Advice, Learning

Getting To Grips With Your Social Media Self

Of late, I have been on a Twitter ‘sabbatical’.

This sabbatical was not the product of a conscious, thought-out decision in which I actively decided to remove myself for complex reasons of social network activism or in an attempt to reconnect with the ‘good old un-connected days’. Rather, it happened slowly and without me realising, until one day, I logged on to Twitter and realised that I hadn’t engaged with the network for over six months – my account was just sitting there, quietly waiting for me to come back, asking me what I wanted to Tweet about next?

It would seem that my Twitter sabbatical coincided with a period of time in my life in which my goals and career focus were in a state of flux.

A year ago, my Twitter ‘space’ had a clear identity.

I was actively engaging with a relatively defined community of people (those working in or interested in the cross-section between Africa, information, technology, media, development, human rights) and most of my followers were (or still are) from that community. The rest all probably have something to do with coffee, the other passion which made it regularly into my Twitter feed. My network, by and large, was relatively ‘bounded’.

In my days working in the newspaper industry and studying at SOAS and the University of Oxford, I used Twitter as a professional and career development resource. I have blogged before, on this very page, about how I used Twitter as my ‘rolling online CV’. I Tweeted my own ideas, I engaged, I re-tweeted, I live-Tweeted at events and conferences, I hashtagged, I plugged blogs I had written, I got jobs through Twitter, and I came across endless accounts of people and organisations whose work I still follow and admire. Essentially, I became an expert in how to curate a useful, successful online community network – and I gave you guys nine tips so that you could do the same!

It seems strange to re-read that ‘nine tips’ blog now, in the context of now writing this one. At that time, I wrote: “Watch what you Tweet – If you imagine your Twitter page as a rolling online CV, you automatically become more aware of what you allow on to your feed” (this statement remains true, by the way).

Because the thing is, that in order for Twitter to serve this purpose for you – for it to be used as a way of tapping into a specific community (whether that be #globaldev or otherwise) – you have to have a very clear idea of who and what that community is, and what your role is and could be within that community. By knowing those things, you can ‘curate’ your Twitter feed to cater to that particular audience.

Every Tweet becomes a clearly-made choice and every interaction is treated as a key step in building new professional relationships. You become a hyper-aware manager of your online presence. You constantly criticise, and critically analyse, whether your online Twitter ‘self’ is an accurate reflection of your offline non-Twitter self, and if it could be improved. For those of us on ‘the bottom rungs of the ladder’, those choices carry that little bit more weight.

But what happens when that network needs some re-shaping? If you move to a slightly different ladder? What happens to your carefully-defined Twitter then?

The totally brilliant Danah Boyd writes extensively about the ways in which we manage identity in different contexts (online and offline) and coming across her work while studying for my Masters at the Oxford Internet Institute was one of the many revelations of my postgraduate degree. My main takeaway from her extensive work is that the Internet has confused and disorientated the ways in which we have historically, or traditionally, always managed our identities. We haven’t ever had just ‘one’ identity; we are a complex set of identities, which we have always been able to manage and curate between different contexts relatively easily.

Back in the day, would we have let our friends, grandparents, employers and ex-boyfriends all see the same set of holiday pictures? Would we have included on our CV a short section titled ‘Political Views and My Attitudes Towards Gender, Race and Religion’? Probably not. We would have navigated our way between these different contexts and presented the aspects of our identities, of our lives, that were appropriate to each of those contexts.

Life on the Internet completely throws those contexts into disarray. Boyd describes these contexts as becoming ‘collapsed’ – i.e. that those contexts are no longer as easily defined or ‘bounded’ and are therefore harder to navigate.

Do I accept this work colleague on Facebook? If I tweet about this salted caramel brownie, will this very impressive and important consultant unfollow me on Twitter? If I share this article on the EU Referendum, will I have a bunch of random people I worked with five summers ago and haven’t spoken to since all start to judge me for my political views?

Maybe not everybody asks themselves these questions, but I do.

There are two points to this blog, really. One was selfish – to force myself to write some of this experience down; to put academic ideas of ‘collapsed contexts’ and ‘online identities’ into actual practice and everyday experience; and to explain to anybody who wants to read this why I disappeared off the map for a while.

