Studying at the School of Social and Political Science
- What made you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?
As I work full time, I was looking for a fully online degree. I wanted to learn more about sustainable development as my work in translation and copyediting is indirectly related. I had done some volunteer work in the development field in the past but my academic background was in languages.
I was attracted by the MSc’s multidisciplinary approach. The degree is split into three postgraduate certificates, respectively covering global challenges in the areas of development, health, and the environment. Each of these is further split into three courses, some of which are electives to allow for greater specialization in one of the three areas.
The flexibility of the MSc also appealed. I wanted to do a master’s degree, but the programme gives you the option of exiting with a post-graduate certificate or a diploma. In addition, you can take the MSc over three to six years. I did it over four years, which allowed me to take a break from study when I needed to move house.
I also understood Edinburgh has a good reputation and the fees seemed reasonable compared with other similar courses. The decisive factor for me was when I emailed the programme directors for each postgraduate certificate and they came back quickly with helpful responses.
- How have you enjoyed your programme?
Very much! It wasn’t always easy, but I feel thankful for the MSc opening my eyes to many new perspectives on the challenges for our crowded and warming planet. This included a critical look at the whole concept of sustainable development.
I particularly enjoyed the interaction with fellow students and course organizers in group discussions and group projects. We had some great discussions! I always appreciated when people took time to read what I wrote in discussion and blog posts and provide helpful and encouraging feedback.
- What has been your favourite course?
This is a difficult question as each course was interesting and enjoyable in its own right. I would say for me it is a tie between the introductory courses for Global Health Challenges and Global Environment Challenges. The former covered many of the big problems surrounding human health today, all tied together within the framework of planetary health. The level of interaction and encouragement from the course organizers for this course was inspiring. The latter introduced a wide range of perspectives on environmental challenges and the course organizers provided timely and practical feedback on weekly blog posts and assignments, which was very helpful academically.
- Aims for after University?
I want to keep learning about the issues covered in the course, particularly in the field of planetary health. I also hope to stay in touch with fellow students and course organizers and am pleased to have recently started working with alumni I studied alongside and current students on a voluntary project.
As I am well into my career already with a family it is not so easy to make big changes at this stage career-wise, but I am interested in trying to shift toward roles where I can make more of a positive impact through my work or volunteering.
- What does a typical weekday look like for you as a student at SPS?
As the MSc was entirely online, I tried to make the most of small windows of time. On weekdays I would read and watch lectures in the evenings. During my lunch break I might respond to discussion group posts and questions or sometimes join an online tutorial. When going for a walk or a run I would listen to podcasts relevant to the topic I was studying. I would try to take care of chores like ironing shirts while catching up on video content.
I did much of the main writing of assignments on weekends or days off.
- What are your highlights from your time at the School of Social and Political Science?
I found the course on Maternal and Child Health in a Global Context very eye-opening and learned about serious issues like obstetric fistula that I was not aware of prior to taking the course. One piece of work I enjoyed producing was for this course. It was an infographic on barriers to measuring civil registration and vital statistics in Afghanistan and how both high-tech and low-tech methods can help to effectively surmount those barriers.
I also enjoyed researching and writing a final assignment in a course on Climate Change Mitigation on the challenges for my home country of Ireland in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land-use by 2050. The course organizer provided very helpful formative feedback and put me in touch with another lecturer from the School who kindly helped me to learn more about silvopasture and agroforestry. This made the whole writing process less solitary and more enjoyable.
In the discussion board of the Climate Change Mitigation course, a course organizer recommended a book for children on climate change by a guest lecturer on the course, Professor Dave Reay. I picked up a copy of this book (called “Your Planet Needs You! A Kids’ Guide to Going Green”) and my son and I read it together and really enjoyed it. So it was nice to find out about resources to help my son learn about global challenges as well.
- Knowing what you do now, what would you say to your past self before starting the course?
I would tell myself to be more strategic in the way I allocated my time. I would often spend hours trying to contribute to the discussion boards, sometimes to the detriment of my main assignments and my overall grade. While I think the effort you make in the discussions will stand to you when it comes to doing your assignments, you also need to set priorities and make sure you have enough time to do them to a level that you are happy with.
I would also advise myself to read a reliable text on academic writing such as, “A Student's Writing Guide: How to Plan and Write Successful Essays” (2009) by Gordon Taylor. This is one of several texts recommended by a course organizer that you can access online through the University library.
Finally, I would say don’t hesitate to reach out to course organizers and personal tutors with questions as they are happy to help and I always felt encouraged after speaking with them.
- Are you involved in any student societies?
I wasn’t involved in any student societies, but I did volunteer as a programme representative during my final year. I would recommend students to take on the rep role as it is not overly demanding on your time and gives you a chance to contribute to a better learning experience for students. It was also a pleasure working with my fellow rep and the Programme Administrator for the School of Social and Political Science.
- What has your University experience been like, in just three words?!
Enlightening, intensive, inspiring
- If you recommend ONE thing to do in the first semester what would it be?
As a fully online student, I would recommend joining or setting up some kind of online communication channel with your fellow students.
During my second-last course of the MSc I joined such a group and it turned out to be great for sharing information and helping each other to figure out things like how to upload an assignment on weekends. My fellow students and I started a similar group for my final course, which was great to have at the time for moral support.
We then established a group for students and alumni of the MSc and this has proven to be a good way of staying in touch and sharing information after graduation.