Reflections on the first term of the MPP

Rosie Saffell, MPP candidate 2017 – 2018 and class representative

The mince pies and mulled wine are in full flow and my first term on the MPP is coming to an end: it is a good time to reflect on what I have learned, encountered and loved about the last 8 weeks. I chose Cambridge to be part of one of the most intellectually stimulating academic communities but also because the size of the MPP cohort strikes a good balance between diversity and the opportunities for individual attention. What I underestimated was how far I would be pushed outside my comfort zone,  growing professionally and intellectually, but also on a deep personal level. I have discovered more about my passions, strengths and weaknesses in the last eight weeks than in the last ten years. When I try to articulate what has made this term so special, I think of three elements:

  1. My MPP cohort keep me on my toes – The beauty of the Cambridge MPP adventure is that I am surrounded by the absolute best people, both in my student cohort and my faculty. My MPP cohort is not only my main social circle but a daily source of inspiration and encouragement. We are from all over the world, every kind of policy focus and lived experience. Even on tough days, where I feel out of my depth or statistical regressions get the better of me, my classmates’ energy motivates me to keep engaging in different events, meet new people and to take advantage of all the incredible resources that Cambridge has to offer. We are all in it together, and I never imagined that I could feel so comfortable with a group of people that were total strangers eight weeks ago. Further, my fortnightly one to one meetings with my supervisor have helped me to focus my attention on researching my topics of interest and acted as an anchor, especially a directional one. I feel that everyone, not only in the POLIS department, but the University is rooting for me 100%.
  2. You will have constant FOMO – Cambridge is a knowledge hub and magnet for world-renowned speakers. There is an event happening at every hour of the day and I am always torn – “I can’t decide between going to see Professor Stephen Hawkins or Mohammad Yunus tonight!”. This term alone I have had the opportunity to discuss gender and the UN with Helen Clark, learn about the history and evolution of the Civil Service with Lord Wilson and consider fundamental policy challenges such as generational inequality with Paul Johnson of the IFS. To have the opportunity to challenge leading thinkers and policy shapers has helped bring policy theory and analysis to life.
  3. You will practice the ‘craft’ – We are taught mixed methodologies and to take a critical and holistic approach. Ultimately, our teachers focus on equipping us to be confident and informed when making choices and presenting information to a broad policy audience. Our weekly professional development sessions have really stood out, and not just because of our fun speech writing sessions with the ever so charismatic Dr. Dennis Grube. The onus is to develop our own unique style by trying new things, from writing an Op Ed on a topic of my choice, to learning how to synthesise complex information in a short memo or a 60 second brief; the opportunities for practical application are endless. Our cohort is encouraged to read and provide feedback on each other’s writing. This reinforces the importance of peer learning and that competition, whilst healthy, is second to collaboration.

All this in only one term! Whilst a well-deserved break is in order, filled with lots of Christmas carols and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 50th time, I can’t wait for next term. Together we will tackle economic policy and start our work placements with organisations such as the UN, World Bank and the Treasury.


Rosie Saffell is the student representative for the 2017/2018 MPP cohort. After working across Banking and Management Consulting for six years, Rosie came to Cambridge to research whether technology giants have a duty of care in relation to democracy, and how effective policy and use of technology can improve financial services access for those in developing countries.  

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