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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Judith Sijstermans

Judith Sijstermans
Judith Sijstermans
The Netherlands
MSc International and European Politics
Doing Now
PhD Politics, University of Edinburgh

Where are you from and what did you do before embarking on the IEP degree?

I’m originally from the Netherlands, but grew up in California. Before starting the IEP degree, I completed my Bachelor’s at the University of California in Berkeley. I spent a year at Sciences Po in Paris and 6 months doing a Scottish Parliament internship during my undergraduate degree, which had encouraged my interest in studying European politics. I spent the summer before the MSc working for Edinburgh Research and Innovation, the University’s commercial liaison and technology transfer office.  


Why did you decide to do the IEP degree?

I decided to do the IEP degree because it provided a good mixture of all the elements I was looking for in a postgraduate degree: taught courses and a substantial research component (the dissertation), general theoretical courses and a specific focus on the European Union, continuing education and relevant, nearby opportunities for part time work. The IEP programme is more specific than more generally oriented politics/International Relations master’s programmes. This ensured that my classmates and my courses aligned with my interest in Europe. Additionally, the IEP degree allows access to courses in other programmes as well. I took advantage of this and combined the IR/European theory courses with courses on my area of interests (Scotland and nationalism).  

The IEP degree also allowed me to transition from an American bachelor’s degree programme into the UK education system. For me, a taught MSc was a great way to transition into doing a PhD (spoiler alert!). It allowed me to study key theories more critically, to become accustomed to a new academic culture, and to make valuable contacts with academics.


What do you think of Edinburgh as a city?

Edinburgh provides the perfect backdrop to a degree in politics, in part because of the vibrancy of the Scottish political debate and in part because there are many distractions from politics. When wanting a new experience, there is always an interesting event on in Edinburgh, from the Fringe Festival to the Canal Festival to weekly farmer’s markets in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Despite its relative geographical isolation from the rest of Europe, Edinburgh is the center of a vibrant, diverse nation. Its role as Scotland’s capital city means regular and affordable access to world class food, art, sports, and music. It also has easy connections across Europe and to the rest of the UK. For those coming from further abroad, Edinburgh’s location allows time for some “hands on learning” through travel across the European Union.


What were your best memories of the programme?

My best memories of the programme were probably the one on one time that I was able to have with academics whose work I had read from afar. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the Scottish National Party’s position on the European Union. Coming to the University of Edinburgh, where nationalism, Scottish politics, and the EU are all key areas of research, allowed for a huge amount of engagement with scholars. I can remember coming out of my first meeting with my MSc dissertation supervisor feeling like my work had real potential and would eventually be able to make an academic contribution. The care and consideration that my supervisor had for me during the process made me feel like a real part of the academic community.

I also look fondly (perhaps only in retrospection!) on the hours spent in the library café commiserating and collaborating with my IEP colleagues during exam times. Although the courses were difficult, the small size of the programme meant that we were able to support one another. Further, the fact that other students in my courses were from all over the world meant that conversations were stimulating and engaged with a wide range of national/cultural experiences.


What have you been up to since graduation and what influence did IEP have on your choices?

About a month after finishing the MSc in IEP, I began my PhD at the University of Edinburgh working on an extension of my master’s dissertation project. IEP played a huge role in me applying for the PhD. It gave me confidence in my project and also allowed me the time to work on a PhD proposal alongside my coursework. Being at the University of Edinburgh already allowed me to make valuable contacts with experts in my field, to build a relationship with my supervisor, and to understand what the University was looking for in terms of PhD students. Although many PhD students move from a research degree to the PhD, the School of Social and Political Science provides so many opportunities to all postgraduate students that I didn’t feel at any disadvantage. I took advantage of opportunities like the Transatlantic Seminar to connect with the research culture of the University. Further, I found that academics at Edinburgh are very open to meeting with students and discussing your work and their own. This was invaluable in the PhD proposal process. The IEP degree gave me the time and confidence to take the next step in my academic career.

Judith Sijstermans