The second is to add a final, tenth ‘tip’ to that blog I wrote three years ago:

10. Don’t let your Twitter, or any social network, define you. Twitter and social media are great resources for putting ‘who you are’ onto the professional map, but if that ‘who you are’ changes – don’t panic. Human beings are dynamic, not static, and so too should be our social networks.

For the record, I do now intend to be back, re-defining and re-curating my Twitter space. Maybe some people will drop off that network, hopefully new people will join. I think that’s kind of the whole point.

Standard
Fresh look

Tech hubs and coffee shops: a return to the 17th century?

In a coursework essay that I wrote recently (I’m pursuing a Masters at the Oxford Internet Institute) I found myself making a relatively bold, non-cited and dare I say it, out-of-the-box statement.

Fellow students will understand that we don’t get to do that very often. Or if we do, it tends to emerge in a moment of madness and will likely get ditched in those pre-deadline revisions in which levels of adventure and intellectual gung-ho rapidly decline. Anyway, this particular essay was about tech hubs in South Africa and whether or not they are likely to translate into broader developmental outcomes (conclusion: it’s complex, natch).

Naturally, the early part of the essay approached problems in definition (again, fellow development students will surely relate here: if you haven’t spent a significant chunk of your undergraduate essays running through the complexities of defining ‘development’, you’re doing something wrong). Here I approached questions such as: ‘What is a tech hub?’ ‘Is an ‘incubator’ a type of hub, or is it the other way around?’ ‘Do tech labs or IT departments in universities count?’

I pushed the definitional boat out slightly by suggesting that, if tech hubs are partly about sharing good and often expensive internet access, then surely an internet cafe could also be considered a tech hub? And then, I got brave: “Even coffee shops with high-speed internet access could be technically defined as a ‘tech hub’ in the broadest sense”.

My thinking behind this statement derived itself twofold. Firstly, it was derived from a recognition of some of the basic characteristics of a tech hub, whether they refer to Google Campus in London, or iHub in Nairobi: fundamentally, they are physical spaces that foster creativity and innovation; they act as a ‘home’ for collaborative communities; and they share costs such as access to high-speed internet. By adding ‘access to caffeine’ to this list of characteristics, we can surely define coffee shops – in some respects – as tech hubs. And secondly, the statement was derived from my own obsession with coffee. All who know me (or follow me on Twitter) will know that coffee shops are my second home.

I will effectively be able to attribute both my undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications to London and Oxford’s coffee scenes respectively.

It was when I asked myself why I so enjoy working in coffee shops that I thought back to tech hubs. Because yes, coffee shops are very sociable spaces. But they’re also very productive, dynamic, energised, creative and inspiring spaces.

In London I worked in coffee shops alongside people writing TV scripts and planning productions; next to start-up entrepreneurs holding meetings; and among groups of students revising for exams and running on black Americanos (cheapest on the menu).

In Oxford I’m surrounded by people writing PhDs; students organising conferences; and teams of people working on the daily crossword (trust me, it happens).

This coffee shop atmosphere is not a new phenomenon. In the 1600s, coffeehouses were a social networking institution. Apparently the coffee was dire, but the atmosphere at least was not: people went to coffeehouses to discuss the weeks’ news and to spread gossip; one-penny lectures were given by members of the academic community; scientists ran experiments and shared the results of their research.

Great works such as Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations – both among the foundational works of modern science and economics respectively – were inspired by and mostly written in coffeehouses.

Some coffeehouses expanded as areas of specialist activity: the London Stock Exchange and the Lloyds insurance group, for example, both started out as coffeehouses that had attracted a speciality group of merchants, ship captains and traders; in Covent Garden, the Bedford Coffeehouse was a specialist meeting place for playwrights; and over on the other side of town, the Hoxton Square Coffeehouse specialised in inquisitions of insanity, whereby juries of coffee drinkers would vote on the fates of alleged ‘madmen’.

So, with all this talk of tech hubs and coffeehouses, what is my point? Well:

Firstly, let’s think more creatively about how we ‘define’ a tech hub. By which I mean, what about the innovation that takes place in internet cafes and coffee shops? We don’t need to necessarily define those spaces as tech hubs, but we ought to at least recognise that they are characterised by ‘tech-hub-like’ activity.

By broadening our understanding of what a tech hub is we find more ways in which to understand how and where innovation takes place. Take a university: yes, it is in the library that the studying, and the learning takes place; but it is in the JCR, the student bar, the campus cafe and the common room that you will find the innovation.

