Misha Upadhyaya

International Relations MA

A lot of the students at the School of Politics and International Relations go on to do great things because they have a great foundation.

Why did you decide to study for a Master’s, and why at Kent?

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree at Kent, I was trying to decide what to do next. Graduate schemes weren’t for me. Some of my lecturers suggested I do a Master’s – because not everyone has one and it opens up opportunities to work in organisations like the UN. 

My parents said that if I didn’t do it then I never would as it’s so difficult to return to education once you’ve left it. So I decided to do it all in one go. Also, Kent had a loyalty discount for undergraduates, so it was great to take advantage of that.

What were the highlights of your Master’s?

Writing my dissertation. It was an exploration of the ideas and concepts behind creativity and learning. It was inspired by Dr Iain MacKenzie, who was my dissertation supervisor, and he changed my life that year. 

In one of the modules he got us to read a book called A Thousand Plateaus. It made me think about how society doesn’t allow us to reflect our journey, because of the way politics and society is formed for us. And that inspired my whole dissertation. A reflection of life-long learning influenced by politics and societal structure.

I have friends who did their own Master’s degrees elsewhere and they were much more restricted in what they could do. Whereas at Kent, if you’re inspired by an idea then the academics will help and support you. There was complete flexibility with that. And yes, there were people writing about more traditional topics such as aspects of the Cold War. But my topic was a total curveball and I was completely supported to make it happen.

What did you gain from doing your postgraduate degree?

It gave me a year to reflect on what I’d learned and the transferability of the skills I’d gained. It also gave me a year away from the chaos of undergraduate life: those three years are super-intense. In that year I realised I wasn’t the right person to go into the corporate machine. I wanted to be valued for what I had to contribute.

What does your current role involve?

My work as Stakeholder and Engagement Officer is really varied. I work on large projects such as the Mayor of London’s consultation and engagement programme around countering extremism. It’s a programme to understand what more we can do to renew our efforts to tackle extremism across the City.

I’ve overseen the most comprehensive city-wide engagement and listening exercise in the policy space. My portfolio has been all the engagement: making sure that every part of the community is heard through different forms of engagement.

We’ll publish our final report in the next few months. It will set out a series of recommendations to keep people safe from extremism.

Other things I do include organising events at which the mayor will speak or answering correspondence for him. It might be organising consultation events or managing online consultations. I’ve also delivered grants for civil society organisations: I make sure they have the support they need and that they’re meeting their contractual obligations.

The exciting thing about this role is that I get the opportunity to do both policy and delivery.

What’s your favourite part of the role?

Engaging with the community and hearing what they have to say, negative or positive. I’m a huge advocate for civil society and believe that policy can only be reflective if civil society has a role in shaping it. That’s my favourite part – listening to people, seeing how our work is affecting them and hopefully making things better for them.

What did you do straight after leaving Kent?

I joined Thames Valley Police, working as a civilian counter-terrorism officer. I oversaw cases and individuals who were being radicalised. I also delivered community engagement across the whole region, helping people to stand up against extremism and encouraging people to make referrals. 

I also led on the south east women’s network, helping women in the south east of England work to safeguard others from radicalisation. I was awarded a Chief Constable Commendation for my commitment to safeguarding the community – that was an incredibly proud moment.

After doing that, I moved to NHS England where I was a regional prevent coordinator. In that role, I oversaw the delivery of the government’s prevent strategy in London and the south of England in all healthcare organisations.

What are the qualities that have helped you succeed?

I’m excellent at networking – I learned that at university.  I went to every event the School or Union put on if there was someone who could assist me. I believe that the biggest asset anyone can have to be successful is a strong network willing to vouch for you. Advocacy is so important. I don’t think young people these days realise how important it is, particularly in male-dominated policy space like the area I work in.

Stakeholder management is the best skill I’ve gained over the last few years. I’m able to align people together – their views and outcomes and goals. This policy space is quite controversial. Everyone has an opinion and often those opinions conflict. You must find common ground to succeed.

In what other ways did studying at Kent help your career?

University shaped who I’ve become. Kent is a very student-active university. A lot of the students at the School of Politics and International Relations go on to do great things because they have a great foundation.

What are your future plans?

I want to stay in the public sector. I’d like to be able to expand my policy portfolio. At work I have a mentor and a career champion and I’m also on a management development course. I can see myself staying in policing and crime/security but broadening it. I want to apply my skills across a much broader safeguarding risk/harm portfolio.

What advice would you give to someone about making the most of university?

Get involved in everything the University and Union are doing and never say no to an opportunity. It’s important to find and establish your networks. Make the most of the resources at Kent.

I loved being at Kent and it’s always there for you, even when you’ve left.  The alumni network, access to support and networking opportunities are great. It’s a really well-rounded University.