From there to here: A year on the Cambridge MPP

Kate Owen, MPP

This time last year I was feeling both excited and nervous about what my year on the Cambridge MPP would have in store. I soon found myself in a room with the 22 fellow students who would be my companions through statistics, philosophy, policy analysis, formal halls, countless fascinating talks, pub trips, class excursions and so much more. On that first day I quickly realised that I was surrounded by people who were not only exceptionally intelligent but who also possessed a diverse range of experiences of public service on which to draw. Within a matter of weeks I knew that these people would become some of my closest friends (bonds forged over statistics and enough sugar and coffee to sink a small ship are unlikely to be broken!).

One of the best things about the Cambridge MPP is the range of subjects studied. Having studied law I had little previous academic experience of most of the material we covered. This was on many occasions highly challenging but also hugely rewarding. The seminar nature of classes gave us the opportunity to discuss the weekly reading in a free and open way which enhanced our learning experience whilst the open door policy of our academic supervisors facilitated deeper and wider learning in the form of our independent papers. Professionally, the vast array of talks, events and societies at Cambridge means that the challenge is not in finding something to do to fill your time but working out the areas on which you want to focus and how to fit it all in.

Much of what I have described above is likely to be found at any leading MPP. One thing that sets Cambridge apart however is the collegiate system. Every student is a member of both a college and the University. The college is the student’s home for the year and represents another community of which students become a part. By way of example, most days I ate either with my housemates (scientists, an archaeologist and a historian) or in my college’s hall with other graduate students. This broadened my horizons significantly and on occasion provided a welcome distraction from MPP papers! Each college also has its own societies and library, both of which I made full use of in my college. I regularly attended my college’s economics society which gave me access to economists working in a range of interesting fields, whilst its library was well stocked with most of the books I needed for the MPP. Students develop a real affinity with their college; not just living there but contributing to seminars, playing sport, serving on committees and attending formal hall (three course dinner in formal dress – one of the highlights of the Cambridge experience). The opportunity to do so is of enormous benefit to students on the Cambridge MPP.

One week after submitting my final papers for the MPP I found myself in Tanzania running a water, sanitation and hygiene project in Bwakila Chini, a remote community in the Morogoro region, for youth and sustainable development charity, Raleigh International. With the benefit of hindsight attempting to submit my final MPP papers, leave Cambridge, give a presentation on the extent to which offshoring is impacting the UK manufacturing sector at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and fly to Tanzania for a summer job with an NGO all within the space of six days was somewhat ambitious.

The aim of the project was to support a local NGO by running community outreach sessions with the local school and women’s group on the importance of clean water practices in combating diarrhoeal illnesses. I was responsible for overseeing an international team of 15 young people in delivering this work. In a very short space of time I found myself directly applying concepts I had learnt on the MPP such as stakeholder engagement, communication, management and different forms of policy analysis, delivery and evaluation.

Our project was a success, we built strong links with the local NGO and key community stakeholders which ensured that we had a solid base from which to reach out to the most difficult to access sections of the community. All told we reached 400 members of the community directly and far more indirectly. In particular, it was hugely satisfying to see tippy taps (a way of washing hands in the absence of running water) spring up all around the village and the messages we had conveyed become part of everyday use.

Whilst my six day turnaround between MPP student and NGO worker was more than a little sleep deprived, it served as a valuable reminder of how small the world is, what can be achieved in a short space of time and the ways in which the skills learnt on the MPP can be applied in a wide range of environments.

When I started the MPP my professional goal was to secure a place on the British Civil Service Fast Stream.  After a six month recruitment process, I was successful and join the Fast Stream in October almost one year after I started the MPP. A lot happened in between but I learnt a huge amount along the way, had some amazing experiences and met some people who I am sure will be friends for life. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

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