Sustainable Development: An Extension of my Values

Joining us on the blog today is Nuvodita Singh, alumni of the Masters of Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University in New Delhi. As a member of the Global Master of Development Practice (MDP) Network, Nuvodita shares with us what drove her to pursue a master degree in Development and how it led her to work as a Research Officer at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal.

As a kid who grew up surrounded by mountains and hills, I have always harboured a deep seated love and reverence for the natural environment. My love for animals meant that I dreamt of becoming a vet, or a wildlife photographer, or running a shelter for abandoned animals. I liked arts and crafts, so I would often reuse (or up-cycle as it is now known) many things lying around my house.

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However, when the time came to choose a subject for my undergraduate studies, I got coaxed into picking Economics. Fresh out of high school, I barely had a clue of what to expect after graduation. Unsurprisingly, I followed the conventional route and joined a financial services firm. One year into the job and I knew that where I really wanted to be was somewhere else; somewhere that allowed me to follow my values and passions.

I must mention that Economics was not a complete waste. It enabled me to understand the functioning of the current development model, how it has evolved, and how valuable statistics can be calculated to analyze its trajectory and potential future. Most importantly, it enabled me to question. My choice of projects and assignment topics through the course focused on why the environmental impact of ‘development’ needed to be regarded as more than just collateral damage. I wondered why the modern world could not be more cognizant of the very resources on which it depended, and why it could not be more ‘grateful’. I did realize, however, that merely advocating for such values and virtues was not going to change anything. Without actively realizing that they have a stake in the health of the environment, people can easily overlook the damage they may be causing.

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The reason I decided to study Sustainable Development as a full-fledged postgraduate course was, precisely, to understand what those values and virtues meant for mainstream development, how the two could be integrated, and, more importantly, to build a case for why such integration should happen in the first place.

I appreciate the way the Sustainable Development Practice program unraveled the different pathways of sustainable development. The interdisciplinary nature of the program ensured that students approached the topic from different perspectives. Before the course, my understanding of the concept merely scratched the surface. But in its pursuit, I came to understand just how intrinsically our built environment and lifestyles are dependent on the natural environment across geographies, societies, culture, and political economies.

Picture 1

I have experienced many different emotions in the journey through the course, and after. At times, the field can be extremely depressing, with no solutions or end in sight. It is easy to feel demotivated and question why you are doing what you are doing. If you are an academic, or a researcher, or perhaps a consultant, it’s also easy to dissociate yourself from the real world, treat it like an assignment, and forget that issues around sustainability and development are very personal to many impoverished people. In addition, not everyone in the ‘environment and development’ sector will share your passion in equivalent terms.

Nevertheless, it is at these low points that I also find inspiration by turning to my younger self; when my passion and ideals were still unalloyed, when my hope for the world was uninfluenced by the innumerous challenges that stood in the way. Therefore, my decision to study Sustainable Development is one amongst many I take to contribute to a better future: one that does not compromise future generation’s ability to meet their needs.


Nuvodita Singh
M.A. Sustainable Development Practice, TERI University

On the Record: On Ethical Fashion

For our fifth segment of On the Record, our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie Sandvik, talks about ethical consumption and the fashion industry. She also invites us to reflect on our roles as consumers and what we can do as individuals to achieve a more ethical fashion industry.


Q. Why did you pick this picture in particular?
A. I picked this picture because I did two events this week for Fashion Revolution Week and these are some of the materials we used, and a bit of a summary of what has happened this week.

Q. Could you tell me a bit more about those events?
A. I had one presentation for two organisations in Monash, and they asked me to talk about ethical consumption, and then today I had a participatory workshop because I am the student ambassador for Fashion Revolution. So to support their movement and in the spirit of Fashion Revolution week we had this workshop for people to discuss the power dynamics in the fashion supply chain.

