School of Social and Political Science

MSc International Relations


Ellen Tyra

Ellen graduated in 2020 and was the winner of the 2020 prize for Best Overall Performance in MSc International Relations. She is an international student and shares what drove her to apply for the programme at Edinburgh. She writes about her favourite courses on the programme and gives lots of insight into life on campus and the facilities that are available.

MSc International Relations

Studying at the School of Social and Political Science

What made you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?

I chose to study at the University of Edinburgh for several reasons. First, I knew that the quality of education would be very high.

The reputation of the MSc International Relations programme is very good, and as an international student from the United States, I was looking to establish a well-rounded perspective by engaging in postgraduate studies at a top university in Europe. The University of Edinburgh was perfect for that!

Second, I was interested in taking courses on the subject of foreign policy and, more specifically, Southeast Asian international relations. The MSc International Relations programme offered that, with several professors who are leaders in their respective fields teaching relevant courses that aligned with my interests.

Finally, as a student at the university, I would get a chance to live in Edinburgh! There is always something interesting to do or see in Edinburgh and with the city as a base, I knew I would be able to travel quite a lot around Scotland and the United Kingdom, which was definitely an advantage!

How have you enjoyed your programme?

I loved being a part of the MSc International Relations programme! I learned so much from my classmates, professors, and members of the School of Social and Political Science community.

Even when things became complicated during the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt that the professors, School, and University overall were very supportive and helpful.

What has been your favourite course?

I enjoyed all my courses, but my favourite was probably Human Rights, Global Politics, and International Law. The subject matter was fascinating, and the professor gave very insightful lectures.

I especially liked the seminar component because my classmates and I could engage in discussions about the reading material or student presentations and debate critical questions about human rights law. Although the debates could get heated, it was always fun and interesting, and we learned so much from each other.

A close second favourite was Asia Pacific in the World, which was one of the classes that drew me to the programme in the first place.

Aims for after University?

I hope to secure employment with a US government agency or international institution in order to work in the foreign policy/international politics sphere.

My time at the University of Edinburgh prepared me well for this career path and through my coursework, I was able to expand my knowledge on relevant subjects and enhance my written communication skills.

What does a typical weekday look like for you as a student at SPS?

My classes were always around the George Square campus area, and since I lived nearby, I had a very short walk from my accommodation. (On the way to classes, I always stopped to pet the sweet dog that ‘works’ at the comic book shop on West Nicolson Street!).

I loved being on campus as much as possible! Between classes, I would find a quiet place to complete my readings or work on essays. The main library, the Chrystal Macmillan Building, and the Lister Learning and Teaching Centre (which has spectacular views of Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace, and the Firth of Forth from the upper floors) were my go-to spots for mid-day studying.

After classes ended, I would head to the Pleasance Gym to exercise and unwind. When time allowed, my friends and I would gather in the evenings for dinner at one of the many restaurants near campus to talk about our days and plan our upcoming weekend adventures.

What are your highlights from your time at the School of Social and Political Science?

A very memorable highlight from my time at the School of Social and Political Science was the day I gave a presentation on universal jurisdiction with two of my classmates in our Human Rights, Global Politics, and International Law course.

We spent weeks preparing for the presentation, did lots of research and discussed the topic at length, and in the process, had fun and got to know each other better. The presentation was ultimately well-received in our course which was very rewarding.

Also, one of the best things about the School of Social and Political Science was that the professors were very accessible and encouraging. I made sure to visit Guidance and Feedback hours in my professor’s offices before essays were due, to ensure that my ideas were on the right track and to ask any questions I might have had.

Dr Oliver Turner, Dr Kate Wright, Dr Andrea Birdsall, and Dr Juliet Kaarbo were particularly helpful, welcoming, and gave great feedback on my ideas. I really appreciated being able to discuss my thoughts about course topics and essay ideas with them on a regular basis.

Knowing what you do now, what would you say to your past self before starting the course?

Enjoy every moment! The programme will go by very quickly, so make the most of every opportunity!


University life

Are you involved in any student societies?

I joined the International and Exchange Student Society (IESS) and participated in four of their weekend excursions to different places in Scotland.

On the tours organized by the IESS, I visited St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Inverness, Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Fort William, and spent a full weekend on the Isle of Skye! It was truly magnificent getting to see the Scottish Highlands, especially during the first semester in autumn when the landscape was so colourful!

I was glad to have the opportunity to travel throughout Scotland and for a very reasonable price too!

Where have you lived while studying at Edinburgh?

I lived in University accommodation, specifically O’Shea North.

The location was absolutely perfect, as it was on Holyrood Road and backed on to the Royal Mile in the centre of the city. Everything was essentially within walking distance!

The sense of community at the residence was really great as well and gave me the chance to get to know other international students from a variety of academic disciplines.

What has your University experience been like, in just three words?

Amazing. Inspiring. Memorable.

If you recommend ONE thing to do in the first semester what would it be?

Explore! Walk around the city of Edinburgh. Old Town in particular is beautiful and historic. Just by walking around, I was able to discover so much about the city, including what restaurants I wanted to try, what sites I wanted to visit, where the old closes on the Royal Mile led, and so much more!

Even on rainy days, I liked being out and about. Knowing different parts of the city and the events going on each week made me feel a stronger connection with the Edinburgh community.


The City of Edinburgh

What are your favourite things to do in Edinburgh at the weekend?

There is so much to do in Edinburgh! Two of my favourite places to spend time at on the weekend were Topping and Company Booksellers in New Town and Maison de Moggy, the cat café, near Grassmarket. There’s nothing better than getting a nice cup of tea while browsing for books or de-stressing with adorable, friendly cats!

I also had a goal to visit every tourist site in Edinburgh during my masters program. There are so many great places to visit and many, like the history and art museums, are free. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the People’s Story Museum were especially wonderful and taught me so much about local history and culture.

City of Edinburgh top tip or hidden gem?

Visit the Edinburgh Zoo. It’s about a 30-minute bus ride away from the George Square campus but feels like a complete escape from the bustling city and is situated in the midst of nature.

The animals are very well treated and enjoyable to watch. The views from the top of the zoo, which is located on a steep hill, are spectacular, and on clear days, you can see the tower of the Balmoral Hotel and Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

In the winter, the Edinburgh Zoo has a magnificent light/lantern display that makes for a fun outing when the days get shorter and essay deadlines start looming.

While I was a student at the University of Edinburgh, I got a zoo membership so that I could visit any time I wanted, while also supporting wildlife conservation efforts.

Have you had a part-time job while you’ve been in Edinburgh?

While in Edinburgh, I had a part-time virtual internship with the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia.

What helped me balance my work and studies were two things in particular: scheduling dedicated hours for my internship and finding unique, interesting places to do my work. That way, I could still be productive, but also got to explore new parts of the city while doing so.

On nice days, I took my laptop outside with a view of Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill. If it rained (which it does...often!), I’d go to coffee shops or cafés across the city to do my work (I highly recommend Black Medicine Coffee Co, which has great study spaces), and sometimes I just stayed in my room, propping the window open so I could hear bagpipe music drifting down from the Royal Mile.