10 billion shades of migration

Kia Muukkonen, studying International Relations and Politics at the University of Sheffield, is just one of the students who has been taking part in 10bn this year. Kia has been working as part of an interdisciplinary student group exploring attitudes to migration. Here’s what she had to say about their research project:

So Kia, how did it all start?

After completing the Silver and Bronze stages of AML2:10bn, we all had something in common; we wanted to finish the project and go all the way through the Gold stage. The planning for the migration project had already begun with the Silver stage, and we all got along so well that we couldn’t wait to arrange another meeting and start planning exactly what we wanted to do. We were all interested in the topic of migration even though our subjects vary from politics to town planning. In fact, this was something that turned out to be very helpful, as we have all learnt different skills from our different subjects and have each been able to contribute differently to the project.

The migration group hard at work. From left to right: Valeria Vigilante, Shaun Thomas, Evelyn Doyle and Angela Lin.
The migration group hard at work. From left to right: Valeria Vigilante, Shaun Thomas, Evelyn Doyle and Angela Lin.

How did you decide how to go about doing the research?

During the Silver stage we completed a project proposal for the Gold stage. We decided to look at what kind of effect migration has on culture and individuals, especially in the world of growing population. We decided that rather than concentrating on state level solutions and effects of migration, we wanted to look at how individual people perceive migration and what kind of experiences they have had, whether they are migrants themselves or lived in the UK their entire lives. We concluded that the best way to do this was to set up a questionnaire in order to find out people’s opinions about different kinds of migrants, what they think when they hear the word “migrant”, whether their experiences make a difference when it comes to accepting multiculturalism and migration, and whether different types of migrants were perceived differently. We wanted to see how the growing flow of migrants and the freer movement of people would be perceived by the respondents and, by looking at their answers, we could then find out what kinds of problems and possible solutions there would be in a world of 10 billion people.

What difficulties did you come up against? How did you overcome these?

We soon found out that our project proposal was a bit too ambiguous considering the time and resource boundaries that we had. Firstly, we wanted to have two separate questionnaires: one for refugees and one for students. On top of that we wanted to have face-to- face interviews with different types of migrants, including refugees. Secondly, even though we knew what we wanted to focus on, our project was way too wide, and we had too many questions to look at. This became even more clear after designing the questionnaires, as we noticed that they were too long. After several meetings with different academics from the university and between ourselves, we decided to concentrate only on legal migration as we realised how interviewing refugees would be really risky for the refugees themselves, and it would be really hard to get it ethically approved. We also decided to only have one questionnaire for everyone, and to concentrate on a few questions rather than have too many different areas of interest. All this helped us to get a clearer picture of what we are doing and how we are going to do it, but it also reminded us of the challenges that we have had with our topic and the challenges that we would face in the future. Migration is a very sensitive topic, and even defining the word “migrant” has turned out to be a difficult process, not to mention talking about “legal” and “illegal migration”. After the Brexit result and the growing tension around the topic, we have only become more aware of the sensibility of the topic, but at the same time it has made us realise how important our project is and made us even more motivated to keep up the hard work.

What’s the biggest achievement of the project so far?

It was such a relief when we managed to get our ethics form through and could finally start the next step of the project properly. Even though we had done loads of research and met different academics, the approval of the ethics form marked a special moment in our research process, as we could finally send the questionnaires around, as well as start finding people from different organisations and backgrounds within Sheffield for the face-to- face interviews. Getting the ethics form through was way more difficult than we originally thought it would be and it took a lot more time than we anticipated. After the process we have all really started to appreciate the hard work that goes into creating the questionnaires that are sent to our email inbox each year!

What happens next?

Once we have gathered the results from the questionnaires we will analyze them using SPSS and different readings that we have done. We will then produce an infographic concluding our findings from the questionnaire and literature review. We will also write a longer report analyzing our findings.

How have you found the experience overall?

Even though working on a research project has been a great experience, we have also faced some difficulties along the way (apart from the ethics form). As we all come from different countries and have been travelling around during the summer, it has sometimes been tricky to find a place and time to meet. Luckily there is always Skype, and Google Forms has been really helpful when editing different documents. Three of us have also taken part in a research methods course as part of our second year of university, which has been really helpful when planning the questionnaires and the research questions, different hypothesis and figuring out what kind of sample size we need in order to get more reliable findings. The course will also come in handy when analyzing the results using SPSS and when writing a research report. It is great to notice how the information and skills learnt while in university can be used in practice and that it is actually helpful and needed in real life projects as well.

Obviously this is only my personal view and some of us may have experienced things differently than me and there are many things that I did not write about, including several lectures on migration that we have attended, amazing and helpful staff in the university that have really guided us throughout the project (especially Fran), tens and tens of cups of coffee during our meetings, as well as some really inspirational talks on migration, brilliant learning moments and most importantly, the great chemistry that our group has. Even though the process has been a bumpy ride so far, we have all been very passionate about what we are doing, and been able to be flexible in order to make this project work. I’m sure in the end this flexibility and hard work will pay off and our project will have a great ending.