Q. What got you interested in fashion and, particularly, in the ethics of the fashion industry?
A. It is actually quite a long story but I studied anthropology and I have always been interested in understanding behavioural economy and read a lot of books about the psychology behind choices when we buy or consume products. I then decided to come to Australia to study International Development and specialise in Sustainable Resource Management, and then I saw the connection between the fashion industry and behavioural economy. I have also worked for a fast-fashion company, where I got an understanding of these new trends constantly coming in encouraging us to consume.

Q. Do you see any improvements in the fashion industry?
A. I am doing my thesis on sustainable fashion at the moment, and I have definitely found both in the academic field and also looking at media outlets and at industry reports that there is a movement now towards more responsibility and higher sustainability in production. Companies are now considering where they buy their clothes from and what materials they are using. I definitely see that there is an ongoing movement that is gaining more momentum.

Q. Do you have any advice for us as consumers as to how we can help?
A. My advice is to really consider how you vote with your money. Every time that you buy a product it is actually a vote for the world you want or the products that you want. Really consider the bigger picture of your consumption; both in terms of the materials you buy into but also how much you buy, and what brands you support.



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4 skills you will need to apply for a PhD

Following my previous post, these are a few core skills that I found vital when applying for a PhD. While the list below reflects my personal experience, I believe it might be a good starting point for other aspiring candidates. That said, others may need different skill sets (and even strategies that are different from what I have shared) to make their PhD application successful.

1. Formulating a research idea

While it might sound like stating the obvious, formulating a clear research idea is key to a successful application. You will need to narrow down a research gap, critique current theories or approaches or methods, and articulate your position through a new research idea.

2. Searching and networking for information

Knowing where you can apply and where to get funding from, what you need to prepare, when the deadlines are, and how you should submit the application are all crucial. You also need to find effective ways to gather information on where you can do your PhD. Doing some in depth online research is the norm, but attending conferences or talking to people are other great ways of obtaining relevant insights.

In my particular case, I tried all the above mentioned approaches. However, I found  the most relevant news through a Facebook post. Some programs and projects (like mine) do not publicise and circulate their information widely,  and so you really have to cast the net wider and network with people.

3. Writing an effective research proposal 

It is important to emphasise that this document will let your supervisors and those processing your application know what you are going to do. I have outlined the structure of a thesis proposal in this guideline, but you should check all requirements carefully before applying.

That said, while a proposal is important, your research ideas can change as you progress. Professors are aware of this. As a matter of fact, they will expect you to improve and refine your proposal throughout your PhD. Therefore, treat the proposal as a proof of your competencies by showing your critical and analytical thinking. Do not let the fear of not knowing enough intimidate you or constrain you while preparing the proposal. After all, it is about the potential of the research project; no proposal will ever be perfect.

4. Communicating effectively with all key stakeholders

I can’t emphasise this enough, but effective communication with all stakeholders is as important to your success as your GPA and research proposal.

It is therefore vital to communicate with your potential supervisors, funding/admission officers, and university administrators in a timely, polite, and confident manner. More often than not, they will try to help you should there be any issues during your application process. For example, if you need to submit a document late or have had a personal issue that might have affected your application, do communicate with them and always try to offer an alternative solution. During your admission interview, act confident and try to create rapport with your interviewers. Pay attention to details; do not forget to thank them, and follow up with them on your application the way you would do when applying for a job.

MIDP Alumni

Fashion Revolution Week Roundup

In lieu of Fashion Revolution Week 2017, the MIDPA organised a series of events on the topic. We would like to thank everyone that attended and we hope this summary will inspire you to take action.

Presentation on ethical consumption

To start us off, we had a presentation on ethical consumption in an event between Monash SEED and VGen. The event dealt with social enterprise, fair trade, and ethical consumption, all related to the fashion industry.

Here are some key points we took from the event:

-There are two essential questions in the move towards achieving a level of ethical consumption and a sustainable industry: Where do I purchase clothing? How do I get rid of clothing?

-The free-market development approach has led to economic growth in many countries around the world, but we are also starting to understand some of the consequences of globalisation and increasing market pressure.

