New perspectives in policymaking
Written by Maya Sankaran
Megan Ryan, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, headed into college on a pre-med path fueled by a passion for biology.
After a year of study abroad in Ecuador volunteering at a local hospital, Ryan realized the most pressing global health problems weren’t as much biological as they were political.
Ryan wanted to learn more, and so she enrolled in a short course studying the politics of language in Malaysia.
“The ethnicized politics of Malaysia further increased my interest in politics and well-being,” she said.
The turning point in Ryan’s decision to pursue political science and policy came during an internship with the United Nations Population Fund in Thailand. While helping to write a policy brief for unmet needs of rural women and reproductive health, she met with a friend who was volunteering with a refugee clinic on the Thai-Myanmar border.
Although she had no prior knowledge of the Myanmar armed conflicts, Ryan decided to extend her stay and help set up a youth center to educate refugees about reproductive health.
“Whenever I think about what’s motivated me to transition from health to political science, I think of this experience,” she said.
Ryan finished her undergraduate degree in biology, and decided to pursue a master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies from U-M. She then became a foreign affairs officer in Myanmar and worked as a liaison between the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar and Washington, D.C., during Myanmar’s first democratic elections.
After working in election security issues, her interest in Myanmar conflicts grew and she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in political science.
“At the end of the day I would sit down at my desk and wish I had a deeper understanding of the causes of these conflicts,” Ryan said. “I decided to go back to school to learn about rigorous research methods in a conflict-related discipline.”
She is now writing her doctoral dissertation on Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Myanmar. Her current research of religious activists in Myanmar is supported by a U.S. Institute of Peace Fellowship.
After spending so much time in Southeast Asia, Ryan feels that her life has been enriched by the many perspectives she has encountered throughout her journey.
“I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to live all over Southeast Asia and to interact with different scholars and development specialists,” she said. “These experiences have shaped my perspective in important ways and serve as sources of motivation during this challenging, yet rewarding journey towards a Ph.D.”