Richard McKeon

University of New South Wales
Masters of Development Studies (International Development)
Richard studied a Master of Development Studies (International Development stream) at UNSW

Who are you? What is your background? What have you been doing before this degree?

I’m Richard and I studied a Masters of Development Studies, majoring in International Development, part time at UNSW between March 2015 and February 2017. I spent the first few years of life on a farm in Gippsland, Victoria, before moving to the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne for the remainder of my schooling years. I took my undergraduate studies in the dual (and largely uncomplimentary) disciplines of Aerospace Engineering and Commerce at Monash University. I’ve always been fascinated about aerodynamics and wanted to study the science behind it.

During my undergraduate studies, I worked for the automotive manufacturer Holden, in both Finance and Engineering related student roles. After graduating, however, I changed direction somewhat and accepted a job with Port Jackson Partners, a management consulting firm in Sydney. I had decided some years earlier that I wanted to direct my career towards international development (either in a voluntary or professional capacity), and I thought that management consulting would give me some of the required tools and credentials.

What made you decide to study a postgrad degree?

After doing a series of volunteer stints in the development sector, I quickly realised two things: 1) I didn’t know a whole lot about the theory I was practicing, and 2) to make further progress in the sector would require a relevant masters degree. Furthermore, at some point I will be likely to find myself expatriated to Norway (my fiancee’s native), where a masters degree is a prerequisite for most professional jobs. Weighing up these three factors, it seemed logical to investigate postgraduate study options in the aid and development sector.

I was still working at the time, and couldn’t afford to give up my job for full-time study, so I searched for degrees I could take part-time and ideally online. In the end, it came down to choosing between Deakin and UNSW. I was accepted to both programs, and while Deakin offered the degree fully online, UNSW was able to offer me a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) and completion in 1 year (full-time equivalent) versus 1.5 years and full-fees from Deakin. Since both universities had great reputations, I choose the shorter and significantly less expensive option at UNSW.

Tell us about your experiences studying your degree at your institution?

UNSW didn’t offer the degree online (although I was able to choose some electives to take by distance), so 3 years after completing my last degree, I set foot on campus again! The first challenge, however, was convincing my employer to let me leave early from work on Tuesdays to attend classes (for a degree that wasn’t aligned with a career in management consulting) - luckily they had a heart!

Development was an area that I read a lot about, and volunteered in various capacities, but had never viewed through an academic lens, which initially I found this quite challenging. In some respects, applying such an academic focus to the subject matter put a very negative light on the sector, and at worst, made me unsure as to how I could hope to make a contribution. As the degree progressed, however, I met more interesting people, learnt more practical tools, especially regarding community development, and felt more confident about how I could take the theory I was learning and apply it to development projects.

The course also offered great exposure to other aligned professions. In one of my final subjects, we were fortunate enough to have guest lecturers every second week. My only word or warning about this course is that it is quite academic, and might not be suited for students who want to learn development practice, rather than development theory.

UNSW is a great university to study at. It has a beautiful campus atmosphere, and is within 20 minutes walk from Coogee beach (something I should have done more of - rather than racing to and from work!).

Has your degree improved your career prospects?

For sure. A masters of development studies is pretty much a ticket to work in the development sector. While finding employment is still very competitive, a masters degree makes you eligible for many more positions, and opens up opportunities within international development organisations (UN, UNDP, World Bank, WFP, UNICEF, ICRC etc).

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  • Do the readings! I don’t care how busy you are, you will get so much more out of each seminar if you are well read before!
  • Get to the know your fellow students as well as your lecturers - at postgrad level, your fellow students will often already have established careers and interesting backgrounds.
  • Enjoy being a student again. Have a beer at 3pm on a Wednesday every once in a while! Go to the beach now and do that assignment later in the evening!