-From an environmental perspective: increase in water usage, air pollution and water pollution, toxification of cotton farmers, release of microfibres from washing our clothes, waste of valuable resources as clothing is ending up in landfills.

-From an economic perspective: developing countries are becoming economically dependent on the clothing production e.g. almost 80% of exports in Bangladesh come from textiles.

-From a social perspective: human rights violations, unhealthy working conditions, underpaid workers, harassments and abuses towards garment workers, child labour and modern slavery.

-Fairtrade is one way of addressing some of the social issues that are found in the fashion industry.

Nonetheless, we invite you to reflect whether fairtrade and ethical consumption is the solution to all of these issues. Should we all just change to “good” brands in order to fix the fashion industry? The continuous need for novelty and the never-ending hunger for re-identifying ourselves through objects are the principles upon which high consumption and the fashion industry are built.

Therefore, if we do not change our attitude towards consumption, buying fairtrade and ethically sourced products are falling under the category of “Slacktivism”. Slacktivism means that people buy products from companies that claim to have a good cause, but do not change their values or consumer habits accordingly. To truly be an ethical consumer, it is important to consider why you buy a product, and  think of the bigger picture and philosophy you are buying into.

Participatory workshop on power dynamics in the fashion supply chain

Our second event was a participatory workshop on power dynamics in the fashion supply chain organised by the MIDPA. In the discussion, several good points concerning the challenges of creating better wages for garment workers were raised. We discussed how power behind different interests of stakeholders is part of shaping existing practices. We also reflected on why these issues exist, and what actions each stakeholder (politicians, garment workers, CEOs) should take to improve the current situation.

To conclude, we debated on what responsibility we have as consumers to prevent the exploitation of workers in the fashion industry. Participants shared examples of good practices in Melbourne and abroad, and how to be more conscious and aware when it came to clothes consumption. One interesting point was price-counting one’s clothes to figure out the price per wear. To conclude, we leave you with an insightful comment from one of the participants: “We live in a very materialistic world, but we actually don’t care about our materials”.

Initiative with Monash University branded apparel

A group of MIDPA members has begun enquiring how sustainable and ethical the sourcing of Monash University’s branded apparel is. In the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week, we encourage students to call for better transparency by taking a photo of your Monash jumper or t-shirt, put it on Facebook or Instagram and hashtag #fashionrevolution #whomademyclothes #monashuniversity

Look at your life, look at your choices

If the topics above have inspired to do something about your role as an ethical consumer, here are some guides/videos/websites to start you off in the right direction:

The Baptist World Aid Australia fashion report – a guide to help you make informed choices when deciding where to buy

Ethical Guide – another fantastic guide that walks you through the ethics of consumption in the fashion industry

Fashion Revolution – get inspired by Fashion Revolution and get involved with one of their many activities

How to Engage with Ethical Fashion – a must watch Ted-Talk on ethical fashion

Changing the World Through Fashion– another recommended Ted-Talk that will inspire you to take action

Conscious Consumerism – great article to increase your awareness when it comes to consumption

If you would like a copy of the 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide or would simply love to discuss this further, do not hesitate to contact our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie (Maggie).

Development and Academia: experiences of an international convention

The International Studies Association 58th Annual Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from February 22nd – 25th, 2017. It was organised by the International Studies Association, a premier organization promoting research activities since 1959  through connecting scholars and practitioners in the field of international studies. The theme of the convention was “Understanding Change in World Politics”. The theme resonated with the current political climate in America which impacted the participation of some of the potential attendees in the convention.  The travel restrictions led to  thoughtful exchanges and a number of protest events in solidarity with ISA members who were denied entry and could not attend. In fact, several members of the panel boycotted the conference altogether in solidarity with their fellow ISA colleagues.  

