Melissa Tier

Student spotlight details

Since enrolling on the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development Melissa has been accepted on to a PhD programme at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. She plans to conduct research into urban climate policy – continuing a line of research that she started with her MSc dissertation.


'Before and throughout my time on the programme, I served as the Sustainability Program Manager in the Office of Sustainability at Swarthmore College – a small liberal arts school outside of Philadelphia, US. In that role, I run several student internships and community volunteer opportunities as well as oversee institutional zero waste commitments. I also host workshops and am involved in courses related to zero waste, climate change, environmental justice, carbon pricing, and more.


'At a certain point, especially working as administrative staff at a university, I became eager to return to my own academic pursuits but wasn't quite ready to leave my work role. Still, there was so much interesting literature that I wanted to read and I felt like I didn't have the time to do it! A part-time degree while working full-time might not be the most obvious solution to that desire, but at least the structure of having coursework forced me to read. I knew I wanted to combine my professional work in sustainability with my growing fascination with urban systems. When I happened to get an email through a listserv about the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development (MSUD) at Oxford, I decided this is it! I only applied to the MSUD and was incredibly fortunate to have been offered a spot.


'Completing an MSc while pursuing various aspects of life (job, family, etc.) in another country is unquestionably challenging. At the same time, I really felt that it was worth it because it allowed me to complete and fund a master's degree without stepping away from my professional role. It also allowed me to 'study abroad', an experience I hadn't had before - though I definitely felt jealous at times about not being able to stay in Oxford for more than a week at a time.


'The independence offered by exploring our responses to the essay questions, and even more so by undertaking dissertation research, was an extremely valuable experience for me. I felt like I had the opportunity to really dive into a niche area. On a different note, getting to know my classmates was the most enjoyable aspect! It was so much fun spending time with each other when we were in Oxford together, and very neat to have a cohort of friends from all over the world on a group chat even when we weren't physically close. We still text to share professional opportunities and exciting life events!


'I have continued on in the same position as when I started the MSc, though I really enjoy being able to incorporate content that I learned through the programme into the training sessions and workshops that I host at work. I have also recently accepted a PhD offer at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and will be starting full-time next fall. I plan to conduct research in urban climate policy, continuing a line of research that I started with my MSUD dissertation. So, there's a very direct connection between what I studied in the MSc and what I will be doing next! That said, I also believe that if I had stayed in my professional role that having the master's degree would have helped me to identify opportunities to take on a more senior management position.


'At least in the US, I think that graduate degrees (unlike many undergraduate ones) should always be thought of as targeted professional development opportunities. So, the key question for prospective students is what a degree in and skill-sets related to 'sustainable urban development' (with focuses in urban planning and geography) offer to them professionally, whether they remain in academia or not. Secondarily, they should consider whether a part-time, very independent program is a good structure for them. It definitely was for me!'

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