I survived my master degree with so much fun and interest; thanks to my elective courses! For those who are not yet familiar with elective course or why elective course is critical may benefit from this article.
What is an elective course?
To complete your degree, you are required to pass all of the core courses and elective courses to meet the standard credit points. Elective courses (or optional courses) are also counted and credited towards your degree, so yes, it is important. But, unlike core courses which you cannot say no to and are compulsory to pass all to obtain a degree, for elective courses you can always choose your most preferable ones to study amongst the often-too-many available elective courses in the university.
For most of the time, you can choose an elective course from the different programme or even different faculty. When I was studying public policy under the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland, I joined some elective courses belong to development studies, statistics and philosophy. A friend of mine who was pursuing a degree in environmental management chose an elective class from the disaster management, so did my classmate in public policy programme who decided to take an elective class in Law.
Why does it matter?
First and foremost, elective courses help you to obtain credit points to gain your degree but there are more to that. Elective courses give you opportunity to obtain the knowledge of specific areas of your interest or simply to satisfy your curiosity on particular issue that can lead you to find out new interest you never aware of having. If you already have a topic for your dissertation or thesis, you may choose elective courses that will be beneficial and relevant for your future or ongoing research project. Some people also say that certain elective courses will make you more attractive to potential employers and may hugely influence your career path.
When I got a chance to study overseas with full scholarship, I wanted to make it the most rewarding life journey; not only to satisfy the present time but also as a stepping stone for my future career plan. Before pursuing master degree in Auckland, I have spent the past three years focusing and working on the issue of migration; thus, I expected by completing a master degree in public policy would sharpen this expertise. If I only relied upon the core courses of public policy programme, I would not be able to get what I plan holistically. The core courses in public policy programme capacitated me on the general skill-sets to do policy analysis and evaluation, yet I need to back it up with more specific knowledge and discussion on migration-related matters.
When is the best time to choose elective course?
In writing, relevant information regarding elective courses can be found on the university website or in the academic guidelines. You can find basic details such as the credit points, who the lecturer is, or in which semester the course is available. But for me, written information is not sufficient, I was too keen to attend the class at least once before I finally make a choice. So I did some course-shopping during the first two-weeks of a semester. During this period, the University of Auckland still allows students to enter or exit courses as much as we want without getting extra charge or penalty for doing so. I felt thankful because I could join any subjects I think interesting only to drop it later freely as no commitment required within these two weeks. I usually shopped around 6-7 different courses; although I can only choose 1-3 elective courses per semester in addition to my core courses. There were so many cool elective courses I would love to be enrolled in which put me into a stressful situation to, at the end of the day, select only a few.
How did I make the most of my elective courses?
I decided to take a political philosophy course on migration and global justice run by Professor Gillian Brock who later also became my dissertation’s supervisor. I was struggling throughout the class because I was not used to philosophical discussion, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone so I stayed for the whole semester. I found this course as a “very deep” and reading-intensive course with a small number of students, only 6 of us, which meant each of us got enough time allocation to express our thoughts unimpededly. From this course, I could see migration issues beyond its tangible component to understand the foundational of migration problems based on reflection and logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. I was proud of myself when I passed this course.
I also took two elective courses specifically on development policies and the ethics and governance of international development because I was picturing myself to continue working in development sector (e.g. UN agencies, NGOs, IGOs) after I graduated. Both classes were taught by Professor Andreas Neef who has an extensive experience in this area. The course turned out so valuable as I managed to finalize a policy brief concerning land-grabbing in Indonesia which then was brought by Professor Neef to Cambodia to be used as one of the training materials for NGOs working on land-grabbing issues in Southeast Asia. Knowing that my assignment can be utilized beyond a credit point inside classroom somehow made me feel good about myself.
Finally, I also enrolled in a humanitarian intervention course, also, under the development studies programme. The class was led by Dr Jesse Grayman who happens to speak Indonesian very fluently and coincidentally used to work for IOM Indonesia, my previous office, as a consultant for a Tsunami related research project in Aceh. This was also a reading-intensive course; I read around 4-6 scientific journals every week and had to write a weekly critical review. Was it too much? Not at all! Up to this day, I am even still inspired to do PhD in Anthropology because in that course I was assigned to read a book titled “The Political Biography of an Earthquake” that merge the anthropological approach into policy analysis. Ah yes, Jesse is a super cool anthropologist himself.