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.