Despite these setbacks, the conference brought about 6500 people together from all corners of the world, both north and south. The participants were academics, researchers, young scholars, educators, and activists coming together to debate and discuss future world events, with a particular focus on research and activism. As a Young Career Scholar, the Presidential address by Ashley Leeds  (president of the International Students Association) was a particularly riveting start to the conference. It was an amazing experience to see academics and scholars (whom one has read and heard so much about!) under one roof. To witness such a big turnout at the event was both intimidating and overwhelming. I could see scholars dressed up in suits with their name tags hanging around their necks debating and discussing everywhere around us, whether it was outside the Hilton, (which was one of the main venues for the event) or at the cafeteria and bars around famous areas of the city. The sunny weather in Baltimore was an unexpected bonus and certainly added to the charm of the city.

Early career scholars like me were discussing experiences of their paper presentations, as well as their ideas. It was an opportunity for us to expand our networks and showcase our research, in addition to learning some essential tricks of the trade. In short, it was an opportunity for us to grow both personally and professionally. The Early Career Scholar Lounge was a space dedicated especially for young scholars like me to prepare our presentations, recharge and create early networks.

The area around the conference venue was bubbling with activities. During the day difficult choices were made regarding which panel discussions to attend. The conference was structured around Panel discussions which catered to different themes such as Global Development, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Ethnicity, Diplomacy, and International Security Studies amongst many others. Presentations and panel discussion allowed all participants to enter into meaningful, practical debates around the above mentioned themes. It was an excellent opportunity for a future development practitioner and researcher to educate herself from the diversity of experience that participants brought to the table. In the evening, networking events were organised such as various receptions which provided a chance to meet people working in similar fields. Some of the discussion would carry outside the conference venues.

Personally, this conference was an eye opener in many ways. Firstly, I travelled to America, a trip I know I would not have the courage to take in near future if it was not for this conference. Secondly, I engaged with some of the smartest minds pursuing their PhDs . There was always so much to do like attending discussions, establishing networks, getting nervous about my own ideas and of course to explore the charming Baltimore.

Recalling my presentation, I had never been as nervous as I was when I saw a room full of people who came to hear the panel discussion. The theme of our panel was Peacemaking, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Transformation: Gender, Agency and Political Change, to which I contributed with  my paper on Afghan Women; Peacemakers and Resilient Survivors. The paper talks about how experiences and perceptions of men have historically shaped the politics and discourse of conflict resolution. This simultaneously implies the silencing of a large part of the population and making their experiences invisible. It is important to explore the brilliant work carried out by the women in these silent and private spaces where they are subsequently confined to during the conflict.

As you can probably imagine, the experience of the presentation itself and all the feedback I got afterwards has been incredibly informative and rewarding. I am glad I took this chance to go present something that bloomed from a little idea that I had. This was my first international conference abroad, so I am positive this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. I am now more determined and motivated to pursue my academic career so I am hoping this will have been the first of many presentations to come. Watch this space.


MIDP student

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Globalisation: a work in progress

As I gather my thoughts on the controversial concept that is globalisation, I am able to witness first-hand how globalisation is so deeply rooted in our everyday lives. I am constantly surrounded by people from different parts of the world, each one of them with a unique and different story. Hearing their experiences made me think: are we really managing to embrace the true spirit of globalisation?

When we look at globalisation from an economic point of view, we can easily witness our improved interconnectedness. It is possible to purchase goods from anywhere in the world, as it is also possible to pursue a career abroad. This process of globalisation has been significantly aided by technology. Technological developments have allowed capital to move across the world almost instantaneously. Changes in monetary policies, as well as in what is being traded and the importance of capital, have created a global market distinctively different from previous eras.

Before, products and capital were rooted to a particular place. Today, many of the products and services that are traded in the global market (such as knowledge and computer technology to name a few) are extremely mobile and rootless. Technology has also allowed us to move through space far faster than before. Additionally, it has made communication easier and more effective.

