Tips for those about to start development studies
Universities across the UK head for another academic term and in development studies this could mean at undergraduate, Masters or PhD candidate level. We asked our Council and members for any advice they have for those of you embarking on the next level of learning.
The diversity of subjects being studied will be as diverse as our student base, and this is a great opportunity. Keetie Roelen, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Study of Global Development at the Open University, encourages students to embrace this diversity. “My advice would be: Think beyond the ‘development boundaries’: explore literature beyond development studies, engage with other disciplines, and consider how issues of development are important across the world – not just the Global South.”
Jenni Argent, herself a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh has some obvious sounding but encouraging words. “My advice would be to just keep turning up,” says Jenni. “It sounds basic but I really think that turning up to every class (except if you are ill of course) just makes such a difference, even if you find some boring or really difficult to understand. By just being there you will learn something and you often learn lots from the other students asking questions or participating too, which you just don’t get by catching up on the lectures online later.”
She adds that life is beyond the lectures in your timetable. “Also, turn up to extra seminars and events offered within the department, and come in to work in the department too if you can, immerse yourself in the learning opportunities and the atmosphere of your school, you will get to know people and hugely enrich your university experience.”
Look out for posters on noticeboards and, yes, your overflowing university inbox for opportunities to engage at in-person events or just embark on water-cooler chat with Professors; who really are friendly!
Looking for ways to break the ice? Laura Camfield is now a Professor in Development Research and Evaluation at University of East Anglia, but she remembers what it is like to be a student. She plays an important role in the DSA’s dissertation prize for students too. “The people sitting next to you on day one will be at least as nervous as you – ruefully acknowledging this is one way to break the ice,” she helpfully suggests.
She also offers tips for tackling those first university assignments. “Always read the question for every assignment and try to answer what you’ve been asked, in the way that you were asked it (e.g. in 1,000 words, using three examples, drawing on the theories of x…) rather than what you are typically asked (‘I know this one…’) or wish you had been asked.” As someone who has done her fair share of marking, this is a point worth heeding! She also offers the final advice to “join DSA, of course!” and we didn’t even make her say this! DSA membership is £11 per year for students and offers great networking, discounts and opportunities.
As a member of the DSA’s communications working group, it should come as no surprise that Annalisa Prizzon offers some solid writing advice. She now works for thinktank ODI, where she is constantly sharpening her communication skills to ensure research moves beyond the journal pages and into places where it can be used.
“Learn how to write clearly and compellingly,” she urges. “Simplicity and clarity are fundamental to getting your research and messages across.” Annalisa has some advice on how to achieve this. “I wish I had read seminal books like “On Writing Well” and “The Elements of Style” earlier in my studies. They are still in a prominent spot on my shelves.” You can also join your university’s writing groups and training as well.
Professor of Geography and Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, Emma Mawdsley has a career that has seen collaboration and engagement with civil society and government departments. It’s a skill she encourages students to develop early on by making use of the opportunities offered by the academic environment. “My suggestion would be to collaborate with fellow students – form reading groups, help each other out, share experiences. Everyone benefits, and these are important values to live and practice.”
We hope you enjoy the start of your academic year and if you’re a DSA member and have suggestions on how we can improve the student experience, please get in touch with us to find out if you have a Student Representative.
Doing your studies in English?
If you’re not a native English speaker but doing your studies and research in English, the DSA member, the British Council, has lots of tools you can use starting with their Learn English hub. The hub contains lots of free resources (like exercises, explainers, audio/video content) for different skills (listening, reading, writing, speaking, etc.) and different levels (from basic to proficient).
There are also lots of free online events (like focused-lessons, both upcoming and as recent recordings), which might be of interest. The hub also contains paid online courses (including live classes, one-on-one classes, personal tutoring, and self-study options), for those who are looking for more personalised training.