Secondly, if you read my most recent blog for this site, you will know that I’m currently going through a period of resurrecting a long-lost interest in history. In that blog I called for more attention to be made to historical parallels when discussing and thinking about technology, society and development. Here, the parallel is clear: the expanding tech hub landscape today (across the world, and on the African continent) arguably has striking parallels with the coffeehouse scene of the 1600s.

Despite the globalised, technology-driven, networked and de-territorial world that we now live in, there still seems to be a demand for physical spaces with low barriers to entry which bring people together to collaborate, work across disciplines, innovate and share access to technology, ideas and caffeine. If tech hubs can reproduce the innovative atmosphere of the 1600s coffeehouses, they will be well on their way to contributing to society and to developmental outcomes.

Ultimately, we need to think more creatively about technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and development on the African continent. The coffeehouses of the 1600s – and in my experience, the coffee shops of London and Oxford today – clearly tell us that innovation often springs from unexpected, organic, informal (and caffeine-driven) spaces.

And yes, before you ask, I wrote this blog in a coffee shop. The constant stream of people, the buzz of conversation, and the assistance of a flat white continue to be my biggest sources of inspiration.

Standard
Learning

An Unexpected Return To History

It is perhaps a little paradoxical to say that, in studying the Internet, I have discovered a new love of history.

Maybe ‘love’ is a little strong; let us go with ‘appreciation’. After years of hating history at school, and not understanding why studying history was important, I have unexpectedly found it to have woven itself back into my academic interests. Bear with me: I promise there are some reflections here that I hope we can all learn from!

Let me start with why I never liked history in the first place. For me, history was always associated with learning the names and dates of Anglo-Saxon battles. I remember learning about the Romans. I know that Henry VIII had six wives, three of which were called Catherine. I have sparse memories of dressing up in a pinafore and a bonnet, and going on a school trip to a place where we made bread. We studied World War I and the Battle of the Somme. These examples do not mean to trivialise the importance of these moments in history; nor to attack the design of the UK’s History curriculum. For whatever reason, History was just not a subject that I saw the point to. And so, when we had to make our subject choices in Year 9, I chose Geography and my days with History were over.

The revival of history in my educational interests first emerged in my undergraduate years. It was while at SOAS that, for the first time, I came across histories I was interested in. I wrote essays on the impact of colonial legacies on democratisation processes in Africa. The contribution of Botswana’s historical pre-colonial institutions in its management of ‘diamond-led’ growth. The importance of the 1951 Geneva Convention in shaping current policy approaches to refugees and forced migration processes. And the representation of South Africa in films such as De Voortrekkers (1916), Jim Goes to Joburg (1949) and Come Back, Africa (1959).

All of a sudden I found myself fascinated, disappointed, enraged and intrigued by these historical narratives.

Again, during my current postgraduate studies, I find myself drawn to history. This wouldn’t be much of a revelation was it not for the fact that I study the Internet – that whizz-bang, techie, supercharged technology that has come to revolutionise, re-define and re-network the world. What has amazed me is that there is space even here, for a consideration of historical narrative. Mark Graham, for example, compares the discourse around the arrival of the British East African railway (which connected Mombasa, Kenya to Victoria, Uganda in 1903) to the discourse around the arrival of undersea fibre-optic cables in East Africa in 2009. The hopes pinned on each period of connectivity transformation for sparking Africa’s growth and development are strikingly similar.

For anyone interested in the media and journalism, Elizabeth Eisenstein’s book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change is a powerful read. In this current age of digital journalism, citizen journalism, free press debates, issues of censored journalism, and a multiplicity of other issues currently swirling around in the complex media ecosystem, a look back at the days of the first printing presses in Western Europe is fascinating. The parallels between the tensions of new media then, and the tensions of media change now, are striking. And then there’s Tom Standage’s book The Victorian Internet (1998), which tells the story of the telegraph and how it transformed the Victorian world in a fashion not dissimilar to the transformative spread of the Internet.

