Alumni Profile: Mihika Chatterjee
Mihika Chatterjee (MPhil Development Studies 2011 and DPhil International Development 2014) is a departmental lecturer at the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford.
It is fulfilling to be teaching at the department where I spent seven years pursuing a masters and doctorate. Green Templeton College’s DPhil scholarship was key in enabling my trajectory.
When I applied for my masters, I had three years of experience fielding a Randomised Control Trial on indoor air pollution in eastern India. The time I spent observing public health provision in a rural district provoked questions not just on health, but land ownership, farming practices, food security and the role of the state. I got ever more curious about how politics mediated outcomes of state policies but also everyday public services. I wanted to develop my nascent research interests in politics and policy through training in interdisciplinary social sciences.
In 2011, I applied to the MPhil in Development Studies at ODID. I was clear and keen about the department but unsure of what it meant to choose an ‘Oxford college’. GTC emerged as an excellent choice – the department offered me a scholarship linked to the college and that made the decision easy.
Over the course of the MPhil, I learned to appreciate GTC as a distinct and mature college. Its unassuming entrance led to an exciting postgraduate community, a large portion of which was comprised of international students interested in health and medicine. Instead of a high table, it boasted of an exceptionally talented culinary staff and students committed to keeping food wastage to a minimum. The two-year MPhil went by faster than I had imagined – coursework was all-consuming, but I found balance in friends I made at GTC’s library, Hayloft (common area), and the gardens.
At the end of my MPhil, my research interests had evolved to questions on access to resources, specifically land. Land conflicts in India in the 21st century had spawned heated debates around land legislation and food security. I was keen to proceed to a DPhil and stay on at GTC, and happily secured the college’s DPhil scholarship. The generous fund allowed me to focus on my doctoral research but also develop my scholarship more broadly. I was able to spend ten months gathering primary data on land and labour in an agrarian region of Western India where land had been acquired for an industrial area.
Beyond the work on my dissertation, a funded DPhil provided the breathing room to participate in broader conversations that crossed disciplinary boundaries. My involvement with the Emerging Markets Symposium (EMS) is an example of the kind of multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder dialogue GTC can stimulate and sustain. I was involved with organising the annual symposium for four years, and we covered a wide range of issues – maternal health, youth, ageing, and the environment. I shared my research insights on youth, aspirations and employment in India at the House of Lords, where we released the 2016 symposium report on ‘Young People and the Future of the Emerging Markets’.
My time as a masters and doctoral student at GTC was engaging. It is filled with memories of spontaneous chats with Gill Edwards (Head Librarian, now retired), Ruth Loseby (Academic Projects Manager), and Michael Pirie (Head Gardener). I suspect some of them felt a slight sense of relief when I finally received my DPhil and was out of their hair!
I currently teach on the MPhil programme I was enrolled in a decade ago. My research explores livelihood landscapes in India and the role of land in it. Through my research, I aim to understand the unequal social and economic outcomes of contemporary industrialization for various rural groups in India, and the pressures that these dynamics bear on land, water, and key rural resources. In this current climate, where social science research is being asphyxiated through funding cuts in the UK, I am doubly appreciative that GTC has had the vision to support critical social inquiry into interlinked issues of human welfare, the environment, and politics in the Global South. I hope GTC will continue to grow its support to social sciences, especially to BAME women scholars.
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