Sian Cook

Portrait photo of SianMy name is Sian and my academic background is in forensic anthropology and humanitarian action. I completed my joint Master’s degree in International Humanitarian Action at Uppsala University.

I chose this programme because it allowed me to strengthen my understanding of the contexts where the identification of human remains may be required, such as conflicts or natural disasters. For example, during my second semester I attended a field trip to Georgia and learned more about the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in helping to determine the fate of missing persons related to the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. The programme also presented an opportunity to learn more about the humanitarian sector as a whole, including the various forms of humanitarian aid, monitoring and evaluation, and much more.

Before accepting my offer of admission for the Master’s programme I decided to visit Uppsala University in person, because there is only so much a website and email correspondence can tell you. The website can’t tell you when it feels like to be lost in the city, an email can’t tell you whether Uppsala feels like a temporary travel destination. During my visit, I met university professors and students already enrolled in the programme, all of whom were keen to share their experiences. I wandered around Uppsala, got lost, and so many friendly faces offered to help guide me in the right direction. It felt like more than a temporary place of travel, and a place where I could plant roots, leave then return and pick up where I left off. That was good enough for me.

The best thing about studying at Uppsala University was the lecture/seminar sessions. There was no limit to the lecturers’ imaginations and therefore no limit to my learning. For example, some of the sessions included simulations, such as delivering humanitarian aid, or role playing a United Nations Security Council scenario.

My Master’s class was a small group of approximately 14 people. We were a close group, both in and outside of class, and helped each other with project assignments and navigating around Uppsala. During my time at Uppsala University I also attended Swedish language classes, however, with regret, I did not complete them.

Since graduation, my Master’s thesis - The Return of Remains: How Can Dignity Be Better Safeguarded? – is compulsory reading for forensic anthropology degree courses at a university in the UK. More recently, I have built upon my thesis and have written a book chapter to be released in a forensic science and humanitarian action publication later this year.

I have also held various research roles across a variety of disciplines, including working in hospital administration prevention, technological innovation, humanitarian evaluation and health and social care. I am currently a researcher at the University of Suffolk, exploring the impact of digital technology on the quality of life for vulnerable people and on health and social care delivery.

My studies at Uppsala University prepared me for life after graduation by strengthening my connections within and outside of the humanitarian sector, and helped to deepen my insight into how research can be applied across a variety of disciplines. I have no doubt that the engaging and interactive nature of the lectures/seminars helped prepare me for responsibilities I have held in professional roles, including coordinating field research or engaging affected populations within humanitarian and clinical settings.

If I was going to redo my time at Uppsala University I would have taken the opportunity to participate in the research clusters and, of course, would have continued with my Swedish lessons! My advice for students wanting to follow in my career footsteps is to take the time to actively listen and learn from others. Listening is, by far, a more valuable skill than talking.

Read more about the Master's programme in International Humanitarian Action