power centres of the world without fuss or drama and can speak both languages well
    - is already familiar with the UN (where they might send you one day), knows how it works (through the course and free study trip) and made contacts out there already (take the time to visit the Singapore ambassador if you can whilst out there, just to network)
    - has had media training (free as part of SOAS's course), allowing me to adequately represent the government on TV and such
    - has had a possible internship whilst here in London with one of the many NGO's based here (very few if any based in Durham)

    All of these are things that are out of reach for not only Durham students but also Singaporean and Ghanaian locals... But I'm not trying to work for the Ghanaian government, I'm trying to work for the UK govt, where things work a lot differently.

    I was so happy to be going to SOAS but part of the reason why I turned them down is that because of the way the UK govt works, you just need a degree, hell, you can have a degree in music and get a job at the Foreign Office as long as you do well in the civil service faststream application process, having a diplomacy degree really doesn't help you at all. That's why I feel I need to become specialised in another related field in order to get into the system the normal way and then transfer to the FCO after a few years, bypassing the CSFS, but back in Ghana it works like most jobs where you just need to have relevant qualifications and experience to get in. If It wasnt for how annoying the UK system is I would 100% be your classmate this September at SOAS if you decided to go there

    Also, this might sound like shady advice but its true. Durham's course from the looks of it looks harder than SOAS's course, in addition to the dissertation being 50% longer. But will that extra work and hassle which comes with the added risk of a lesser grade give you the necessary advantage over SOAS's simpler structure whilst not giving you all the previous things I mentioned earlier?

    Does the Singaporean government need booksmart international relations academics or does it need diplomats?
 
 
 
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