However, we could argue that this progress is only confined to the economic sphere, and therefore, traditionally benefits what is commonly referred as ‘the global North’. In other words, the global South is left with significantly less benefits as a result of globalisation. Furthermore, these countries have the additional responsibility of trying to protect themselves and establish their own security. In my modest opinion, I believe that we are still too attached to the idea of Nation-states. We keep our distance by making clear distinctions between “us” and “them”. Instead of embracing different ideologies, globalisation is being used
as an excuse to wage a war between different nations.

Nowadays there is a clear tendency to instigate hate instead of building acceptance; an obvious example being how terrorism is constantly associated with Islam and Muslims. Globalisation outcomes are used as catalyst to separate people in the name of national supremacy and race. National concepts are returning to dominate the political agora of Western countries. In the North as well, people of colour often find themselves being left further and further behind. Instead of learning how to coexist with other cultures and eliminate our prejudices, globalisation is being used to feed into this destructive rhetoric.

Being both a student representative for Amnesty International and a student of international development practice, I believe the role of government in this scenario cannot be disparaged. Discussions and shared ideas within the organisational work and in my own classroom suggest that governments should adopt a proactive role. Instead of avoiding the issue of mounting hatred that we are currently witnessing, governments should engage in rational and thoughtful discussions. In this way, we all benefit from globalisation instead of increasing the risk of marginalising certain groups of people because of their ethnicity, religion, or place of origin. After all, violence only generates more violence and hatred only generates more hatred. We need to remember we all share the same planet, so encouraging a hostile environment is detrimental for the development of all peoples.

MIDP Student

On the Record: Indigenous Rights

For our fourth segment of On the Record, our Managing Editor, Kathy Hofilena, talks about Indigenous knowledge and their relationship to the environment. She also invites us to reflect on Indigenous Rights based on her experience in the Philippines, as well as considering the danger of appropriation and exploiting local knowledge.


Q. Can you describe what is happening in this picture?
A. 2 years ago, a couple of friends and I were invited to visit one of the indigenous communities in the north of the Phillippines, in Buscalan. At that time, batok- a traditional tattooing technique- was becoming popular, so tourism to the region was increasing as a result. In this picture, you can see me getting a traditional Kalinga tattoo by Apo Whang-Od. She is the last mambabatok; the last traditional tattoo artist.

Q. Why did you choose this picture?
A. I chose this photo because thinking about Indigenous rights brings me back to that experience, to that tattoo. When I was there I also struggled with a lot of issues when it comes to Indigenous rights. Because I was acquiring something from their traditions, was I commodifying indigenous knowledge? Or was I helping them empower themselves by encouraging cultural economy? I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to the elders and other community members, and they were actually very welcoming to tourists. They saw the influx of tourists as something that would benefit their community, as it would increase their income. In that way, they could become more independent and develop themselves in the way that they really wanted to. It definitely eased some of my concerns, but not all of them.

Q. What issues were you still concerned about?
A. Commodification, mostly. The tattoos were traditionally for headhunters, as a sign of bravery. For women, it was used as a sign of beauty. Some people, therefore, believe that these tattoos should only be had by headhunters and the elders, but others believe that it is something that should be shared with the wider community. This technique is something that they want to spread, and make known. It is important to note that this opinion was not imposed, but rather the community came up with this decision by themselves.

Q. What tattoo did you end up getting?
A. I got the traditional symbol for the scorpion, which represents strength and protection. A lot of their symbols derive from nature, like insects, eagles, centipedes, mountains… This relates to how, traditionally, their sense of spirituality and identity was drawn from nature. This is something that I really identify with and that I admire about them. It was actually when I was in this community that I truly witnessed how there are different kinds of ‘development’. Before that, I would only think of development as high-rise buildings and better public infrastructure. But indigenous people have their own self-determination and their own ideas of development, and it is only by respecting their ideas that you can have diversity in thinking about development instead of being stuck in one mind frame; that was what truly inspired me to pursue a career in international development



If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at

On the Record: On Happiness

For our third segment of On the Record, we have a guest contributor: Caroline is a Communications Officer working for a faith-based organisation on a project about modern slavery in the UK. She has previously worked in fundraising and communications for an international development charity. On this occasion, Caroline reflects on the links between safety and happiness, and how that relates to her experiences in the field.This week’s topic was chosen to honour the International Day of Happiness.