This blog article is not meant to debate the parallels and differences between previous technological revolutions and the revolution of the Internet. Despite the historical parallels the Internet is arguably unprecedented in its potential and impact. Rather, I highlight these examples to frame two key reflections that I think are worth sharing:

History has to be relatable. My hate-love-appreciate relationship with the study of History is testament to how important it is that the subject tells histories you can connect to. For whatever reason, my 11-year-old self never connected with the Anglo-Saxons, or the Romans, or even to World War One. At SOAS, I found a closer connection to historical narratives in my studies – perhaps because my parents, and extended family, are all from South Africa. And while studying my postgraduate degree here in Oxford, I found a connection to the historical work of authors such as Eisenstein and Standage – likely because my work experience is in online and digital journalism.

History is about learning lessons. Finally, I ‘get’ the point of studying History. This might sound a little cliché, but, fundamentally, the study of History allows us to better understand our present, and to better plan for the future.

If we can learn lessons from historical experience then we can make better choices.

For development, the connection here is pretty simple. Relating in some way to historical narratives of development will a) avoid repeating past failures and b) encourage better decision-making and policy choices. For example, how are m-agriculture development approaches learning from the mistakes and challenges faced by more ‘traditional’ development agricultural interventions? How well do development practitioners and policy-makers understand, and take into account, historical context?

Ultimately, I have found that it is important to study historical narratives because it forces us to look backwards. In this age of the Internet – where time and distance are compressed, where the pace of life has sped up, and where the world never ‘switches off’ – it is important to not get swept up by the speed afforded by technology and the excitement of the ‘future’.  Rather, in this fast-paced digital age, there is perhaps an ever-greater need to make an unexpected return to history.

Standard
Advice, Experiences, Learning, Platform

The Non-Academic Things I Learned During My Master’s

It’s been a while since I wrote for Development Intern, and I’m here to tell you why.

I must start by saying, that on completing my undergraduate degree in the summer of last year, I had grand plans for my blogging prospects. I was a fired-up newly-grad! I had things to say, founded-opinions to muse on, theories and ideas and people to take from the lecture theatre and into the context of real-world development conversations. I was sure that I would blog monthly. I started a word document with all my writing ideas. I assured my [ED: long-suffering] editor that come September, there would be a blog waiting in his inbox.

September got off to a good start. Despite being in my early twenties, the month of September still for me evokes the start of a new school year. I was full of the joys of buying new stationery, of stocking up on new books from Amazon, and of making grand plans to hand assignments in a few days before deadline (ha ha).

Of course, this year was slightly different: I was embarking on a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford, and I knew that this was a feat that would not be conquered with new highlighters alone. Still, I was ready for the challenge and I was confident in the choice I had made for the next stage of my academic and professional career.

I was not prepared for the crisis that would follow.

The first term of my postgraduate degree was characterised by a never-ending process of self-questioning.

For someone that has never once lost confidence in the education-related decisions or career choices I have made, this experience was entirely new to me. I no longer had things to say, and the word document remained untouched. Mainly, my crisis areas stemmed from:

1. Funding.

Somehow, writing that cheque at the beginning of term and depleting all my savings felt far more significant than clicking some buttons on the student loan website and borrowing the government’s money. Although the substantive amounts are probably about equal, spending what is already your own money is a much more tangible thing. As a result, you feel under more pressure because you’re only accountable to yourself (that’s for the development people), and you will go stir-crazy in a constant analysis of opportunity cost (that’s for the economists).

2. The course choice.

Those of you who read this blog will hopefully be more likely to understand my choice here, but most people don’t. My undergraduate degree was in Development & Economics; and my MSc degree is in the Social Science of the Internet. Before starting I could defend my course choice to the hilt, but once term got going the link between these two courses seemed increasingly tenuous, even to me. I knew I wanted a development-oriented and Africa-focused career, but I still didn’t know what that was. And instead of helping to clarify that, my Master’s gave me more questions than answers.

3. The Master’s bubble.

Admittedly, a master’s at Oxford is probably the most bubble-like of them all, but I would argue that to do well in any postgraduate course you have to retreat from the real world just a little. Or in my case, don’t retreat from the real world at all and then really struggle to balance the two. Studying at postgraduate level requires a different academic headspace to the one required at undergraduate, so you need to be in the right mindset before starting out. Again with the opportunity cost (but with life choices, rather than money choices).

