Development Studies, what it is and how it prepares you for your future career: a personal point of view

The author in front of her campus

Rima, the contributor, was taking Master of Development Studies at the University of Auckland (UoA), New Zealand, from 2016 to 2018. In this article, she shares her personal testimony on studying in Development Studies, how the major has inspired to create global impacts from within, and how the major has equipped her with theoretical understandings and practical skills to better perform at her job in the public sector. Let’s check it out!


Choosing the major of your study is just as important as choosing the university. For those who work (or aspire to work) in the public sector, Development Studies is an excellent alternative major, as opposed to other already well-known majors like public policy, public administration, and such.

1. What is Development Studies and how does it differ from other similar majors?

According to the University of Auckland’s official website,

“Development studies is an interdisciplinary branch of social science. It examines the transformation of communities and societies around the world while critically engaging with concepts and outcomes of international development from various perspectives.”

“The theoretical approach seeks to understand why and how societies, regions and communities change to improve quality of life. The more applied focus is on how governments, NGOs, international donors and other development agents can facilitate such change.”

Every university has different definitions on what Development Studies is, depends on the focus of their curriculum. However, if I have to sum it up in a sentence, to the best of my knowledge, Development Studies is an interdisciplinary branch of study about development theories, policies and practices, as well as the impacts of developments on communities.

How does it differ from other majors?

Because of the interdisciplinary aspect of this major, choosing this as your study means you will also be exposed to policies, politics, economics, sociology, gender issues, and more. You will be working on real-life cases in developing countries and learn how to implement the theoretical knowledge to recommend solutions to existing issues.

Quoting University of Auckland’s official website (again), “Development Studies seeks to understand how societies, regions and communities change and critically examines the policies and practices of governments, NGOs, international donors and other development agents to facilitate social transformation and improve the quality of life in so-called ‘developing’ countries.”

In addition, all lecturers are also professionals and practitioners who have been working for years on cases of the subjects they teach. This will make the lessons you learn and discussions happening in the class are based on real-life problems. You as students will get to know first-hand from these awesome lecturers/practitioners of the issues and how can we contribute to solving problems of the world by taking into account many perspectives.

The variety of topics to research on for your Dissertation or Thesis is also unlimited. You can work on any topic that you are passionate about, taking into account a wide range of perspectives and points of view, in any place on this planet. The sky is the limit. You absolutely have no reason to worry that you’ll be working on something that you are not so into for your Dissertation or Thesis.

Class discussions at the park
Class discussions at the park

2. Lesson learned and skills acquired

(What you’ll learn there in relation to the development world?)

a) Hard skills

As part of the manifestation of the interdisciplinary of the major, Development Studies of UoA provides a wide variety of compulsory and elective courses that cover almost all aspects of development discourses.

For instance, Development Policies and Institution course exposed me with complexity and dynamics of development policymaking and policy approaches carried out by national governments, UN organisations, international development banks, etc. with issues covered from land policies, food aid policies, migration policies, and so on. I found this course very interesting. It was taught by the Programme Director, Andreas Neef, who happens to spend years of working in Southeast Asia and Pacific countries on issues such as land-grabbing and post-disaster recovery programmes. One of the assignments teamed me up with a group of friends to work on policy brief regarding the land-grabbing issues in Indonesia, as well as proposing policy recommendations of the situations.

An email from the author’s lecturer regarding the follow up of the policy brief we did for our assignment
An email from the author’s lecturer regarding the follow up of the policy brief we did for our assignment

Gender and Development course introduced me to gendered power relations in development practices and policies. The curriculum has exposed me to several key terms related to gender issues such as governmentality, the feminisation of poverty, and intersectionality through case studies. The class was taught by Yvonne Sam-Underhill, who is also the Co-Chair Advisory Research Group of Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development. This class impress me so much that on my last semester, I decided to write my dissertation about incorporating gender perspectives in the protection policies and programmes of Indonesian women migrant workers to realise better protection for these women.

Global Health and Development was a reading-intensive course about global health practices in development, including several key terms like biopower, biotechnologies and health governmentalities. The class was taught by Jesse Grayman, an Anthropologist who is fluent in Indonesian and has spent years of his career-life working in Indonesia, particularly on Aceh’s tsunami-related projects. Jesse also taught Development Praxis course, in which I played the role as an NGO employee and learned how to write a proposal for project funding. My team and I was working on a project related to water shortage in Papua New Guinea.

In addition, I also took some elective courses from other majors, in order to expose myself with more development-related issues. Courses like Education and Development Process, as well as People, Participation and Development courses really enriched my understanding of development in other contexts and variation of approaches used by other faculties in dealing with related matters.

Studying at the Albert park
Studying at the Albert Park

b) Soft skills

Beyond the theoretical and practical knowledge and skills mentioned above, the major has also equipped me with soft skills that are beneficial not only to be implemented at work but also in life as general.

  • Critical thinking. I cannot put enough stress on how crucial the ability to think critically for your study as well as for life in general. As my lecturers put it out, being critical does not mean to falsify everything. It means to incorporate other perspectives and points of view so that you get the whole picture and complete information on the issue. The interdisciplinary study of Development Studies provided me with a sound understanding of development-related issues from a variety of perspectives, which is beneficial when it comes to giving solid arguments and recommendations.
  • English academic writing. Although I have been using English to write for as long as I can remember, academic writing, moreover in English, was not something that I did on a daily basis. The whole two years of master’s study that forced me to write so many essays have made my writing in English a whole lot better. I did not realise about this at first, until one of my lecturers who taught me in my first semester and then taught me again on my last semester, pointed that out. The culmination of hard work is apparently paid off in the long run.
  • Ability to conduct research (both qualitative and quantitative). Those seemed to be endless assignments and essays to write have also made me familiar with the whole process of conducting research.
  • Significant increase in reading speed. Most of my courses were reading-intensive ones, meaning every week, all students are expected to read 3 to 6 journals or book chapters before the class. All of these have resulted in a significant increase in my reading speed of journals and academic books.

To sum up this rather lengthy article, Development Studies education had profound impacts on my world views and values as both a global citizen and a national government employee.


Photos provided by the author 


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