On the Record 3 (Happiness)

Q. Why did you take this picture?
A. I took this picture because my brief was to take something about happiness and wellbeing and, for me, books and reading are the things that make me really happy. It feels like a safe space for me so I thought I would take a picture of the books in my bookshelf. I have recently become pretty ruthless about what books I allow on my bookshelf because we live in such a small apartment, so I only keep books there that I either have not read yet or I have read and I want to share with a friend or to read again. So definitely things that make me happy.

Q. What is it about books that make you feel safe?
A. Ooh, good question! I think that because I read a lot as a kid, it reminds me of that safe space of childhood but then also this idea that you can travel to different worlds, or try on different identities, or get to know all these different characters without actually having to meet them. Basically, there is a barrier between you and the scary outside world but you still get to experience so many different things.

Q. Do you think is the link between safety and happiness then?
A. That’s a really interesting question because I think people often put safety or security before happiness, so safety becomes the bedrock on which happiness can be built. In the modern slavery project that I work on you hear a lot about victims who stay in a place of exploitation because it is what they know; maybe they have been exploited from a young age, or they might be afraid to escape because they do not know what the next thing will be, or how the authorities will treat them, or how the next people they meet will treat them… so they put security above this idea of happiness that could happen. [pause] I am not a victim of slavery and have not been exploited, so for me, I suppose, safety and happiness are things I take for granted.



If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at

Communications Officer

Doing the right thing before doing things right: a guide for aspiring PhD students

What is a PhD? Is it the right thing for me? What can I do with a PhD? How can I get into a PhD training?

If at some point you have thought about these questions, then this is the article for you. Through the reflection and first-hand experience of a former MIDP student, the article will prompt you to think whether your interest and reasons for taking a PhD are feasible and well-informed. The first part of our guide for aspiring PhD students will hopefully engage you to think critically about your interest before giving valuable advice to consider in order to submit a successful application.

From MIDP to PhD

I graduated from Monash University’s MIDP in December 2015. Soon after I left Australia, I joined the PhD training in human geography at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Reflecting on my MIDP experience after more than a year, I very much value what I have gained during the program. MIDP has prepared me very well for my PhD  by allowing me to think more broadly about  participatory methods, research uptake, and policy implications in my current research. The highlight of MIDP for me is that it equips students with vigorous research skill sets and experiences through minor thesis and project options.

Picture 1. My thesis fieldwork in the upland Vietnam during MIDP was an eye opener, where I investigated how local ethnic minority people reconfigured their agency in responding to the state development policies. My PhD research proposal was very much influenced by findings of this research. Source: author.

However, pursuing a PhD is no easy task. As a result, I have designed a couple of guides for you to consider before entering the world of academic research. To start us off, here is a concise list of things you should be aware of before applying for a PhD

PhD 101: The Basics

Very briefly, a PhD is a big research that earns you a doctorate title at the end of the journey. It is when you can do something you are always passionate about, or you will be as the research progresses. A PhD degree will open new doors for you to do exciting new things: become an academic, conduct research, write papers and books, work with policy makers, nurture and inspire students among others.

Picture 2. A few months into my PhD training, I decided to co-organise a community talk with some people from the field site where I did my MIDP thesis. We co-presented the research findings to the public and answered questions from the audience. The PhD training prompted me to think more critically about how academics can engage with larger social changes and more diverse audiences beyond academic settings. Source: author’s friend.

Of course, having a PhD is not a compulsory pre-requirement to pursue many of these activities, or to learn and further expand your career. However, having gone through a PhD will familiarise you to solve complex tasks using very specific skills, and you can use it as a solid stepping stone to venture into new avenues.

