Why I Decided to Do a Post Grad Degree
The courses that make up Open University's development management degree "are all about managing interventions aimed at promoting positive social change in multi-actor fields characterized by value-based conflict." (Thomas and Chataway, 1999, TU872 , Open University). The courses address the myriad of ways to successfully manage and sustain activities, projects and initiatives in an integrated way so that they really do improve people's lives and their environment, and address critical situations such as HIV/AIDS, violence and discrimination against women, child labor, illiteracy, environmental destruction, hunger, and so forth. It mixes theory with practice, and presents a vast number of authors, practitioners and publications to explore the many facets of development management. Open University is a British University dating from the 1970s and consistently ranked one of the top in the United Kingdom in terms of teaching quality.
I went to the Open University open house for Central Germany in Cologne with some co-workers in September 2002. I was really just going along for the ride with friends -- it was something to do. But I found myself intrigued by some of the offered Master Degrees, and reading intensely over the prospectus of each. But the one that spoke to my heart -- and that's what I was looking for, something that would speak to my heart -- was OU's Master in Development Management (MSc).
Before this, I had sworn many times, sincerely, that I would never pursue a Master's Degree, unless it could be for something totally fun, engaging, and probably useless - like a Master's in History. The thought of studying marketing, public relations or nonprofit management at a post-graduate level made me cringe -- that's all been my job, my life, since before I left university back in the late 1980s, so why in the world would I want to devote even MORE time to it? Some people suggested public policy or international studies, and I looked into those -- and some classes did, indeed, look interesting. But there was always something about those degrees that didn't quite click.
Also, in general, the thought of going back to university studies had previously turned me off. I love working , and I love applying the skills I have and learning new skills on the job . I'm not bad at studying, but I'm not great at it either. University studies are not something I have missed nor desired. Besides -- post graduate students I've known have always been "A" students, and people who love being students. That's not me.
Part of what changed my mind about going back to school was studying Spanish in informal classes at my work place at the time. I loved it. I appreciate studying and learning so much more now than I did when I was younger. Everyone says, "Oh, but it's impossible to learn a second language as an adult!!" I may never be fluent, but what I've learned, and what I use, is a lot of fun and helps a lot in my work and travels. Plus, the learning process feels therapeutic. I highly recommend it.
The other thing that changed my mind about going back to school was that I decided that I would like to break out of middle management. I like middle management, for the most part -- I also like being an individual contributor within an organization. I don't want to get so high in the hierarchy that I don't get to work with the constituency of wherever I'm working. But I decided that I could better-insure that I get a job that I would truly love if I got a Master's in a subject I feel passionate about. Other than history...
What was wonderful about studying development management was that the studies are applicable to so many, many professional and personal settings, in any country. No country is fully-developed; development activities still have to be undertaken even in the world's richest country. Many times, when I was asked to apply a principle we were learning about in an OU course to a personal experience, I used my previous volunteer experience in the USA, such as working with American Indians in California, promoting access to technology and tech education for people with disabilities, or advocacy work for reproductive rights groups. It was also great to study development management because, often, I immediately came in contact with information I could use immediately in my work at the United Nations. In fact, I have to say that OU was ahead of the curve in development management thinking, moreso that the UN...
OU is TERRIBLY expensive for international students (because, unlike English students, we don't receive government subsidies to attend). You will gasp at the prices. But, for the MSc in Development Management, I think it's worth the price. The materials are absolutely outstanding -- up-to-date and comprehensive, offering a variety of perspectives, approaches and criticisms regarding development management. Also, the other students in the OU Development Management classes are mostly working professionals -- so my fellow students are a lot like me, as opposed to having only academic experience or being fresh out of undergrad.
I am more proud of my Master's Degree from OU than I am of anything I've done relating to academics in my life and several of the jobs I've held. I'm especially proud that it came from such an outstanding institution. And the OU materials have, indeed, better prepared me for work in the field, giving me tools I've used in my work, preparing me for current and future trends, and introducing me to the very particular language of development that various agencies use.
So, my primary advice if you are considering, even barely, a Master's Degree, regardless of which university: don't do it unless you are really excited about doing it. Gauge this by telling people you are considering doing it -- not for their reaction, but for your own. Do you feel excited when you tell them, regardless of their reaction? If not, I say don't do it. If you can't feel passionate about a subject, the only other reason would be if, and only if, you are guaranteed to walk into the job of your dreams with a Master's and, the truth is, there usually isn't such a guarantee. I believe that engaging in activities you love is more important than a high pay. But, ofcourse, to each his own. My secondary advice: be prepared to give up a big chunk of your social life. If you have a family, talk to them about what studying 8 - 20 hours a week is going to mean to them. Without their support (being quiet while you are studying, respecting your space where you keep your class materials, etc.), you will never make it.
Time with friends will be sacrificed. Nerves will be stressed. Tears will be shed. But if you will truly make the time and effort, you can do this.
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