"This studentship changed the course of my life and career" — Jo Cox scholar Matt Mahmoudi
I am the proud holder of the first Jo Cox PhD Studentship in Refugee and Migration Studies at Pembroke College. Jo was an inspirational Cambridge graduate who was prepared to ask big questions and to speak on behalf of those who had no voice.
The studentship changed the course of my life and career, making it possible for me to continue my studies and to devote time to the projects that I think are making a real difference in the world.
My parents were refugees from Iran. As a child in Denmark, I watched them struggle to navigate life as immigrants in a country built around its native population. The Iranian diaspora and other displaced people would come together to share knowledge about opportunities such as housing, work, and study. Informal networks — anchor-communities, if you will — were vital in surmounting the cultural, socioeconomic, and institutional barriers often faced by newcomers.
While completing my undergraduate studies in London, I met Cambridge academic Dr Ella McPherson, who encouraged me to come to Cambridge to undertake my master’s in development studies and to work with her on The Whistle, a digital human rights reporting project she founded.
In 2017, I began a PhD, investigating new digital boundaries to socioeconomic life for urban refugees and migrant populations. My research asks whether digital tools developed to “integrate” refugees reinforce or alleviate inequalities along lines of labour, housing, and information access. Motivated by my family’s experience, I am committed to ensuring that people forced to leave their countries of origin are provided with the foundations needed to thrive in their new homes, free of discrimination and exploitation.
The PhD programme at Cambridge has been an incredible springboard for pursuing critical research opportunities in the field of technology and human rights; opportunities I never thought possible. I have been able to learn from, and collaborate with, local authorities, technologists, and activists as far afield as New York, Berkeley, Abuja, Hong Kong, and Berlin. In addition to my involvement with The Whistle, I co-ordinate Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps at Cambridge and I’ve founded Declarations, a human rights podcast. I spent four months as a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, and three months at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Without the Jo Cox Studentship, the future of my PhD would have been uncertain. The ability to undertake a PhD is a privilege: a challenge to the most affluent of students, not to mention those who hail from more humble beginnings. The studentship changed the course of my life and career, making it possible for me to continue my studies and to devote time to the projects that I think are making a real difference in the world.
I am delighted that Cambridge is actively raising money to educate and enable the potential of under-represented students, including students from low-income backgrounds, black and minority ethnic students and students who have faced other major hurdles to getting here. Students like me. Because, as Jo Cox said, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
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