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Centre Blog

Iman AbdoulKarim – How the MA Prepared Me for My PhD Journey

21 May 2020

I began the MA Islam in Contemporary Britain programme in 2017 as a part the US-UK Fulbright postgraduate programme, and will begin a PhD in Religious Studies at Yale University this autumn. My time as an MA student at the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK was invaluable. The programme’s interdisciplinary approach towards Islamic Studies, supportive advising structure, dissertation module, and experiential learning opportunities allowed me to refine and articulate my research interests as a prospective PhD student.

An Interdisciplinary Approach towards the Study of Islam

The Islam-UK Centre and MA programme adopt an interdisciplinary and sociological approach towards the study of Islam. Academic staff, MA students, and PhD students study Islam at the intersections of religious studies, media studies, British history, education, and more.  The Centre’s interdisciplinary ethos encourages MA students to pursue a wide range of research interests. Prior to beginning the MA programme, I studied women’s, gender, and sexuality studies as an undergraduate, and my research interests focused on Muslim women’s activism, feminist approaches towards Islam, and Islam’s role as a Black protest religion. At the Centre, I was encouraged to continue to pursue these interests through summative assessments, as a part of the Centre’s reading group, and in my dissertation research on Muslim women’s participation in a Welsh feminist organization. The interdisciplinary instruction I received as an MA student enabled me to articulate the importance of my research interest to the study of Islam in the US and UK in PhD applications.

Strong Network of Advisors

Centre staff are incredibly supportive and make themselves available to prospective applicants, students, and alumni. As I was making the decision to apply to the MA programme and still in the US, Prof. Sophie Gilliat-Ray and Dr. Mansur Ali spoke with me on multiple occasions and wrote me an endorsement letter for the Fulbright grant. While in the programme, my dissertation advisor Dr. Michael Munnik helped me develop a dissertation topic, refine my research interests, polish my writing, and offered encouragement throughout the entire process. In addition, Dr. Saira Malik also frequently sent me articles on the study of race, gender, and sexuality in contemporary Muslim communities to ensure I stayed abreast of research in the field. After I graduated and began applying to PhD programmes, my supervisor and Centre staff not only wrote me recommendation letters but helped guide me through the application process and what to consider when deciding on a doctoral programme.

The Learning Goes Beyond the Classroom

At the Islam-UK Centre, students are encouraged and given the opportunity to be active members of Cardiff’s vibrant learning community. As a new student, instructors connected me with university students and volunteer opportunities in Cardiff. Centre lectures and events exposed me to cutting-edge research on Islam in the UK and served as an opportunity to engage with visiting scholars and PhD students. The Centre’s reading group also provided an opportunity to discuss my research interests in Black Muslim communities amongst peers, academic staff, and community members.

Writing Experience and the Opportunity to Conduct Research

The MA programme’s emphasis on developing students’ academic writing skills and voice through the dissertation module and summative assessments prepared me for submitting a strong writing sample and statement of purpose for PhD applications. The writing sample and statement of purpose are the most important part of the application process. I felt confident about submitting papers I worked on as an MA student as writing samples, in large part because of the detailed feedback I received from instructors. In addition, the opportunity to conduct qualitative research as a part of the dissertation module allowed me to point to actual research I hope to contribute to the field in my statement of purpose.

These are just a few of the ways the MA Islam in Contemporary Britain prepared me to apply for doctoral programmes here in the United States. After completing the programme almost two years ago, I am still making connections between what I learned in modules and from instructors to my current work and the contributions I hope to make to the study of Islam in the future.

Iman AbdoulKarim at her Cardiff graduation July 2019 at the St David’s Centre, with Dr Michael Munnik