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Research Master Social Sciences

Sjef van Stiphout: 'An intellectual challenge'

Alumnus testimonial

Sjef van Stiphout graduated in Social Sciences (Reseach Master) in 2010.

Coming from a bachelor in Political Science, I choose to apply for the Research Master's in Social Sciences (RMSS) because at the time it was the most competitive Master’s programme available to me at the University of Amsterdam. In my curriculum I focused on quantitative research methods because I believed these would be easiest to leverage both inside and outside academia. Another aspect of the program that appealed to me was its international character and the use of English as the main language of instruction. I thought it would be interesting to study with people from different countries and that an English degree (as opposed to a Dutch one) would be a key asset in going abroad myself.

Although I have never been certain of what I want to do when I grow up, the intellectual challenge and people in academia have always appealed to me. After receiving a Fulbright scholarship and an MA degree from the University of Chicago, I am currently a third-year PhD Student in their Sociology department. My dissertation is on algorithmic and high-frequency trading in financial markets. Sometimes referred to as flash trading, this basically boils down to a research project into how people use high-powered computers to trade financial products. PhD programmes in the US tend to be long and PhD programmes at the University of Chicago tend to be very long. In the coming three or four years I will do my emperical fieldwork and write my dissertation.

Being well prepared

My RMSS degree was paramount in my (graduate) career in two related but different ways. A lot of high-ranked universities in the United Sates like to see some experience in the American “system” (e.g. an exchange or full degree) in the foreign students they admit to their PhD programmes. In my case, this was the MA programme in Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, which I did after my RMSS. Because of the thorough coursework and the internship experience during my RMSS I was well prepared for the Chicago MA programme and therefore able to subsequently successfully apply for their PhD programme. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I still benefit from the (transferable) quantitative research skills that I acquired in the statistics courses I took during my RMSS.

Graduate work is training

My advice for current and prospective RMSS students is to think about what you want your Master's to say about you beyond graduation. I know first hand how during your Master’s coursework and thesis (and PhD for that matter) it feels like you are working on your magnum opus. In reality, however, your are probably not. More than anything else, graduate work is training. In my experience, the topic of your research is less important. Further down the line, what is crucial is how you did it and what skills you applied in doing it. Taking this into account in selecting your Master’s programme and coursework will make it easier for you to market your degree afterwards. Last but not least, if you are interested in doing your PhD abroad and if you have the opportunity, care about your grades and your degree in English.