The struggle is real

Taking a PhD also involves opportunity costs, requires a high level of self-motivation and discipline, and changes your life at a personal level. While you immerse in your 3-4 year research, life goes on. You may gain tremendously at the end of your journey, but you may lose some personal and career opportunities along the way too. There are moments of crisis – things can go wrong with your research, your supervisors, your participants, or your personal life – and you have to balance everything and motivate yourself to carry on. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you have learned, and how your life perspective has changed so profoundly.

Picture 3. Apart from the joy of realising we are progressing, PhD students can intermittently face periods when they feel unmotivated, doubtful, frustrated or lost. This does not necessarily mean that PhD training is always stressful, but rather suggests that we need to strike for balance and self-motivate ourselves during the PhD course. Source:
Picture 3. Apart from the joy of realising we are progressing, PhD students can intermittently face periods when they feel unmotivated, doubtful, frustrated or lost. This does not necessarily mean that PhD training is always stressful, but rather suggests that we need to strike for balance and self-motivate ourselves during the PhD course. Source:

However, it is important to highlight that pushing your boundaries can also be a very frustrating exercise. Unfortunately, there are limits as to what we can do, and being constantly critical of yourself and others can challenge you in more ways than one.  

Plan, Do, Review

If you are certain you would like to pursue a PhD, then plan for it as early as you can. Firstly, think about what topics intrigue you, or what questions puzzle you. Secondly, find where you can apply for your PhD topic, and which supervisors you would like to be on your team. Thirdly, find out what entry requirements you must meet to be eligible; some programs place more emphasis on having a good GPA, some will stress on the importance of having a proven publication record, while others will want a good research proposal.

Last but not least, find out how you can secure funding for the PhD if you are not able to self-finance it. It is becoming extremely competitive to get a place in PhD training programs in the context of budget cut in many parts of the word. Therefore, cast the net a little bit wider by choosing a few options and trying it out. Check all possible websites and social media of your interested supervisors, universities, funding agencies and/or PhD groups. Talk to your current MIDP lecturers and get their advice. Attend different conferences and meetings to network and get more information. The options are endless.

Look at your life, look at your choices

Make sure you take the right discipline that fits with your strengths and values. It is quite normal in my current program that PhD students take their PhDs across different disciplines. However, I wrongly assumed that all sub-disciplines had similar academic traditions and approaches to solving problems, which has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Even within the same discipline, I am often surprised to see how different our epistemological stances are. For instance, in geography we are well aware that a human geographer may share more similarities in their theoretical frameworks and research methods with a sociologist or anthropologist rather than an economic or physical geographer.

Picture 4: Working with other research fellows from different disciplines and backgrounds can be a joyful and enriching experience as we learn to solve problems from a multidisciplinary perspective. However knowing your discipline’s traditions and where your strengths lie in are ultimately crucial to the success of your research project. Source: author’s friend.
Picture 4: Working with other research fellows from different disciplines and backgrounds can be a joyful and enriching experience as we learn to solve problems from a multidisciplinary perspective. However knowing your discipline’s traditions and where your strengths lie in are ultimately crucial to the success of your research project. Source: author’s friend.

Hence, you need to be aware and informed of these differences while making your decision. Read extensively on how research in each field is conducted and presented, and talk to people from different disciplines to have a more realistic and holistic understanding of all disciplines.

Your choice of location matters

Different countries and institutions have different PhD models. At least from what I know, in Australia and the UK, PhD students will embark on their research proposal and research project immediately after they join the program, and therefore can complete it in 3-4 years. However, in the US PhD students will have to complete a number of required modules before they defend their proposal and proceed to the real research, which eventually can take more than 4 years in total.

In Singapore (where I am studying now) they use a hybrid model that combines compulsory coursework modules (US model) and shorter PhD research (UK model). All funded PhD students in my institutions also have to fulfil research assistance and teaching tasks, which essentially prepares us for our future in academia.

MIDP Alumni

Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia

Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia interning at the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (also known as KEHATI). Initially, I felt very pessimistic about working for an NGO. I also did not  speak the language and therefore had minimal expectations about my time there. Even though I was extremely passionate about what I was studying in my Environmental Management & Sustainability degree, the nature of current Australian and US politics , as well as regulations, conflicting stakeholder interests, and general ignorance amongst the public left me feeling dubious about environmental conservation.

Moving to Jakarta would also come with a new set of challenges.. I was well aware of the amount of waste and pollution that plague the city. Jakarta, located on the island of Java in central Indonesia, has a population of 10 million people, with almost 4 million people traveling in and out of the city on a daily basis. It is notorious for heavy traffic jams, pollution, not to mention unsafe  tap water. As a country in the throes of economic development, I was extremely interested in how this would affect biodiversity conservation.

It only took a week in Jakarta for my skepticism to rapidly vanish. Yes, pollution and traffic were just as bad as I had expected, the air was humid and sticky, and I was confronted with a different reality.  However the food was cheap and delicious, the people at  my organisation were dedicated, strong willed, and passionate, and the challenge that lay ahead excited me.


A little bit about my organisation…

Following the Rio Earth Summit and the Convention of Biological Diversity, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the  the US and Indonesian governments in order to increase efforts of biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. As a result, the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (most commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, KEHATI) was established in January 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit, self-sustaining institution dedicated to funding biodiversity conservation activities. Through an endowment fund invested in stocks and bonds, the return on investment was able to be distributed across Indonesia to implement conservation activities.


A little bit about my role…

The internship itself was very self-directed, which could be quite frustrating at times. However I was also able to research what I wanted. One of the programs administered by KEHATI was an organisation called Tropical Forest Conservation Action in Sumatra. Established in 2009, this program was set up under a debt-for-nature swap agreement between the governments of Indonesia, the US, and Conservation International. A debt-for-nature swap involves restructuring the outstanding debt of a developing country with a creditor organisation or government, in exchange for conservation activities within the debtor country. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act 1998 (USA) was passed specifically for agreements with the United States in nations with tropical forests. Nowadays, Indonesia  has two such agreements in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

My curiosity regarding debt-for-nature swaps peaked. This sounded almost too good to be true! If a developing nation could have its debt restructured, the economic burden of the debt would not only allow for increased funding towards conservation, but also for economic development within local communities. Deforestation and forest degradation has historically been of national concern for Indonesia, as well as around the world. In the last 30 years, Sumatra has lost a considerable size of it’s primary forest cover through land conversion into rubber and oil palm plantations, infrastructure developments, agriculture, as well as the timber industry. Poverty has exacerbated existing rifts between local communities and forests: natural resource exploitation, illegal hunting and illegal logging are not uncommon.

My main objective was to investigate the correlation between foreign aid, conservation activities and economic development under the context of a debt-for-nature swap in Sumatra. In hindsight, this task was probably too ambitious for the time-frame that I had allocated myself. However, between reading project proposals and researching debt-for-nature swaps, I was able to glean information on the conservation activities being implemented. Some of these activities included empowering local communities through microfinance by managing the surrounding forests sustainably, building and protecting forest corridors for the inhabiting wildlife, and setting up jungle cameras to monitor the tiger population.


A little bit about my future…

Although I was not able to obtain the feedback I specifically wanted for my project, the six weeks in Jakarta gave me an invaluable perspective on my future. For the first time, I am considering pursuing further education in the form of a PhD. I also hold  ambitions to end up working for an organisation like KEHATI. Most importantly,  I feel infinitely more optimistic about the world state of affairs, particularly seeing first hand the dedication for biodiversity conservation in a developing country; while Indonesia still has a long way to go, the drive and energy dedicated towards sustainability is positive and unyielding.


Master's of Environmental Management and Sustainability Student