If this all sounds a bit doom-and-gloom, fear not. My crisis is over, and I’m back to being a self-confident, driven student who still doesn’t know what she’s doing next, but who knows she’s going in the right direction (and who is going to try to blog more). And so, if there are any of you out there who are considering doing a Master’s, I leave you with a few lessons:

  • Be confident that you want to do ‘a’ postgraduate degree. Don’t do a Master’s because you can’t think of anything else to do.
  • When you do choose a degree, be confident in the one you choose. For many of us, a Master’s will be the last stop on our academic careers. Make sure that the course is the right one for you, and that you’re happy for it to be directing and driving whatever you do next.
  • Doing the degree won’t solve everything for you. If you’re thinking about doing a Master’s in the hope that it will give you all the answers about what you want to do with your life: it won’t. It will just raise questions, and throw them right back at you. Be prepared for that.
  • Think creatively. Doing a Master’s degree to get into development does not necessarily equal an ‘MA in Development Studies’. There are a plethora of courses out there that are more specific, more nuanced, and will demonstrate a more innovative way of thinking about development. Read: doing a Master’s in the Internet.
  • Finally, ask yourself the difficult questions. You know that little voice that sits in some corner of your brain and fires stuff at you sometimes? Seriously, listen to him. It’s a pain in the short term, but it’ll stand you in good stead to tackle his questions in the long run.
Standard
Causes

#850calories

The World Food Programme and UNHCR recently announced that refugees across Africa are facing dramatic cuts in their food rations. The new, reduced WFP rations equate to around 850 calories, a figure that inspired a new campaign that hopes to generate awareness of the dramatic food ration cuts in camps across Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Ghana, Mauritania and Uganda.

Yep, that’s a lot of refugees – an estimated 800,000 – in a lot of countries, living on less than half their recommended daily calorie intake (for reference, average recommended calorie intakes are 1,000-1,400 for children under 5, 2,000 for adult women, and 2,500 for adult men).

So, why have the WFP cut rations so dramatically? To put it simply, they are facing a funding gap of $186 million; and in the absence of these essential funds, food supply sheds are becoming increasingly bare and rations are being reduced in order to be shared over a largely-food-dependent refugee population. As has been well documented in the UNHCR’S three-part Tracks blog series, lack of food availability has devastating consequences for refugees, who respond to such crises by utilising ‘negative coping strategies’. These strategies may include turning to forms of dangerous and exploitative labour such as prostitution, selling off of assets such as livestock, unsustainably over-exploiting natural resources such as firewood, and removing children from education in order to generate more income.

Undoubtedly, the immediate solution here is to find the $186 million. This funding is needed in order to restore current food supply back to full rations, to address the “unacceptable” levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia in camps, and to prevent the likelihood of further ration cuts later in the year. Without this funding, food insecurity in camps will persist, and could ultimately escalate to the point of famine. As the 850calories campaign writes, “the world is facing a famine inside the UN’s refugee camps.”

However, this crisis will not be ‘solved’ once the international community has closed the funding gap and returned refugee camp food rations to normal quantities. This disaster has to be seen not as the failure of the UNHCR, nor of the WFP, nor of a single state or refugee population. This disaster is a collective failure, and one which represents the failures and inadequacies of the current international refugee regime. Without addressing these inadequacies and putting other policies and strategies in place, this crisis will, unfortunately, occur again. There are three main reasons for why this crisis will not be solved simply by closing the $186 million funding gap:

  1. Many refugees in Africa live in semi-permanent protracted camp settlements (i.e. camps which have existed for more than five years, in which refugees are largely dependent on humanitarian assistance). These camps would have initially been designed to be short-term, emergency-response-driven settlements in order to provide protection and assistance to refugees, but in many cases across Africa have now existed for over a decade. It must be noted that many such camps are characterised by self-sufficient and income-generating livelihood activities; but humanitarian assistance continues to play a vital role in providing not only food assistance, but other services such as health and education.
  2. In the midst of ongoing conflict, the refugee population continues to grow: in December 2013, for example, the UNHCR estimated that South Sudanese refugees were arriving into neighbouring countries at a rate of around 1000 a day. The humanitarian community is therefore under pressure not only to protect and assist existing refugee populations, but to also be able to cope with increasing numbers of refugees arriving into camps every day.
  3. Finding money is getting harder. For example, Martin Ohlsen, the WFP Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a recent interview spoke of ‘donor fatigue’; of the effects of the global financial crisis; and of the increasing number of crisis ‘hot spots’ in the world. He argued that “donations are rather for current crisis regions, such as Syria”, and that as a result aid organisations are all competing for available funds. Although it is imperative that the $186 million funding is provided in order to solve this current African refugee food crisis, it is clear that funding challenges will remain in the future as protracted refugee camp settlements and ongoing conflicts continue to demand humanitarian assistance alongside other global crises.

