Sophie Hollows

Tell us something about what you were doing before you came to Oxford

I grew up in Canada, the United States, France and the United Kingdom. In 2009, I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Politics, Psychology and Sociology from the University of Cambridge. Whilst at Cambridge, I was heavily involved in several student societies, particularly as president of my college student union and Vice-President of the Cambridge Union Society. During my undergraduate degree, I travelled extensively to countries including Tanzania, Uganda and Lebanon. I also spent a summer doing fieldwork for my undergraduate dissertation in Cameroon, and taught English in a small city in China the summer before beginning the MSc programme.

What do you like most about studying in the Department of Education?

I really appreciate the variety of work being undertaken in the Department of Education, which fosters highly diverse perspectives and approaches to research. Rather than dictating what you research or how you do it, the Department empowers even Masters students to develop truly unique approaches apposite to their project and their individual personality. This flexibility has proven invaluable to me.

What attracted you to the programme of study here?

I was drawn to studying education because my undergraduate degree studies convinced me of the crucial role of education in all aspects of civil society. My own international upbringing and passion for travelling made me want to look at education on a global scale. The Oxford course furnished a unique opportunity to design and conduct my own research project, whilst simultaneously mastering the field of comparative and international education both theoretically and practically. I was also attracted by the opportunity to visit UNESCO, the OECD and the IIEP in Paris. Oxford is also, obviously, one of the best universities in the world, and I already knew that I enjoyed the unique college and supervision system at Oxford and Cambridge.

What qualities do you think an Education student at Oxford needs to have in order to be successful?

To be successful in the MSc programme, I think an Education student must have the ability to work independently and self motivate. These skills are essential as they enable you to develop your own arguments and give you the  the confidence to defend your ideas not just before your classmates, but also before world class academics. Equally, however, it is important to be open-minded and recognise the validity of other perspectives in the room.

We hope that you would recommend the Department of Education as a place to come and study. What reasons would you give for this?

The Department of Education is an incredibly diverse community – people come from many different backgrounds and have had many different experiences. This diversity creates a truly rich learning environment. The Department also manages to combine rigorous academics with an open and friendly atmosphere, a dynamic that is replicated at the level of the International and Comparative cohort. My fellow students were incredibly supportive and always willing to offer feedback on my research and my arguments.

What are your career ambitions after you complete the course?

In the coming year, I hope to continue my studies at the Department of Education as a D.Phil student. Ultimately, I hope to combine a career in research or academia with a career in education policy-making on an international level.

If I knew before I started the course what I know now, I would…

Be more aware of how my own educational experiences affect the decisions I make and the way in which I see the world around me.

What are three things that you might suggest to students coming after you to help them get the most out of their time here?

  • Make sure you are really up-to-date with current debates in education at national and international levels.
  • Even if you do not have a specific research topic before you arrive, try to have an idea of what might potentially interest you. This will help you to focus your reading from the beginning of the year, and to situate your research within the field of international and comparative education.
  • Familiarise yourself with the work of your course leader and other leading professors in the Department so that you can benefit as much as possible from their expertise.

Please add anything else you would like to say

Your Masters research project is something very personal, but it is also a team effort as you draw on the knowledge and experiences of those who surround you – your course leader, your supervisor, other professors, and, perhaps most importantly, your fellow students. It is the uniquely challenging yet simultaneously very supportive atmosphere in the Department that ultimately reinvigorated my passion for academia and enabled me to succeed.