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Opinion

Student insights into doing the MA Food and Development at Sussex

Published on 15 December 2020

Evelyn Djuwidja completed the MA Food and Development in 2020, taught jointly by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the University of Sussex. Here she tells us why she chose this specialist master’s course and what surprised her during her year at Sussex.

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

What were you doing before you came to IDS?

I actually worked for an NGO, an international NGO back in Indonesia. It was an NGO focused on food systems and nutrition. I was there for seven years. So it’s been quite a long time. Before then, I worked for another NGO that is focused on energy conservation.

Why did you choose IDS and the MA Food and Development?

I chose MA Food and Development because it was basically the logical path of education from my professional experience, because I worked in food systems and nutrition. I didn’t even know at first that this was an option. I knew after school I wanted to work in development, and I thought I was going to have to take a Public Health and Nutrition course. But then I saw that Sussex was offering this specific course on food and development and I thought, ‘This is quite perfect.’

Did you come to Sussex on a scholarship or were you self-funded?

I did come on a scholarship. It was the Chevening Scholarship – the UK government scholarship.

It’s not been a typical academic year, given the impacts of Covid-19. How has your year been?

My year has been strange to say the least. I don’t think any of us come into grad school expecting that half of the year is going to be spent in a global pandemic, to be sure. But I think at the same time, even during the pandemic, I had fun. It was a lot of learning and a lot of new experiences, and I’m very grateful for that. I think this pandemic, and having to finish my degree in the middle of it, has also really taught me about how resilient I am. And it’s all part of the experience, I think. So I’m very, very grateful for that as well.

Did anything about the MA Food and Development course surprise you?

Honestly, I did not expect that we were going to be learning from research consultants as well as professors, because all the professors in IDS also wear the other hat as a research consultant. And my course just happens to be half based at IDS and half at the School of Global Studies. It definitely makes for a slightly different teaching or learning style in that I feel like the University of Sussex Global Studies Department are very academic in their teaching. It’s very typical traditional academic learning, which I really appreciate. But in IDS you get a feeling that you’re learning from professional researchers. It’s very skills-based and project-based and also very grounded to current reality and what is happening in the sector. And I won’t say one is better than the other, but I feel like I am getting the best of both worlds, really. And I really appreciate that.

What excited you most about the course?

Specifically, I really liked the Sustainability and Policy Processes module. First of all, because I am just really interested in policy spaces and work in public policy. But second is that as part of the midterm exercise for this module, they asked us to form a group and role play as policy consultants, in that we chose a topic and then we discussed it, analysed it and produced a consultancy report exactly as if we were working for a client that is asking us to produce a consultancy report analysing a policy and recommending solutions. It was very practical, very exercise-based. And I found it very exciting because I felt like it’s something that I would be doing if I do real life consulting work. So it was really good practice.

What’s your strongest memory of being at IDS?

My strongest memory about being in IDS is very early in the beginning, before we even started our classes, there was a welcoming event, kind of like an orientation in IDS and where Linda Waldman [IDS Director of Teaching and Learning] said something about how in IDS the teachers are here to learn from us as much as we are here to learn from them. And I was very impressed with that. I think it gave me a lot of confidence and reassurance. I felt as if I would be listened to. And that was certainly accurate throughout the year. My opinions and experience in the sector mattered. And it might not sound very big, but this is very refreshing – very reassuring to me.

How has the course impacted your career trajectory?

So, honestly, we literally just got our results last week. I turned in my dissertation last month. So it really hasn’t been that long since we finished the course. Since then, I’ve mostly just been working on smaller projects for NGOs in Indonesia and also applying to many places: NGOs and tech companies and private companies alike. But I think going to IDS has really given me the confidence, because of all the learning and the training that I got from the modules, to apply for the positions that I didn’t think I’d qualified for before. Definitely. But also the network, because I got to know a lot of tutors and a lot of students and most of them also work in the development sector. You get to know them and then they can pass you on opportunities when they come. So, yeah . . . the confidence and the network. I think that will help me a lot with my future career.

What advice would you give someone thinking of studying at Sussex?

First of all, definitely do it, but also be really open to learning and new experiences.  Like I said, learning is really not just academic achievement. You don’t get it from class only. It’s also the discussions that you have in the study space, the web, the seminars and the sessions where your colleagues and your fellow students are sharing their experience in their professional capacity. And also approaching your tutors and having discussions that aren’t necessarily specific to what you’re learning that week. All those things. And even parties, socialising and going to fun things with your friends. So, go to Sussex, definitely. But also, be open to doing all these things.

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