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Taking my first career step alongside studying at Bath

Charlotte works in fundraising for the UNHCR while studying MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development. She talks about balancing the course and her career.

Charlotte at her undergraduate graduation
After her undergraduate degree, Charlotte decided to enter the humanitarian sector with a master's at Bath.

After graduating from BSc (Hons) Social Sciences in 2022, Charlotte embarked on the part-time MSc in Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development, while starting her first job in the sector.

We talked to her to find out how she combines a distance-learning course with her career, and how it has changed her outlook and goals.

Staying on for a master’s to follow my passion

While I was in my first year studying Social Sciences at Bath, I was just casually looking at master's courses, and MSc Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development had just started. As soon as I saw it, I was set on doing it.

It just looked so interesting. Some of the lecturers taught units in my undergraduate course, so I already knew I enjoyed their teaching style. I was already aware of the research they were doing outside of teaching too, which was really inspiring.

My undergraduate degree was incredibly varied. I was able to choose optional units from across the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, which was great. It was during these units that I realised my passion for and interest in humanitarianism, conflict, development and similar areas. I knew the master’s would allow me to be more focused on these areas and help me with my career goals.

I adore my cohort; it’s such a wonderful mix of people from different regions and backgrounds. I'm the youngest one and just starting out in my career, but there are also people who have never worked in the sector before and some with decades of experience who want to get a more theoretical grounding. We’re all hugely supportive of one another, both in and outside of the course itself. In a way it's like a little cheerleading group, which is lovely.

Working full-time while doing a postgraduate degree

My undergraduate experience at Bath made me want to stay; even if that is part-time and through distance learning. The course combines online study, webinars and residentials, so I still get to have that experience, but can be more flexible with working full-time alongside the course and living outside of Bath.

I currently work for the UNHCR’s UK charity partner. This is my first full-time role coming out of university and I work in community fundraising. It was a fantastic opportunity to have after just graduating, and my colleagues make working there even more enjoyable. It's also very useful to be doing this kind of work alongside the course. Compared to the topics we discuss on the course, working in fundraising offers another perspective and dynamic, and has complemented my studies.

Online learning really suits me, and it means there's less time and financial pressure to commute regularly. You definitely have to manage your time well, but there's support and that understanding that some people may have more time than others with work, family or other commitments. For example, most of our deadlines have been on a Monday evening rather than a Sunday night and our webinars are after 5pm. It sounds small, but things like that really help. Our lecturers also take on feedback about which days and times suit everyone, and you feel like your input is appreciated when it comes to logistical conversations.

Having said that, I’ve absolutely loved the residentials. It feels like your own little bubble for a week with your course mates and lecturers. It’s a safe and supportive space where we have the opportunity to just focus on our studies, engage further with the content and work together in a collaborative environment. It’s also lovely to just catch up with everyone!

Course highlights: travelling to Jordan

The course covers a variety of topics and perspectives, and really challenges you to be critical about what we digest from others, but also to examine our own ways of thinking. The residentials in Bath are a great way to share ideas and discuss what we’ve learnt virtually. The variety of lecturers and external speakers from across the sector also add another exciting element to the course.

Personally, the Jordan residential was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the course, and not something I’d seen offered at other universities. Without trying to sound really cliché, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

I still think about Jordan most days; we always talk about it as a cohort whenever we meet up. It was a privilege to speak to the individuals, families and organisations that we did, and we were welcomed with such warmth and generosity. It was a fantastic opportunity to see elements of the course content playing out practically and hear directly from people who are foremost affected by the crises and dynamics we study.

It was an emotionally and mentally challenging week, but in the most positive way. The residential genuinely shaped how I interact with the rest of the course, how I plan to navigate my next career steps and how I want to positively impact and bolster others in my academic work and career. I must mentioned our incredible lecturers, Jason and Katharina, who organised our Jordan trip. The generosity and openness from everyone we spoke to is a huge testament to the work that Jason and Katharina do, and they’ve really set an example for how research can be done with compassion, consideration and with people at the forefront.

Future plans

My thinking at the moment is that I’d like to go on to do further study, or potentially move into humanitarian research and analysis.

I’m still making up my mind really, but this course has definitely helped me narrow down where I want to go in my career. I think if I hadn't done it, I'd really be at a loss at what I wanted to do and how I could build a career in the area I’m passionate about.

My advice to anyone interested in studying this course:

Firstly, it sounds really basic, and everyone says it, but just do it! I cannot recommend this course enough.

If anything, I’d say be conscious of and intentional with your time. Undertaking the course whilst working full-time and balancing my personal life has been a big commitment, but I’m not the only one and it can absolutely be done.

Prepare for emotional highs and lows, but I mean that in the best way! You cover a lot of challenging topics and have difficult conversations, but in a safe and supportive environment that encourages you to be critical in your thinking and in your research. These aspects have been vital for my progression, and I think it’s the best way to develop personally and in what you produce in university or work.

So, use your time well, challenge yourself, and make the most of every moment!

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