getting into international development
March 17, 2010 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Getting involved in international development - Is an MPH right for me? If so, is now a good time?

I'm a recent-ish grad (May 2009) with a BA in international affairs and anthropology, and I'd like to go into international development.
I'm wondering if a Masters' in Public Health is the right way for me to keep pursuing my goals.

I graduated a year early, and have spent the time working for a non-profit in DC (currently), and also completed a three-month fellowship last summer in Madagascar. I loved it. I would love to go back, but the project I was working on really doesn't need me (or anyone) anymore.

I have been considering the Peace Corps, but my father (who has ALS) is likely to die within the next few years. I am not so comfortable making a 27-month commitment at this time. I also am somewhat uncomfortable with the lack of control over placement. On the other hand, I would love to leave the country and work in the field. I understand that everyone wants to work in the field, and I am at best sorely underqualified for anything right now.

I am particularly interested going into complex emergency management in East and Central Africa, working in refugee / IDP camps, and disaster relief. I have been taking disaster relief classes in my community, as well as emergency response courses. I think logistics might be a really good fit of a field for me, but I'd like to be involved in health programs and projects.

So: what now? An MPH seems like it involves practical skills that I would be able to use. But would an MA in development or econ or something else be a better choice?

Is this even the right time to pursue a grad degree? I see all the warnings about high unemployment and debt - I currently have no debt. I am working in at a non-international education non-profit, and while I love my job and the job paths it could lead to, I'm worried that I'm going to get too far away from doing what I want.

I'm rambling a bit, so I'll cut it off here: to pursue work in development, is an MPH comparatively useful starting point? If not, is any grad degree? Or should I be focusing more on working abroad than more education?
posted by quadrilaterals to Work & Money (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: At some point, in order to be a serious candidate, you will need extended time on the ground in a developing country. That can come now, or after grad school -- but one way or the other, you need to find a way to spend serious time overseas.

Why is that? It's because development work is complex and full of contradictions and many people can't handle it; it's too expensive to send someone overseas as an experiment to see if they can hack living and working in difficult conditions. So you prove yourself by taking whatever position you can get (eg Peace Corps, volunteering, whatever you can find) and use that to get a real job.

Grad school (MPH or anything else development-related) can give you contacts and help you leapfrog in, but you'll still be scrambling to find something at the other end. Honestly, I think you'd be smarter to first see if you can handle the realities of development work (a key piece of which is time away from family, as you are realizing) and only then go through the expense and difficulty of grad school. It would be really sad to spend thousands of dollars and two years only to find out that you don't really love the work as much as you thought you might.
posted by Forktine at 3:22 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to work with someone like Doctors without Borders in an area such as logistics then a MPH is a great way to go. So, if you have a desire to work with a group like them, give them a call and see what sort of post-grad studies they want.
posted by doost at 3:43 PM on March 17, 2010

If you want to work with someone like Doctors without Borders in an area such as logistics then a MPH is a great way to go. So, if you have a desire to work with a group like them, give them a call and see what sort of post-grad studies they want.

Actually, DWB/MSF has a super helpful website explaining what they want. Check it out here. Notice that they want two years of experience, as well as time spent in the developing world, as basic requirements. They want their logisticians to know things like:

* Pump & generator maintenance
* Basic water & sanitation systems
* Construction
* Vehicle mechanics
* Radio and communications equipment
* Computer equipment
* Basic bookkeeping
* Supply management
* Experience as a manager, foreperson, or team leader

You might get a tiny bit of that in an MPH program, but most of that is hands-on field work that you aren't going to learn in grad school.

Again, the point is to first figure out what you want to do, and only go to grad school if it is a necessary part of that. That MPH might or might not be of use as a logistician (more so if you have a focus on water and sanitation, for example), but would be of critical usefulness if you aspired to a position as an epidemiologist.
posted by Forktine at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2010

I'm in a similar boat. Graduated with Hon. BA in 07 with Anthropology and Film (laugh it up) and while I've dallied in many different fields, arts administration, education admin, volunteering, I know International Development is also my area of choice, albeit more of the business side.

I found a post-grad diploma program offered by a college in my area for International Development from a business school side of things that has required six week placements/internships with groups such as Worldvision/Plan Canada, etc. A friend of a friend had recently graduated from it and went directly to work abroad with one of the affiliated groups. So while I'm waiting for next fall to start, maybe theres something similar offered near you that while not a masters, will definitely get you skills and connections to take that next step.
posted by darlingmagpie at 6:15 PM on March 17, 2010

Forktine has it.

Without an unusual language, you can't get in the door of Intl Dev without field time.

If you are considering PC, they do offer MA reimbursement plans.

Maybe, if you must stay in the US right now, do an area studies MA?
posted by k8t at 7:54 PM on March 17, 2010

If you're not sure, I recommend doing things you can do without accumulating debt. Not having loans will make it easier for you to travel than if you do have loans. Have you looked into short term volunteer programs? Habitat for Humanity is just one example but they offer the Global Village program but also the International Volunteer Program.

Is there a language you would need to learn to be more effective in that region? USDA offers language classes for pretty cheap.

Also, if you don't want to leave the country so you can be closer to your father, maybe you could volunteer in the New Orleans area. It would give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you can be away and out of your comfort zone (assuming your family isn't from New Orleans, that is).
posted by kat518 at 8:32 PM on March 17, 2010

Also, there was a previous question about this, where the asker actually followed through and now has a career in international development. Allkindsoftime has since written many posts on his experiences overseas that you may find useful.
posted by Forktine at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, all. I have a lot to think about - namely, how to get on the ground without waiting until I save a few thousand bucks. I'm aware of PC, JVC, WorldTeach, CNVS, VSO - any other names I should look into?
posted by quadrilaterals at 11:18 AM on March 18, 2010

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