Alumna Nazeehah Khan (MPhil in International Relations and Politics, 2017) on the joys and difficulties of her academic journey and career
I currently work in researching, developing, and writing policies for foster children in California. I continue to read and write on international politics, my first love, on the side with particular focus on indentured politics. For my entire academic life, I had an obsession with the intersection of politics with other fields, which is what my application to Cambridge had been all about. How do politics and psychology or environmental science or water scarcity interact? The options, and the answers, are endless. While I centered these conversations around counterterrorism academically, I still get to use the tool of intersectionality professionally in policy-making to analyze policies from a holistic standpoint.
There was an immense aloneness in navigating higher education halfway around the world, in a country I had never been to which was so dissimilar to my tiny island of Hawaii, surrounded by peers who had access to an education or supports and resources that my family and I did not have. An aloneness to doing these things as an Indo-Fijian woman. Then there was an aloneness in having strayed from the cultural expectation of marriage and children to instead pursue a career. And the subsequent aloneness of pursuing that career in various states outside of Hawaii. That aloneness makes up both my best and worst moments, because I learned how to make a home within myself and enjoy solitude, which occasionally ventures into the territory of loneliness. When you uproot yourself constantly, there is a sudden, daunting realization that your sense of self is the only thing you can be tethered to, and that that sense of self must come from you rather than your surroundings, which for me, were fragile and changed every several months.
I had an early realization that, as a woman of color, society was more concerned with how closely I could abide by others beliefs versus what my own unique thoughts were. Research offered me a safe space to create my own thoughts, opinions, and assertion of individuality. Research quickly became an art to me, this splatter of fragmented information that eventually becomes a huge mosaic that is a new, informed idea. I love that policy allows me to use research in a tangible way that has a direct impact on existing issues. I love that policy is not just an exploration of ideas, but an implementation of ideas. I get to live in the practical just as much as the theoretical.
Ultimately, the hope is simply to put some good out into the world using my love for intersectional research and international security. In high school, I had this somewhat laughable idea that I’d change the world. In undergrad, I realized the world is full of individual worlds, with each person having their own, and collective change happens when individual change happens. So I just want to help improve those individual worlds, even if it is just a few, even if it is just one. By doing that through research, I also bring light into my own.
I would say, particularly to women of color: do not compromise yourself or your ideas. It can be easy to feel your thoughts are not good enough, that your analysis is lacking, that someone else who has more resources could do what you’re doing except better. This is not true. Policy is a direct product of the people involved in shaping it. Policy needs you, the entirety of you, for it to be shaped to benefit people overlooked currently. You might have to climb a little harder and often you will climb alone, but even the opportunity to climb is worth celebrating. And in the end, I can guarantee you will be higher than you had started. When you start with nothing, there is so much to gain and so little to lose.
I chose Lucy for my MPhil because I was eager to be part of a mature, female-centered community. In a place as daunting as Cambridge, it was always nice to come home to a small, red-bricked community where everyone looked familiar, spoke openly, and identified with the joys and difficulties of navigating academia, and the world, as a woman.
Nazeehah Khan is a Policy Analyst for the State of California. She writes and develops policies for children in foster care with an emphasis on personal rights and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Prior to this, she has worked for the Washington State Senate, State of Hawaii, and Qatar Foundation International with internships at the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense. She received her MPhil in International Relations and Politics from the University of Cambridge and her BA in Political Science with a minor in Islamic Studies from the University of Hawaii. She is of Indo-Fijian heritage and was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii.