Choosing the Right Path for You

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I initially did not plan to study international development. When I decided to take on the challenge of a master’s degree my first choice was the field of conflict management and resolution. This owing to the fact that there has been a decades long armed struggle in the southern islands of my country with secessionist groups. I was immersed in this topic, being a student of international relations and politics and seeing how similar conflicts had developed in countries throughout Europe and Asia.

Originally I was set on applying to Monash’s Masters on Crisis Management back in early 2014. But as fate would have it, the program was removed and I was advised to look into the Masters of International Development Practice program, which was said to offer similar classes to my original choice.

The more I researched the MIDP program, the classes it offered, the applications it could have back home, the structure of the course of study, and the parallels it had with my interests (which were so obvious I failed to notice them previously) the more I saw myself in the field of development work.

Fast-forward to a week before classes, having the O-week orientation with Samanthi, and my head is spinning with all the different options for classes and streams to choose from. Because I am on the 96 unit course of study it meant that I had to take 12 units of undergraduate formation classes on international development, 48 units of core classes, a 12 unit capstone class, and 24 units of electives. The choice of classes for the electives being the prime shapers on the development stream I would be studying.

I hope what I am saying up to this point makes sense because to be honest, I was confused and overwhelmed as heck, but in a good and exciting way. I wanted to try everything out just to see what would fit my interests and needs the most. I wanted to take on the two streams of crisis management and sustainable resource management. What happened next was a series of lessons, discoveries, and the realization that I was not going to stick exactly to a certain stream but try and forge my own with the tutelage of professors, development practitioners, and even classmates.

Now I am halfway through the MIDP program and am pretty much set with the remainder of classes for the last 2 semesters that I have left. I am entering this next semester more at ease with my choices and having a clearer vision of where I can apply myself in the development sector. But instead of boring you into the whole story of how I have ended up with the ‘stream of study’ I have set myself on, I will try to give some pointers that have helped me out in what to look out for when deciding classes and streams.

A caveat though before we start: this list is not by any means exhaustive and perfect, some things may apply to you and some things may not. But hopefully it can be of help, even in the smallest of ways.


Tip#1: Read up on the course, its structure, and classes offered

First things first, get familiar with the MIDP program! I know this is an obvious point, but it is something that should not be taken for granted. Really be sure that you know and understand the structure of the program that you are on, and the classes that you need to take in order to graduate. Make sure to have enough room for your core units and capstone units when enrolling for your semesters, you do not want to be in your last semester and realize that you have failed to take one of those classes.

And while you are reading up on the MIDP program and getting all excited about the possible classes to take, check the schedules on when the classes are being offered and plan your units accordingly. There are some classes that are only offered in semester 1 or semester 2, and some that will not be available for a whole year even, so be sure to check the dates before setting up plans.


Tip#2: Look around the handbook

In the handbook entry of the MIDP program, there are lists of classes that you take as electives written under the streams of study. It is a great place to start with choosing units for the semester but do not limit yourself strictly to those options. Search for topics that you are interested in and see if there are classes offered that you are qualified to take.

Heck, even look up the handbook entries of different masters programs just to see the kinds of classes that they offer, more often than not, there could be related topics to development that you can enroll in since development is a multidisciplinary sector. Be sure though to consult your options with Samanthi to see if you will be allowed enrolment into certain classes. This brings us to the next tip.


Tip#3: Talk to people

Set up a chat with Samanthi if you are unsure about the classes to take. It will help if you have a goal in mind that you want to get from the MIDP program. For example, you are really interested in grassroots community development, urban development and sustainability, or disaster response and management. She will always have stellar advice on things that you can look into, and you will leave the meeting having more options to choose from but having a clearer perspective.

It will also help a lot to talk to your professors, especially if you are really hooked on the class that they are teaching. They might just have some advice to give to you for studying and working in that specific field.

Another good way to sift through prospective classes is to talk to your classmates. Ask them about classes they have taken and the things they have gotten out of it. And even if you are classmates are not on the same program, ask them anyway, you might just discover another class that relates to your stream of study.


Tip#4: Explore your options outside of the usual classroom

There are loads of other ways to get knowledge, advice, experience in development apart from the classes offered in university. Try joining organizations and projects that are related to your stream of choice, or allow you to practice a skill you have learned from class. You can also join or apply to seminars and workshops, there are plenty on offer during the school year. A good place to look out for them is on the MIDP facebook group. Although these are not going to be graded, attending these events will help you discover more aspects of development. I have been lucky enough to be part of MIDPA, Monash SEED, Colab M, and the Greensteps@Monash program, all of which have acted to enrich my development study.


Tip#5: If you are still looking to get classes that are not offered, try cross enrolling

Although I have not personally done this, I have looked into this option and know some people who have gone through the process of cross enrolling to other Universities and getting them credited for their degree. I would say that you should definitely look into this if you are really keen on taking up classes that are not offered in Monash but are relevant to your stream of study. If you are considering this option, I strongly suggest that you set up a meeting with Samanthi to explore this, and to know the requirements for cross enrolling.


Tip#6: Assess the classes you have chosen and see what kind of knowledge and skills you will be able to get from them

This one I got from my Colab M mentor and on one of my talks with Samanthi. In the development sector it is good to have a mixture of specific focused development issue based knowledge, and wide ranging hard skills that are transferable across topics. So once you have chosen your classes, try and see the skillset and knowledge that you will gain upon completion. These wide ranging skills can range from anything from writing (which is good for grant proposals and reports) to monitoring and evaluation.

As mentioned previously, this list is by no means comprehensive and exhaustive. If you have any other tips or nuggets of knowledge for figuring out classes and choosing a stream of study it would be great if you could share it in the comments below.

Notes from an International Student in Development

The view from the Arts Graduate Lounge, one of the many study spaces available on campus.

I am Natasha, a Masters of International Development Practice student in my second semester. My core area of academic interest lies in the field of international relations and development studies. As an Indian, this interest stems from the lived experience and conscious memory of seeing rising developmental issues, numerous diplomatic and military conflicts, genocide, human rights and gender injustices.

Throughout the course of my higher education I have been engaging directly and indirectly with questions relating to gender, conflict resolution and security in development practices and international relations.

Why I study in Australia?

It was a visit to Australia as a tourist during my undergraduate studies, that set me on the path to further studies abroad. I fell in love with Monash´s stunning Caulfield campus; it’s liberal environment, highly experienced faculty, welfare and support facilities, and the conducive living and learning atmosphere.
All these aspects, were surely going to make my time at Monash an extraordinary experience. And to top that, being able to learn at this much-lauded university is one of the best ways to imbibe multi-cultural diversity, develop an international perspective and understand the role of Australia´s development sector, which I have always wanted.


First weeks in Australia

Arriving in Australia as an international student, one of my first hurdles was the usually routine processes of opening a bank account, getting an Australian phone number, Monash ID, and OSHC card.

Getting important admin out of the way, on to the house hunting, where I was lucky enough to find a nice two-room place near the university without much trouble. Initially the distance looked minimal but as classes began and catching the shuttle bus became a major mission, I realised getting a bike was a smart idea and hence Gumtree became my best friend! I found a second-hand bike along with some furniture for the house.

Looking back after five months, I remember how getting a fridge, a microwave or even a donna became such important things and entertaining conversation topics.


First months at Monash

My experience at Monash as an MIDP student has already been an interesting journey. Firstly,everything is online, leaving me feeling a little technologically challenged. Coming from India where a lot functions the old-fashioned way, working with Moodle (especially while submitting assignments), Allocate+, WES, all these were both interesting and frustrating at the same time. But in the end I learnt how to spot various aspects of my course online such as presentations, discussions, course content. Everything was just a click away, and just like learning an instrument or sport, navigating Monash´s online world gets easier with practice

As an international student, understanding the Australian accent and its own colloquial slang words was quite the challenge. I have to admit to still listening to things twice, with double concentration to understand what the lecturers say or what my peers discuss. Hence, many times I missed out on jokes that went around in class and I would then appeal to my neighbour to explain what just happened.


Settling in and lessons learned

Being part of MIDP program, I have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people from all across the globe. It is a pleasure to listen to their experiences as development practitioners working in various countries. It is great to learn of the ground-realities from the field. It helped me understand the similarities of problems across the world and hearing the various development practices working as solutions insightful.

Another important skill I have gained is working in groups, as a lot of assignments require us to work with 3-4 people. It is a daunting task to agree to what everyone else has to say. Sometimes most of your time can be spent narrowing down the various ideas without offending any particular person.

However, by the end of semester we understood each other well and had grown from being total strangers to friends. While I must admit, this friendship was mostly due to food and other hot topics that dominated our discussions, often more so than the academics! It is also comforting to know I am not the only one who felt clueless, there were others also in the same boat.

Studying development in an international setting

In India right now, not many places provide a specialisation in international development practice. After gaining an understanding of international relations and working for think-tanks and NGOs I felt that a more specialised understanding of development practices from issues emerging in the international community was much needed for me to excel in this field and to also carry out further research in the form of a PhD in the future.

Pursuing a Masters of International Development Practice at Monash University complements my academic and working experience. The MIDP program has so far been amazing, especially with a faculty from whom I believe I still have so much to learn.
The program allows flexibility for an interesting range of subjects, especially as I have found, for students with an international relations background. The multi-disciplinary nature of the faculty and students helps contextualise my experience of South Asian politics and international relations with global development perspectives.


Looking forward

After successfully completing the first semester, I move on to the second, feeling much more confident with an increased sense of belonging at Monash.

This semester I am going to be studying Project Planning and Management and am looking forward to learning project planning from an international perspective and using it in the future in a local context.

Aside from the academics, I am excited to meet new people, not just from MIDP but students from other courses as well. I am thrilled to spend more time at the new MPA lounge on the Caulfield campus and during exams, making the Arts Lounge my home again. Not so preoccupied with the fears of beginning the first semester, I am sure I will now enjoy experiencing the things I may have missed out on before.


My top piece of advice

As an International MIDP student, I am perhaps too young in the programme to make total sense of it all. My one recommendation is to spread out the core units, one during each of the first three semesters. As many of the students work part-time alongside the full-time course, it is advisable to space out these core units, allowing for a better understanding of them through a deeper engagement with their content. Doctrines, Project Planning and Research Methods, these form the basis of our programme and our understanding of development, give yourself the time to absorb all that they have to teach you.

MIDP student

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