Opinion

Insights on studying at IDS from master’s graduate Tabitha

Published on 20 December 2018

Tabitha Hrynick graduated from IDS with a master’s in Development Studies in 2016. Here she reflects on her IDS journey, from discovering the course to the impact it’s had on her career path.

Watch a short video excerpt of Tabitha’s interview or read the interview in full below.

What made you choose IDS?

To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of IDS. I was working in Southeast Asia in international schools but I wanted to move more towards development programming. I met somebody who was traveling through and she was working in development at the time. Despite not having studied at IDS herself, she recommended that I look into it, because she heard from a lot of her colleagues it was a good place to be a student, and also that they were doing lots of really impactful research work. That prompted me to look into it and I really felt that what I was reading about it and the values of IDS matched with my own.

What was important for me when I was thinking about where to study was student experience. I wasn’t interested in going to a really huge university in a really huge city and not being able to really engage with my lecturers or with my peers. I was looking for a kind of more intimate atmosphere and space. That was really important. I had no idea that IDS was so renowned in development.

What were your first impressions?

My first thought when I arrived here was that I was a little bit intimidated. I looked around me and saw that my peers were from all over the world and a lot of them had some really incredible experience doing all kinds of different things. I worried that maybe I didn’t know the right stuff. But that ended up making the whole experience incredibly rich and engaging and I learned a lot from people who had different experiences and perspectives than I did.

What aspect of the course had the greatest impact on you?

I think the most impactful part of studying at IDS in terms of the academics and intellectual discourse and experience was the emphasis that I felt from my lecturers  -and just the atmosphere in the building – on personal reflection and being more aware of my own role as a person working in research and development, my own positionality more broadly and I found that I was challenged in ways that I hadn’t been before and that was really valuable.

What was your dissertation on?

I wrote my dissertation on the Zika epidemic which was unfolding in Brazil and in South America that summer. It was a very real-time issue that I had been following closely and was really interested in. I did a critical analysis of the epidemic and that allowed me to bring together a lot of issues and dimensions that I was really interested in: sustainability, socio-environmental change, health, gender, global health politics. There were some really interesting domestic political shifts happening and looking at that issue gave me an opportunity to use my systems thinking which was something that evolved for me while I was here at IDS.

What impressed you most about IDS?

The diversity of the studentship. Not only were there people from all over the world, but people came with incredibly diverse experiences and perspectives and that allowed for some really interesting debate and discourse in an academic sense, but also just a lot of fun. You know, talking to people from all kinds of different backgrounds made it a really rich experience, both intellectually and socially.

Looking back, how would you sum up your time at IDS?

If I were to sum up my experience as a student at IDS I would say that it was incredibly intense, but also really engaging on a both intellectual and  personal level. I learned so much, not just within the context of  lectures, or the sort of more formal parts of being a Master’s student, but just from interacting with all of my peers who had incredibly diverse experiences and perspectives. And also living in Brighton! It’s a really fun, small city, it’s easy to get around, it’s full of art and culture and activities and events and it was a great place to spend a year.

How has your time at IDS shaped your career path?

So, now I’m working as part of a project looking at animal and human health and disease in Tanzania and my role has been to analyse a large set of qualitative interviews that were done with livestock extension officers, health inspectors, and people who are engaged in animal-based livelihoods in Tanzania. In addition to that, I’ve been contributing to academic papers and policy advocacy and writing blogs and that kind of stuff.

The impact that IDS has had on my career path has been no small thing. I’m currently working in research, which is not something that I anticipated I would be doing. But I really enjoy it and my dissertation set me down a pathway to work in the area of health and disease and zoonoses specifically. So it was kind of unexpected, but that’s where I am. And it’s been really exciting. At some point I may pursue a PhD, or, you know, life happens, maybe I’ll move more towards development programming.

What advice would you give someone considering studying at IDS?

Firstly I would encourage them to make that decision, because I’m really happy that I did. But I would encourage them to take advantage of all the opportunities that they have, being a student here. There are constantly seminars happening with researchers, not only from IDS but from Sussex University and beyond who come to share their research and thoughts and that’s a really rich experience. But also to really get involved in the community and understand what the issues are locally. Development isn’t something that just happens in other places. It’s also an issue in Brighton, in the UK, and in other high-income settings.

When I was considering studying development, one of the things I worried about was whether or not I’d come out of it with a set of technical skills that would really land me the jobs. But I think coming here and having this really rich experience and opening my mind a bit more to how important power is and politics and all of this stuff that often gets left out of those conversations about the technical elements of development, really made me realise how valuable all of that stuff is. And so while I was initially worried about not having that technical edge, I think I’ve more than come away from that feeling like I did the right thing.

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