Modern Polymaths: Or Why There Is a Master’s in International Development

By Sam Kendall
Master’s Candidate, International Development Studies 2012 GWU
Head of the Organization of International Development at the Elliott School of International Affairs

This blog, written by those studying the different aspects of international development, will be inherently varied and deal with wildly different issues. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: studying international development is varied and complex. I’m currently in my second year of studying this field, and a few of the areas my courses have covered include economics, statistics, accounting, city planning, health, political science (foreign and domestic), international relations, media, public relations, anthropology, education, business, management, philosophy, agriculture, geography (touching on geology); for one project, I even had to teach myself a bit of biology. This doesn’t even begin to get into the long list of subfields upon subfields under each subject area that my classmates and I have studied. Nor does it really cover many of my concentration courses or language courses.

Essentially, working in international development forces you to be somewhat of a generalist in many things, and a specialist in a few. Think about it. You have to be able to navigate both the national context of the country you are in and the national context of the country that is funding your project. You need the extensive set of skills to run the project (including accounting and human resources), and at the same time promote your project to those who will be the recipients and collect data for those back in donor countries. You need general knowledge about all of these related fields, and then specialized knowledge about the project itself.

The reasons people become involved in international development are also varied, and the experiences of those who study it are broad. This breadth covers multiple countries, different careers, and different hopes.

It is my hope, and I feel the hope of us on the Organization of International Development board, that this blog will allow those of us starting out in the field of international development to examine the different aspects of problems and successes that populate the field.

In order to study this field, you must be able to transition your mind from subject to subject fairly fast. This is becoming more common in a multitude of fields, but, for those studying international development, one has to be a polymath. I know I will probably not agree with every blog post that goes up, nor understand every one either. I also know, though, that those writing for the blog will be driven and will be smart, and I hope that you will enjoy these brief and diverse insights into the multifaceted world of international development.