Rebecca Webb joined IDS this September to study an MA in Development Studies. In this candid interview she tells us how she came to be here, what it’s like to study at IDS, and her hopes for the future.
Watch a short video excerpt of Rebecca’s interview or read the interview in full below.
Why did you choose to pursue a master’s degree in international development?
I was working as a communications officer in-country in Tanzania for five months earlier this year. I found that as I was increasingly contributing to reports and felt the need to expand my knowledge of development issues across a broad spectrum in order to shape the reports for myself and have my own say on how I felt we were representing the work of the NGO. The Master’s course offers me a sense of professionalism – to have a founded knowledge on up-to-date information and a whole history of Development Studies, so I’m able to find now my position within that history and contribute to solutions in a unique way.
What led you to choose IDS?
IDS for me was the institute which was most involved in the real world of development. I looked at many different career options that I could access straight away without a Master’s and whilst I was looking at careers in the field IDS kept being mentioned. IDS is very important in what’s happening in development now and informing many different programmes and policies.
I also like that IDS is not in London. I’m a big believer in trying to distribute our knowledge and wealth of a country. And I didn’t want to become a London-focused career person. It was important to me that they are such a hub outside of the city.
On arriving at IDS, what were your first impressions?
When I first arrived I was pleasantly surprised by how down-to-earth everyone was. IDS has a huge reputation, you see on the website they’re best in the world, and I was worried I would arrive and not feel like I had as much experience as other people. Actually, everybody from the Director of the Institute to my fellow students were so easy to talk to.
What support did you receive when settling in?
Very quickly at IDS we had one-to-ones with Research Fellows and it was really interesting to see that actually the academics are not inaccessible or hard to talk to – from the first day everybody had their doors open. And there’s lots of group discussion and opportunities to do workshops, because everything’s so practical.
Also, I’m living in a rural village in East Sussex, so I needed to understand things like how to get to university via public transport and the university have been really supportive.
What extracurricular activities are you pursuing?
In terms of extracurricular activities, I’ve joined in with a running society here, and we get out on the South Downs, which is within the beautiful landscape surrounding the university. I’ve actually run two marathons so it’s great to stay competitive with my running alongside my studies. I’m also joining in with green auditing here at the university which is a centralised university network to try and help keen researchers and students get going with green initiatives.
How would you describe your cohort?
It’s the most diverse community I’ve ever been in. Our cohort includes officials from Indian governments, people who have just come out of university, anthropologists, economists, geographers, and people like myself who have studied creative degrees. So it’s very diverse in skill and also where people are from. I think of our cohort we’re 70 to 80 countries strong. It’s hard to even imagine how we can all come under one roof, and there’s only a few hundred of us. So it’s really exciting and I probably learn as much from being in such a diverse group as I do formally on the course which is amazing.
What modules are you currently taking?
We have a core module called ‘Ideas’ which actually has been very important for me, because I had so many experiences and so many interests before I started here and I needed to find what my place was within this big mix called development. So now, coming to the end of the module, I feel quite sure as to what interests me and what kind of career I’d like to look at. Alongside, I’ve chosen to study Economic Perspectives. Economic Perspectives is really important for me because I’m not an economist and it is so crucial to development. If I found myself in a policy role or working for government I’d like to be able to speak the same language or at least understand what they’re saying and Economic Perspectives has been a great introduction for me to that.
How would you describe the teaching at IDS?
The teaching is very varied which reflects the diversity of the tutors here. Sometimes we have a formal lecture, followed by audience questions and answers. We have many seminars. Sometimes we are given an exercise before the seminar and a specific reading, in other instances we’re set into small groups in which we will meet up and discuss readings and sometimes create presentations together. And then of course we do a lot of participatory work; the workshops which sometimes last up to a day, teach us methods for when we go back to working in the field. And a key question always at the end is, ‘Do you feel like these methods will enable you to look at things differently and understand the people you’re trying to help?’ And the answer is always yes. We are given so much time and ability to find our way in finding the truth within what’s happening in development.
How does studying at IDS compare to studying at a traditional university?
IDS is very different from studying in a traditional university. I can’t really compare this experience to my first degree. Mainly because it’s so interactive and all about skills and contribution. IDS is part of the global agenda, it’s shaping new programmes that are happening now, they responded in real-time to the Ebola crisis, for example, a few years ago. And to be working somewhere day-to-day that’s making such a massive contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, is very exciting and I feel like I have a lot of hope for what I’m able to do in the future.
How, if at all, do you think studying at IDS will transform your world?
My experience at IDS will transform my world; I’m quite certain of that now, a term in. It is a big investment of time and opportunity cost. But I now am sure of exactly what I can contribute to development, because of this MA. Not only have I found my place within the development world, but IDS and this MA and the knowledge we’re gaining has given me the confidence and the capabilities to be able to go to a network of people and actually initiate movements or make some kind of change.
What advice would you give to anyone considering studying at IDS?
To anybody considering studying here I would say field experience is everything – whether that’s community work you’ve been doing whilst at university in the UK, or whether you’ve been working for an NGO for many years, there’s a big mix of experience. You will get the most from the MA once you have got some experience and you feel committed to a career in this field.