Manuel Schaeffer arrived at the OII in 2011, after completing his BA in Communication Science degree at the University of Munich in Germany. He first became aware of the OII after meeting Bill Dutton at Sciences Po in Paris during his exchange year. Since leaving, Manuel has worked for the European Commission and Google, and is hoping to come back to academia to pursue a PhD. Interview with Tim Davies.


Tim: What first attracted you to the OII?

Manuel: The OII was an obvious choice for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, whilst studying Communication Science I was frustrated by the outdated topics and methods. Secondly, I had always been interested in digital technology and how it affects society, reaching from the micro level of interaction to the macro level of societal organisation and politics. Ultimately and more by chance, I met Professor Bill Dutton when he gave a lecture on his Fifth Estate Theory at a research center at Sciences Po. After speaking with the then Director of the OII, I got a great overview and knew that I wanted to study here.

My main topic of interest whilst at the OII was Digital Politics and my thesis focussed on questions about privacy and identity related to new features on Facebook. However, to say I had just one main topic of interest would be incorrect. One of the most valuable aspects of the OII MSc Programme is the fact that students are introduced to new topics and questions every day. I experienced this for instance with network analysis. The skills and knowledge, especially the ability to be able to picture and break down the interconnectedness of digital technologies, are now important to my daily job.

Tim: Where has life taken you since leaving the OII?

Manuel: Since leaving the OII, I have worked at the European Commission in Brussels and for Google in London. After serving a five-month traineeship for DG CONNECT (Communications Networks, Content and Technology) at the EC, I was offered a short term contract to stay at the Commission in a special Task Force that was developing a strategy for future EU Internet Policy. During this time, I started interviewing for Google for whom I now work as an Operations Associate for the YouTube product. In this role I work to improve workflows and processes, analyse data, provide partner support and educate people.

Tim: Did your time at the OII prepare you for these roles?

Manuel: Very much so. People know about the OII and I have been asked about my experiences several times. In short: the reputation of the OII is a clear advantage in a technologically-focussed environment. Furthermore, I also benefitted from the social science techniques and tools that were taught at the OII. For instance, at the European Commission, I conducted a survey analysis and my skills in “network analysis” were helpful for a knowledge sharing project at DG CONNECT. At Google, any tool skills as well as a solid understanding of technology or its impacts are valuable, so in that sense the MSc at the OII is a great primer.

Tim: What job-hunting advice you would give our students?

Manuel: Keep your eyes open – the networks you foster through your connections at the OII will be amongst the most valuable contacts you can get, both academically and when thinking about your future career. The OII brings together people who have great knowledge and use the necessary tools to share it. This makes the department a great hub for discussion, exchange of ideas and networking. Also, be open-minded – don’t look for a position, try to envision where your skills can be applied.

Tim: What do you miss most about Oxford?

Manuel: I miss the company of good friends and challenging colleagues the most. At the OII, there was a community of people that made every pub conversation more interesting than most jobs out there!!

Tim: And finally, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Manuel: Gaining a position to work at Google was a dream come true for me; one of my career plans achieved. However, I could also envision myself going back into politics when the time is right, once “digital thinking” has permeated through the institutions more clearly. Having said that, I would like to go back to academia to pursue a PhD. For that reason, I can imagine myself coming back to the OII.