London Connection Q&A: Aid worker Nadia Kevlin

MSc Public Health graduate Nadia Kevlin shares her experiences of studying while continuing her career in aid work
Nadia Kevlin
"I am fully confident that I will use my studies in my work": Nadia Kevlin
I thought I’d start with the aim of doing the Postgraduate Certificate but in the end found the course so interesting that I continued to do the full Masters

Congratulations on achieving the MSc in Public Health! How does it feel to have completed the programme?
It feels amazing to have finished it. I’m mainly still getting used to the concept of having free time without the nagging feeling I should be studying!

What attracted you to study this course with the University of London International Programmes? 
My initial interest was really in order to focus my career in a different direction. I thought I’d start with the aim of doing the Postgraduate Certificate but in the end found the course so interesting that I continued to do the full Masters. I also thought it would be useful to do a technical Masters – I actually already had a Masters in African Studies, having done my undergraduate degree in Political Science, so this was something very different. I also really enjoyed the experience of doing that and having the confidence that I could also learn the more scientific stuff.

Did you enjoy your studies? Did you have a favourite module?
I did overall, although there were definitely times when I didn’t enjoy that specific moment of studying! I enjoyed many modules – Medical Anthropology and Communicable Disease Control were both very interesting, as was Issues in Public Health, despite what I thought was a boring sounding name! I was most proud of being able to complete the Malaria course after having been an idiot and signing up for it without realising it was really aimed at people who’d already completed at least some degree level human biology courses.

You started your studies while working as an aid worker in a refugee camp in South Sudan. What led you to this role?
I was very clear that I wanted to move into aid work from my first year of university, so did everything I could to get the necessary experience to move into the industry. That, and as ever, a bit of luck at the right times.

Can you offer any advice for someone considering moving into aid work?
It’s not an easy career path to get into as things have really changed and it’s a highly professionalised system with its own bureaucracies and jargon. Find out as much as you can about it, think about whether there’s a specific sector you want to go into, and aim at getting experience to help you move towards it. Don’t think of it in an overly romanticised way, its complex, challenging and often exhausting.

"I was very clear that I wanted to move into aid work from my first year of university, so did everything I could to get the necessary experience to move into the industry."

During your first year of study you moved to Cairo, and then Jordan, before returning to South Sudan. How did this affect your studies?
I wouldn’t say that moving to different countries particularly affected my studies except in some places the internet was not strong enough to participate in the live skype sessions. I would have to download the lectures whilst on holiday and listen after the fact. But in the end, reading a book is the same whichever country you are in!

Did you work in any other locations during the remainder of your studies?
During the three years of my studies my work meant that I did move to new locations. After my first year, with six months in South Sudan and six months in Jordan, it was then back to South Sudan for six months. I then moved to Sierra Leone for six months, the UK for nine months, then to Lebanon for eight months, with some breaks of a few weeks in between.

The flexibility of the programme was particularly highlighted with your exam schedule - taking two exams, two days apart in different continents! How did you manage this? 
I’m very used to travelling, but that’s not to say it wasn’t somewhat stressful. But I think my experience as an aid worker, and just my personality in general, means that I’m good at coping with things like that and just getting on with it. In the end, I did do all my subsequent exams in the UK though!

You must have experienced some heart-wrenching moments while working at the refugee camp. How did you stay focused on your studies in the midst of these experiences?
To be honest, for the first two years, I did probably about 70% of all my studying during breaks in between contracts - it’s just not possible to do that much whilst you are on an aid work contract. I would only concentrate on trying to read through each course textbook once, taking a chapter here and there as I had time, and working through the CD-ROMs for the courses that had those. It can actually be quite nice to have something different to do in some cases! But all of the writing of coursework and properly going through the textbooks and completing the exercises, I did during holidays. I took about six weeks off during the first year and about eight weeks during the second, and for the final year, I just spent a lot of weekends writing my dissertation rather than socialising.

You wrote for the Student Blog during your studies. Why did you decide to contribute to this platform?
I had my own blog at the time, and I enjoyed writing it a lot, so thought it might be nice also to contribute to the student blog as well.

Now you have finished the programme, what are your plans?
To continue in my career! Hopefully I would like to continue to move more towards public health related work as I have started to do, but in general, whether or not this happens, I am fully confident that I will use my studies in my work. It is also useful knowledge to have for understanding the world full stop.

What would be your advice for other students considering doing a degree with the University of London?
Don’t underestimate how hard it will be or how much time it will take, something I think a lot of people do when choosing to do something via distance learning. Be really sure that you are interested in your subject. And always read the module requirements thoroughly before signing up for them!

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