Skip to main content

Combining academic study with UNICEF projects

MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development student Rand Altaher reveals how studying at the University of Bath shaped her career and work at UNICEF.

Student Rand Altaher standing in front of UNICEF tent in Jordan
Rand is balancing her studies part-time whilst working in Jordan

Educational background and previous experience

'I studied the International Baccalaureate in Jordan through a school partnered with the University of Bath. I decided to do my undergraduate degree at Bath due to the good reputation for politics courses , and I enrolled for the BSc Politics and International Relations graduating in 2015.

'I returned to Jordan and began working for UNICEF on the United Nations Volunteer programme. This was a very competitive programme with over 2,000 applications and 2 places offered for a 1-year programme, designed to immerse employees in the field projects operated by UNICEF. Experiencing these projects first hand confirmed my interests in the humanitarianism field further. After completing the programme I applied to a programme officer position and was offered a staff position within UNICEF as a social protection officer.

Working with UNICEF

'I work with marginalised Jordanian minority groups (‘Dom’). Initially my role focused on conducting research into these groups, however over time I have progressed to spend more time managing strategy and social protection.

'A typical day is extremely varied. One day could involve working on budgets and strategy for our charity partners who we work with on projects on the ground, and another day could be getting out into the field to observe and support their efforts. Some days, my role involves attending high level government meetings in order to gain their buy-in on strategies. '

Deciding on further study

'In 2018 I decided I needed a master’s degree in order to be able to progress. I received an email informing me about a new course at the University of Bath, and later saw Facebook advertising for the MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development. Once I had decided it was something I was interested in, I reached out to my former Director of Studies (DoS) from my undergrad course and he was extremely encouraging about my ambitions to join. I joined a webinar with the Director of Studies of the course to learn more about the content and structure and it felt like the right way to progress. I did not want to give up my role with UNICEF therefore the course stood out being part-time distance learning and so I decided to apply!'

Feeling supported despite distance learning

'Initially I was curious about how this course would work being part-time, and distance learning. However, I definitely feel supported especially by the lecturers and directors of study. In my experience they respond quickly to emails and we have WhatsApp groups for any questions we need answering. As I live in Jordan, I get to see the academics who focus their research on the context of Jordan regularly when they are here for visits – I try to ensure we arrange a meet up when that happens.

'We also have monthly webinars where we can all discuss topics together as a full cohort. '

Importance of the course in challenging my thinking and networking

'When you have been working in the same role or context for several years, it’s easy to slip into routines. I found that I was no longer challenging things as much as I used to. The units on this course have helped me to take a step back and reflect upon my work, as well as thinking about the issues I deal with on a day to day basis, in a global context.

'The cohort on my course is extremely varied. We have people who have just completed their undergraduate degree, to people with 20+ years’ experience working in the humanitarianism field. Networking with these people and listening to experiences from a variety of contexts is very helpful in shaping the way you think about response. The support network is great, and we now regularly draw on each other’s experience if we have specific questions.'

The highlights

'As part of the course, there are three residentials where everyone comes together for a week; two at the university campus and one in Jordan. These residentials were the best bit. I especially enjoyed that one was in Jordan, as not only did I get the opportunity to show other students around my home country, but I also had access to things I wouldn’t usually. For example, there was a panel discussion with Jordanian academics – which is something that would not usually be accessible in my country. I enjoyed hearing their perspectives. Katharina Lenner (an academic in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences) gave a presentation on labour law in Jordan which was extremely useful for my day to day work.

'The cohort is also a plus point of course. We all get on really well and can draw upon each other’s experiences. In fact, last summer a handful of us decided to arrange a mini residential of our own accord. Through one of the students who had contacts in Bosnia we arranged to spend the week there learning about that context.'

Future prospects

'Through the distance learning and part-time nature of this course, I have been able to build up my years of experience whilst studying, rather than having to put my career on hold. This which will be a huge benefit in terms of future careers prospects. To be successful in this field, from my experience and impression, a master’s degree is essential.

'After this course, I want to continue my work with UNICEF and hopefully this qualification will help me progress within the organisation.'

Any advice for people considering this course?

Group picture in a living room of academics and students together
Seeing the academics and other students in Jordan

'If you are nervous about undertaking a course that is 100% online, but don’t want to have to put your career on hold to study full-time, I think this course is the perfect medium. I would say do not hesitate in applying! To me, even though this is a distance learning course, I feel closer with my cohort of 20 than I did on my undergraduate course in a lecture theatre filled with almost 200 others. It feels personal with this small group. Lecturers know us by name, they know our backgrounds and they keep in contact regularly to ensure we have the support we need.'

Reaching the hardest to reach with transportation to school

Take a look at Rand in action working with UNICEF in helping return 280 Dom children back to formal education.

More student stories

Read more about the experiences of our students on this course.