During our Master’s Open Day, we welcome prospective students and give them a general overview of the programme and its seven specialisations. We also invite alumni back to share how the programme prepared them to kick-start their careers in international development. On our Open Day in November 2019, I caught up with four alumni from different cohorts who reflected on the programme and their careers.
Welcome back — thank you for taking the time to visit us! Let’s first have a brief round of introductions.
Benjamin Bogliacino (BB): My name is Benjamin Bogliacino. I graduated in 2016 and I work as a Strategic Engagement Lead at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Brussels.
Fanny Trang (FT): My name is Fanny Trang; I finished the MPP in 2016. After graduation, I worked for the UK Embassy in Paris for three years. In September 2019, I started a role as Head of Communications & Events at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.
Praachi Kumar (PK): My name is Praachi Kumar; I graduated the MPP together with Fanny and Ben. I did the social protection specialisation. After spending two years working for Plan International, I returned to UNU-MERIT to become a PhD Fellow.
Tim van Wanroij (TvW): My name is Tim van Wanroij, I completed the MPP in 2012 and I have been working for the City of Maastricht in a number of roles. Currently I am a project leader of the City’s Environmental Vision initiative.
How did the Master’s programme prepare you, in various ways and means, for your careers?
BB: In my case, on top of all the skills I learned during the classes, a key element was the hard work and the emphasis on not giving up until you achieve your goals. Given my job, this has become a very important requirement; nowadays you have to work hard and build resilience and the programme really helped with that.
FT: Having worked in in journalism for a couple of years before coming here, the MPP at UNU-MERIT really opened up for me a whole new field of public policy and governance, which I wanted to work in. The programme was my entry ticket into this field. I have since managed to work in various positions like the UK Embassy in Paris and now the CEPS in Brussels. Without the mixed background of journalism and public policy, I wouldn’t have been able to enter this market.
Praachi, you worked a few years in policy but returned to academia. You’re now half-way through your first year as a PhD fellow. What tools did the MPP give you to start a doctorate?
PK: The biggest benefit of the programme is that is very well designed for both policy and academia. I realised that the skills I learned during the course were very high-level. The MPP programme served me as a very good bridge between my BSc in Economics and the PhD at UNU-MERIT, not just for the quantitative and technical elements but also my knowledge of public policy and social protection. This allowed me to develop a research idea on issues related to gender and I was able to explore my research interests during the MPP.
Tim, you work for our host city, Maastricht. How did the programme prepare you for a career in local government?
TvW: Everything I learned here shaped me as a person and gave me the fundamental tools to approach public policy challenges. I did my Bachelor in Economics and I often say that I learned more in the one-year MPP than in my three-year bachelor’s. It allowed me to focus on the content, organise processes regarding stakeholder management, analysis and policy implementation. I always encourage people who want to work in local government to come to UNU-MERIT and do the MPP.
One of the most challenging parts of the programme is the quantitative track, which students have to take in the first semester. How was your experience with the track? Why should you study statistics if you want to work in public policy?
FT: I would like to say that having studied social protection, econometrics was a piece of cake in comparison to the last module of the programme on actuarial mathematics (laughs). For me, it really opened a whole area of evidence-based policy that I did not know at all. The courses on econometrics were the hardest I have ever taken because I did not have a background in statistics. That said, the subject is very interesting and it is widely used in public policy. In fact, the one interview question I got from my director at CEPS when hiring me was whether I had any experience with econometrics and quantitative research It is a very hard course and it taught me many lessons because, in fact, I failed econometrics the first time. I have never studied harder than I did prior to retaking that exam and I ended up having the highest grade of the class after the second sit. If you really put your mind to it, this field can unlock a lot of knowledge.
BB: I do not use econometrics or statistics in my day-to-day job, but working in public affairs and having to deal with specialists from ministries back in London or the EU in Brussels I do need a broad understanding. So if you read a report that contains statistical data you need to quickly grasp the meaning, so you don’t have to rely on other people. Therefore, I do not use it per se but it helps navigate the environment that I am working in. The course was very tough, it is hard work, but you get a lot of support from the school.
PK:One of the key factors of public policy is not only having the skills to analyse policy but also to build policy. Much of what I did after graduating the MPP was to contribute in the development of the Gender Vulnerability Index (GVI) report. The skills I learned during the social protection specialisation allowed me to ‘build such indices, interpret them for a policy audience’ and understanding indices and statistics allowed me to enter the job market.
TvW: I also don’t use econometrics or statistics in my day-to-day job – but I do I feel that policymakers don’t use statistics and data enough; we still make policies based on assumptions, which is not the correct way to do things. I believe that statistics are a crucial element that public policy should master; it can shape your entire approach to policymaking.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / S.Brodin