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.

6 Tips for Networking From an Introvert

Photo: themuse
Photo: themuse

Scenario: you get an email inviting you to attend xyz event. You won’t know anyone there but you know you should go because:
1. Interesting things will happen that you’re actually interested in;
2. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people;
3. Opportunities are still built on a foundation of who you know and who knows you, so you got to play the game to be in the game;
4. It’s summer season for TV in the US and there’s nothing else to do on a Thursday night.

If, like me, your initial reaction is a feeling of immense dread, heart palpitations, and imagined scenarios of accidentally spraying a VIP with food when you speak, then I have some tips for you that I’ve learned along the way after pulling off the greatest con of all time*.

I have fooled others into thinking I am an extrovert.

Life of the party. Witty small talker. Fantastic dancer (maybe not).

Truth is, I am an introvert. I prefer small groups, one-on-one interactions, and then being able to unwind with a book and a glass of wine afterwards. I just practiced being an extrovert.

The beginning of my transformation began with a Roman summer in 2014. Jet lagged, but still fresh faced, I was at the beginning of a six-month internship. It was only as I stood lost at the front of the work cafeteria that I realised it had been a long time since I was the new kid on the playground. I had to re-learn how to make friends, and fast, because gelato for one is just sad.

As such I present to you the playbook.

The Playbook Vol. II : Suit up. Win friends. Be awesome**.

1. Fake it til you make it!
That’s not to say you should lie about yourself and introduce yourself as Thor and tell everyone about the time that you saved the world. As Neha’s mum says “If you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory”. You might forget which world it was that you saved.

However, you can pump yourself up and imagine you are Thor, and carry yourself like Thor. Imagine his sense of confidence, and mimic it. Just don’t try to speak like Thor.

2. Arrive on time
This tip is purely tactics. Think about it, it’s an introvert’s worst nightmare to walk into a crowded room and have people look at you and then turn back to their groups. All the while you’re left hovering near the entrance unsure as to where/how to proceed.

However, if you go by the informal observational statistics that nobody arrives on time, you therefore have better odds of controlling the scenario. If you’re there first then the next person to arrive has to talk to you. Otherwise they look like a jerk, and so would you if you don’t talk to them. This is not exactly a hostage scenario, but it kind of is. The less people there are in a room, the more likely they will have to talk to you. Just don’t forget that you have to talk to them too.

End result, by the time the room is at capacity, bumping with awkward introductions, you’ve already made alliances and have someone/group to talk too, with the smug realisation that you’re not the awkward person who just walked into the room. Though you should be nice and invite them into your conversation.

3. Make medium talk
Small talk is awkward, and as the name implies, small. It often fails to give insight into a person, and bonds are more tenuous. The idea behind medium talk is that it enables a more insightful level of conversation, and can leave a greater feeling of satisfaction of having engaged in a meaningful way with another person. This article explains it with a bit more depth.

The advantage of using a medium talk approach at networking events is that it can help to get conversations flowing, and leave a greater impression on the other party.

So next time, instead of flailing for topics after the typical “what do you do?” question, try asking others like “what brought you here tonight?”, or perhaps “What’s something you like that most people don’t?”.

For better ideas have a trawl through this Reddit post “What kind of questions would you ask to make medium talk, instead of small talk?”, and post your suggestions in the comments below!

4. Know who you are
As we’ve established, you’re not Thor. Though you might pretend to have the confidence of Thor. Just superimpose that sense of confidence onto your own persona.

To do that, you need to work out who exactly you are, and what it is that you are known for. It’s the 101 of reality TV, bring your own brand (BYOB).

Example: Amanda Taylor, witty blogger by day, gelato aficionado by night (seriously guys, if the gelato is icy in texture, it’s ice-cream. NOT GELATO).

5. Power pose
This one is my favourite. Watch this youtube video on power posing by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. The theory presented is that “standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success”

So shake your tail feathers out, get your Wonder Woman pose on, and then go work that room like the queen/boss that you know you are.


6. Say ‘yes’ to every invitation
Because, practice makes perfect.

So the next time you’re standing at the precipice, wondering if you dare say yes to a networking event, or anything else that scares you, I hope these tips will help to provide you with a shot of courage to say yes and to take that leap.

As the saying goes, you’ll never, ever know if you never, ever go.

I’d also love to hear your tips for networking, or medium talk suggestions below.

*Not all claims are based on fact.
**Not endorsed by Barney Stinson