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Rebecca Irvine

Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies


Rebecca Irvine

Rebecca's story


I graduated with my master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in 2018. Since then, I’ve started a PhD programme at the City University of New York in the Department of History, with a focus on the modern Middle East. I knew when I went to Lund that I wanted to pursue a PhD, but felt lucky to find such great advisors and a supportive environment to guide me through that process.

Throughout my first year at CMES, I was able to take classes that reflected the interdisciplinary nature of the programme, engaging with key topics, debates, theories and methods in my field, as well as electives on a range of exciting subjects such as migration, religion and political economy. Coming from the UK and the more rigid education system there, what I valued most about the programme was its flexibility. After the first year of classes, the second year was spent working on the thesis, with a semester abroad involving an internship and independent studies, followed by writing up and defending the final thesis. The freedom to choose what and where to study led me to an internship at a local research institute in Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and a thesis examining an anticolonial uprising in northern Iraq in 1920. I loved the process of working independently with the support of my advisor and was able to spend time conducting archival research for the first time under their guidance.  

Beyond my studies in the programme itself, my time at Lund included other activities that gave me a fascinating view into different sides of academia that had previously been beyond me. I worked as an Editorial Assistant for CMES’ interdisciplinary academic journal, Nidaba, which allowed me to explore and understand the academic publishing process, including how peer review systems work. I was also able to travel to several major academic conferences, letting me engage more widely with the academic community and understand major trends in the field.

Applying for a PhD

When it came to doing my PhD applications, which can be a daunting and exhausting process in itself, I was still finishing up my thesis. Though the process was overwhelming at times – especially as my applications were all to US universities, where I was less familiar with the specifics of its academic culture – I got loads of support and advice from people at CMES. The experience I had got throughout the programme, in both my first year classes but importantly in my second year research and internship, meant I could show my preparedness for the next stage. I then spent the first half of 2019 in Lebanon continuing to work on my language skills before moving to New York in the summer, which brings me to where I am today. 

Now coming to the end of my first semester as a PhD student, I am continuing my work on early twentieth century Iraq and exploring the intersections of British colonialism and labour movements in the Mosul region. The programme is intense – in the US you continue to take coursework for the first couple of years – but I am loving building on the experience I gained during my master’s. I chose to do my PhD in History and always knew that would be my discipline, but the time I spent in an interdisciplinary department at Lund and the exposure that gave me to different ideas and methodologies was really influential, and I think helps expand my perspective. In terms of choosing to take an academic path, Lund offered me so many opportunities that I continue to draw on.