Megan O’Brien was working full-time in the US as a Senior Grants Manager before taking up her studies of the International Social Policy MA at Kent.
Can you tell us what prompted your decision to return to full-time education?
I knew before I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2013 that I wanted to continue my education at some point. However, I was not sure what programme made sense at the time. I graduated with a degree in Politics and a minor in Theology. I was passionate about pursuing a career that could make a difference in people’s lives. I was fortunate enough to study abroad three times while I was completing my BA, and one of those times was a 12-week internship programme in London. After completing that programme and learning more about UK universities after I graduated, I knew that continuing my education in the UK was something I wanted to pursue. I knew that obtaining my MA would open more doors for me professionally. It was a personal goal of mine to continue with my education. After honing my writing skills as a Grant Manager for approximately two years, I knew that it was the right time to apply to universities in the UK!
You must have explored lots of courses before making a decision. What was it particularly about the International Social Policy MA at Kent that sealed the deal for you?
I applied to three universities in the UK, including the University of Kent, with similar programmes to the International Social Policy MA. There were many reasons I decided to come to Kent. The University’s location and reputation for having many international students were all factored into my decision. Further, the campus has many amenities to offer students, including restaurants, bars and study spaces. However, watching student testimonials on the University’s website about how engaged the professors were with the students and the University’s reputation for high-quality research were the most critical factors in my decision to come to Kent. I knew that whichever university I chose, I would need to complete an independent research project. I thought that conducting this research at Kent would offer the most support for a student who has never completed a research project like this before.
Has the course lived up to your expectations?
The course has lived up to my expectations. Of course, this year has been challenging because we could only have three in-person classes at the beginning of the Fall term. Still, the online courses were very engaging, and I enjoyed the discussions we had. I thoroughly enjoyed my modules and learned a lot!
Can you tell us about your dissertation – how did you choose your topic and what’s it been like to undertake your own research? Have you been well supported throughout the process?
I decided early in my studies that I wanted to talk to families with children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) to learn how the school closures due to COVID-19 have impacted them as my dissertation topic. After graduating with my BA, I worked with adults with disabilities in Florida and then medically fragile children in New York City for three years before working as a Grant Writer. I knew that I wanted to continue working with this population moving forward, so selecting this topic for my dissertation was an easy decision. I was very nervous about undertaking my own research project because I had never completed something like this before. My undergraduate degree was not heavily focused on research and I knew that I would be learning a lot of new skills. After taking the two required research modules, and doing a lot of independent study and reading on research methods, I knew that completing a qualitative research project was something I wanted to pursue. As the year has progressed and I started working more closely with with my dissertation supervisor, I began to feel more confident in my abilities to complete the project.
What has impressed you most about our academic staff?
All of my professors have been extremely knowledgeable about the subjects they teach. I would not say this was surprising. Based on the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Research’s reputation, I was expecting professors to be experts in their fields. As previously mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of engagement from my professors as the modules were predominantly online for the entire school year.
You’ve expressed an interest in working with a non-profit public health entity that serves an international market – is that still your goal? In what ways have your studies at Kent influenced/inspired your career goals?
My professional goal is to work for an international organisation that focuses on public health or working with individuals with disabilities. However, I am open to any opportunity that would allow me to work in these fields – whether it is in government or for a non-government organisation. My time at Kent has only confirmed that this is the career path I would like to pursue.
What words of encouragement do you have for other mature students considering the potentially life-changing experience of returning to full-time education for a Master’s degree?
I would tell other mature students that if pursuing their Master’s is something they are interested in and it makes sense for their career goals, they should do it. While it is an intensive programme, and it might take a little while to adjust back to life in academia, it is worth the investment. Completing a Master’s degree will only provide you with more opportunity in your career and personal life. Further, from experience, you will feel pride in yourself for taking the risk and doing it, whether it is the International Social Policy programme or a different programme.
What advice do you have for students with a particular interest in International Social Policy? Would you recommend the Master’s course at Kent?
I would recommend the International Social Policy Master’s programme at Kent for anyone with a background in Politics, International Affairs, or Sociology interested in either working in government or the non-profit world. I picked this programme because I knew it was more focused than a general Politics MA or MA in Public Administration like you often see in the States. I was hoping that completing this programme would help my resume stand out among others. I would advise anyone interested in pursuing their Master’s degree to ensure the programme you select is the right one for you and your future. You will spend a significant amount of time each week reading and writing about your subject! Overall, pursuing a Master’s is an investment in yourself and your future. If you have been out of university for a while and are thinking of returning to academia, have faith that you can do it, and you won’t regret it!