The fact that this current crisis has gone relatively unnoticed in the Western media is a disaster in itself, but also ill acts in parallel to the challenges of drumming up the necessary funding. As was described by blogger Tom Murphy (who tweets at @viewfromthecave) in a recent article: “Media reports, including one I wrote, shared the announcement and then moved on”.

And as those media reports move on, the WFP food stocks continue to dwindle and hundreds of thousands of African refugees continue to go hungry.

Standard
Advice

Nine Tips For Using Twitter To Tap Into The #Globaldev Community

If you were to ask me what my most useful resource during a three-year undergraduate development studies degree has been, I think the answer might surprise you: Twitter. Although I initially joined Twitter so that I could join in on my housemates’ banter about cupcakes and Ryan Gosling (don’t judge), I quickly found Twitter to be an invaluable professional and career development resource. I decided to leave the Ryan Gosling banter to Facebook, the pictures of cupcakes to Instagram, and came to see Twitter as a ‘rolling online CV’.

Through Twitter I have been approached and invited to a coffee meeting to discuss a new business venture; I’ve been been recruited for freelance work at a national newspaper; and I’ve been sent a film that I went on to screen at my university. My housemate (also a development student) even connected to a journalist at the Guardian through Twitter, and was interviewed for an article that was published on the website. While I am by no means a social media expert, I thought I would share here some top tips on getting the most out of the Twittersphere.

  1. Get your profile right: It needs to include the serious stuff (such as your current degree or place of work etc.), but don’t forget to make yourself sound human (put in one of your other interests or a quirky fact about yourself). See examples here.
  2. Don’t just retweet: It’s important to inject some of your own voice into your Twitter feed, so don’t just rely on retweets or on tweeting out links or article headlines (although obviously do that too) – aim for something like 70% pure retweets, 30% tweets that you have either written yourself or altered.
  3. Live-tweet: For me, the best way to interact with people or to gain followers has been to live-tweet from events, conferences, talks and panel discussions. Jump on the event hashtag, tweet some of the best things the speaker is saying, and make sure to interact with other people who are tweeting from the event.
  4. Research hashtags: Make sure you only use hashtags that you know other people are already using. Don’t go making up bespoke hashtags à la Instagram (#yolo #internlife #unayyy). Before using a hashtag, click on its feed to make sure it’s active – basically, you want to make sure it’s worth using some of your precious 140 characters on. Talking of hashtags, the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network (@GuardianGDP) tweet out a daily hashtag (#hashtagoftheday), which is always worth checking out. Another important point is to limit how many you use – more than five hashtags significantly decreases the likelihood of someone interacting (clicking on, favouriting or sharing) with your tweet.
  5. Watch what you Tweet: If you imagine your Twitter page as a rolling online CV, you automatically become more aware of what you allow on to your feed. There’s nothing wrong with Tweeting comments of a more personal nature (it makes you a more interesting person), but being too controversial or offensive is only going to draw attention to your feed for the wrong reasons.
  6. Follow academics: This one is probably a little biased given that I am technically still a student, but there are some academics who are very active on Twitter and who are well worth following (try @laurahammond and @chrisblattman for example). Of course, make sure to tailor this to your own area of interest so that the issues they are talking about, or the research they point you to, is relevant.
  7. Get favouriting! Twitter can often be an overwhelming space of information, so the ‘favourite’ button is a really useful tool. Use it to bookmark anything that you see that may be of interest or of use, but which you want to come back to later. When I’m writing essays or preparing for exams, I often stock up on these resources and then go back through them to find what might be most relevant. 
  8. Don’t be afraid to engage: Twitter is much like the real world – people like to interact, and they like to know your reactions and opinions on things! They also love a good complement. So if you’ve read, or seen something that you liked – post it on Twitter and say what you liked about it (making sure to mention the original source). Even if people don’t get back to you on it, they’ll likely appreciate you for making the effort to Tweet about it. Similarly if people post questions, or shout-outs, on Twitter – reply to them (but only with something useful). That’s how my housemate got interviewed by the Guardian, and how I ended up contributing to this blog!
  9. It’s another skill to add to the CV: Many entry-level jobs in development organisations are likely to be in PR or communications positions, and if you can showcase that you are an active user of Twitter you are automatically in a stronger position. If you think that your Twitter feed is a good reflection of you both as a person and as a potential employee (or let’s face it, intern), don’t be afraid to include the link on your CV. It will give people a unique insight into you – one that can’t be achieved on LinkedIn or on a two-page Word document.

If all of this seems like a lot of effort, I promise it tends to be worth it. For me, Twitter has been an equal playing field – despite being a lowly development undergraduate, Twitter has given me a platform to engage and interact with the development community and has brought my degree to life in a way that I don’t think other resources could have done. There are so many ways to get the most out of Twitter, and these 10 tips are just the beginning – please get in touch if you have more to add! 

Quick links to get started on Twitter

Standard
Experiences

Reflections & Ramblings Of A Development Undergrad

I have to admit that I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with being an undergraduate development student. First of all, you ask a lot of questions and get very few answers. Second, you are trained to be so critical of the development ‘industry’ that you end up not really knowing why you’re there in the first place (Karen Attiah wrote a great blog on ‘International Development Disillusionment’ here). And third, you probably have to defend your choice of doing a Development Studies degree more than with any other subject, which quite frankly, can start to grate a bit after a year or two.

A lot of people probably see undergraduate development students as young people whose lives were changed on a gap year trip to meet kids in ‘Africa’. Certainly, the automatic assumption that my degree is about “charities and Africa and stuff, right?” is not an uncommon one. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are perhaps a few of those students around, but most of us are actually just young people who want to understand the world better. A development studies degree doesn’t teach you how to “do” development, it teaches you to think about why there is such a thing as development (or the lack of it), and because of that, I believe quite strongly that Development Studies is a valuable undergraduate degree regardless of whether or not you actually then go into ‘development’.

It took me two “gap years” after school (working at a national newspaper, not on a beach in Thailand) before I actually decided what I wanted to study at undergraduate level.

A social scientist at heart, I considered various options of studying Economics, Geography and Law before deciding wholeheartedly on a Development Economics degree at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London. Even then, by second year I re-titled my degree to Development Studies and Economics (which might sound like a negligible difference, but it meant I was exempt from quantitative methods and econometrics, happy days). With the new title, my degree structure became more flexible and allowed me to take modules from other disciplines such as Politics and Film Studies. To any student out there in the midst of a development degree, or thinking about doing one, I can’t recommend this highly enough: the more diverse and multi-disciplinary you can make your development degree, the better.

One of the things I love most about the BA Development Studies degree structure at SOAS is that you can’t do ‘straight’ development studies – you can only combine it with a second subject such as politics, anthropology, Swahili, religious studies, law, or, as in my case, economics. It’s a structure that I would recommend keeping an eye out for at other universities, and if not, at least look closely at the extent to which you will be able to tailor your degree and/or take elective modules from other disciplines. At the same time, you will need to also demonstrate in some way how your interests are focused: whether that be by concentrating your electives in a particular field (in my case it was film and media), becoming an active member of particular societies or groups at university (for example, I interned at the university radio station), or narrowing your academic interests at postgraduate level.

A friend of mine who is also graduating this year, said to me the other day “I have no skills! I’m a jack-of-all-trades but master of none!”

Although I can easily relate to her sentiment, I think that the multidisciplinary nature of a development studies degree can easily be turned into an advantage if you design it to your strengths and interests.

Development as a concept is enormously challenged and contested, but in my view that is by no means a reason to avoid studying it at either undergraduate or postgraduate level (I’ll be talking about postgrads in my next blog). If anything, I would argue that development studies is more relevant than ever given its ever-expanding mandate in the current global environment.

Just the other day I was at a talk with a UNHCR representative on the Syrian refugee crisis response, who said that the international community needed to start to “think more developmentally” in how it deals with forced migration and refugees. If you start to think of Development Studies less as a way to learn how to ‘do’ development, and more as a way of learning to ‘think’ differently about development, then I hope you’ll find it as valuable and rewarding a degree as I have.

Standard