• INSMS International Network for Students of Migration Studies

PhD in Migration Studies

One of the options after graduating from migration studies is to continue on the academic path with a PhD. We had the opportunity to talk to Sevda Tunaboylu from Turkey, who took exactly this path after completing her master's degree.

Sevda is 31 years old, comes from Turkey and has a Master's degree in Migration Studies from Universidad Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. She knew she wanted to pursue a PhD after completing her master's degree. Since having a supervisor for the PhD application is often a requirement for applying to a PhD program, it was important for Sevda to make connections with senior professors in order to find this necessary supervisor. After securing supervision, she applied for the PhD program at the same university where she was studying her master's degree.



Immediately after completing her master's degree, Sevda went to Greece to conduct field research on forced migration and refugees as part of a research project led by Dr. Ilse van Liempt of Utrecht University. She spent the summer there interviewing asylum seekers on the islands and began her dissertation in September. This was a great opportunity for her because she was able to use the data collected during this project for her dissertation, as the two projects were very closely related. Therefore, Sevda advice was to always stay in touch with people who are working on similar topics and make suggestions for collaboration.


When asked if it was easy for Sevda to find this PhD and teaching position at UPF, Sevda explained: "I think that projects related to migration are limited compared to the number of highly qualified people interested in this topic."

However, as her example shows, it is not impossible either!


Other opportunities to work at the university that Sevda shared with us include working as a research assistant at the university's various research centers or as a coordinator and organizer of workshops, seminars, or conferences. However, these positions are not always paid. Consequently, one of the biggest hurdles for people pursuing an academic career, according to Sevda, is the lack of funding opportunities. For example in Spain, many students begin their doctoral studies without funding. Sevda was one of those PhD students and started her first year of PhD while still looking for funding. She applied for the Spanish and Catalan government scholarships, and finally received the Catalan scholarship, which benefited her research for the past 3 and a half years. Beside funding opportunities, there is a possibility of teaching at the university or working as a research assistant in projects that have already received funding. However, it is important to note that these opportunities including funding and work are unfortunately limited.

Sevda has defended her PhD thesis in September 202, and she is pursuing her previously planned path: her current job is to prepare classes, evaluate student performance, and deliver sessions. The rest of her time is focused on research, writing, and preparing her previous papers for publication. What Sevda particularly appreciates is that it is not a typical 9-to-5 job for her. The flexibility allows her to set her own schedule depending on the workload and the amount of time she has.


Still, there are many shortcomings about the conditions of teaching at the university. For graduate students or young researchers, teaching is usually very precarious. Therefore, especially PhD students and early career professors either have to teach a lot or constantly seek outside funding - while most often they do both. This is what Sevda sees as the biggest disadvantage of working in academia.


To relieve the financial and emotional pressure on PhD students, Sevda believes that there should be proactive solutions to change the “volunteering” based system that sees students as unpaid workforce, as in reality they are already highly skilled people who deserve to have their time, dedication, and work valued:

"We need to change this hierarchical and unpaid culture in academia - which can also be found in NGOs and IOs - and create opportunities for students to not only gain experience and develop their skills, but also receive proper compensation."


Tips for success


Sevda's tip for immigrant students, or those aspiring to be, is to work in different sectors during their studies or in the years that follow. For example, right after graduating from her bachelor's degree, she worked at a local NGO that provides legal assistance to refugees in Turkey. Through this work, she was able to learn directly from refugees about the problems they face navigating the legal system. She also worked at an international organization for refugee and migrant rights. Ultimately, however, she said she decided to stay in academia and not work as an NGO or consultant, but nevertheless, these experiences have helped her gain different skills and, more importantly, different perspectives on these important issues. So, according to her, it's really helpful to do a few different jobs and then decide what you like or dislike.


*INSMS is always looking for interesting career paths of former migration students. If you would like to share your professional history with the network, please contact us by email: info@insms-network.org, Subject: P2P campaign


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