This series tracks the various news and views from our ‘Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods’ (EPRM) course. Many participants work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other sections of the UN system. They come to the City of Maastricht in the Netherlands for this unique blended learning programme, covering a total of three weeks in class and 10 weeks online. This time we catch up with Shaan Muberra Khan, a Senior Research Officer at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. NB, the next scholarship deadline is 24 March 2020.
How did you find out about the course?
A few years back, I came across someone who was enrolled on the EPRM course, while I was looking for an expert in primary health care on LinkedIn. Exploring the programme content on the UNU-MERIT website, I noticed that this blended course aims to extend the research knowledge and analytical skills of working professionals through its five comprehensive modules. Overall, my goal is to directly work with the government personnel, policymakers and relevant stakeholders for policy change based on findings, generated knowledge and recommendations from my research work. I believe the EPRM course will help me to achieve my goal by: i. sharpening my capacity to package research proposals, and ii. strengthening my analytical and research dissemination skills.
How was the workload? Were you able to complete the course work on time?
I must say, EPRM forced me to think outside of my public health research arena. With the fast moving schedule of module 1, we had regular critical review assignments on different themes (i.e. migration, entrepreneurship, governance, innovation, etc.). Here, we dissected the dissertation chapters of former students: how research questions were formulated, how existing literature was reviewed and which theories were linked with research objectives. In addition, we critically reviewed the appropriateness of methodologies, data sources and preliminary data analysis plans to answer the research questions. Tackling a new concept and critically appraising its research methodology with my ‘public health lens’ reminded me of previous studies of research methods and data analysis. Meanwhile, short classroom exercises on Zotero, Stata and ATLAS.ti helped us get to grips with scientific software. However, the most interesting part was the ‘Speed Dates: 10 minutes each’, where current PhD fellows listened to our research ideas and provided instant feedback for fine-tuning.
Looking back, it was critical for me to balance time between office schedule and study. Dedicating quality time for the assignments and readings was difficult, especially when I had deadlines at my work. I was in a dilemma: which one to prioritise? In this regard, I carefully reviewed the schedule of the online courses and drafted a work plan to best manage my time. In addition, the ‘distant learning course tutors’ were really supportive and easily accessible. For example, I received valuable insights from my tutor on how to structure my research proposal in a comprehensive way. When I had problems conceptualising topics from reading materials, my tutor quickly clarified my queries during online sessions. Notably, the recorded assignment feedback for the group on EleUM really maximised our programme learning. Additionally, well explained web lectures worked as an ‘effective start up’ before diving into the reading of each module.
You recently won a scholarship from the Orange Knowledge Programme, which covers your tuition and major expenses. How important was that to you?
I am thankful for the OKP scholarship award, which really reduced the tension I felt about expenses so that I could concentrate only on the academics. I am also grateful to UNU MERIT for initially nominating me for this prestigious scholarship. It was mentioned in the circular that “Only if selected, you will receive the confirmation of the scholarship by September 2019”. By the 29th I still had not received any acceptance letter, so I decided to apply for another course in the subsequent October 2019 round. However, the Creator had planned something else for me!
During my stay in Maastricht for the research design module, I observed how faculty members were consistently motivating us to spot the ‘gaps’ in our write-ups and facilitating interactive sessions. I listened carefully to my future ‘change-maker’ colleagues and friends from around the globe, who are working in various sectors such as female entrepreneurship, climate change, migration, digital technology, alternative education, corporate governance and trying to identify potential solutions to myriad problems. Cross-learning by sharing experiences and learning-by-doing were both important factors, contributing to an increase in research knowledge among the small group. We also have a dedicated WhatsApp group, where we discuss coursework, clarify instructions, share difficulties we are facing, exchange feedback and motivate each other to put in our best effort.
How did you learn about the scholarship? What would you recommend to other applicants?
OKP is a prestigious award, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and managed by Nuffic. One of my friends shared the link of OKP scholarship database (Studyfinder) with me back in 2014 and I explored the courses, eligibility requirements and institute specific deadlines. But I did not have any professional experience back then. So I waited a while, gained experience and finally applied for OKP in 2019. This renowned scholarship gave me extra confidence to continue my research work and inspired me to influence policy and implementation. However, bringing change in policy based on research evidence is a long-term process, which will require my continued determination and proactive engagement.
The application processes for both EPRM and OKP are very straightforward. Remember, your application should reflect your dream about making a difference, your innovative thinking, and your future ‘small’ steps to ensure a change. So, take a deep breath! Download the forms, prepare your documents, apply and enjoy!
- PhD Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis, Dual Career (GPAC²)
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers