Beating the grind

Elizabeth McDowell

Meet Elizabeth McDowell, a graduate who is forging new ground thanks to her Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development.

Elizabeth McDowell’s life changed thanks to coffee.

As an undergraduate student at the University of California, she eagerly enrolled in a class so popular the waiting list was four years’ long. It was a class on coffee.

“I thought we were going to be sipping coffee!” Lizzie remembers. Instead, the course was unexpectedly about the history of the coffee bean as a global commodity.

“What hit home to me was the negative environmental and social effects. I thought, ‘That’s something I’d really like to look into’. Especially because I love coffee! It really made me think twice about where those coffee beans are coming from. That’s when I got interested in aid and aid organisations.”

Lizzie’s new passion led her to enrol in a Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development (MAAPD) at ANU immediately after graduating from her Bachelor of Arts in the United States.

“I was looking at how to get into the field of anthropology, and one of the best ways was to get a master’s, because even if I had professional experience first, sooner or later I would need a master’s. And I felt like I had the energy and the spunk to keep studying so I may as well go straight into it.”

Looking back, Lizzie says this decision was both good and bad.

“I think I was maybe a little bit naïve when I started the master’s degree. At first it was so intimidating because my classmates all had jobs and had wonderful experiences living in other countries. I felt I was quite behind in that aspect. The program covered a lot on development that I was very unfamiliar with, so I wish I had had a little bit of volunteer or work experience first.

“But, talking to my classmates, getting their perspectives, and having peers from around the world and from different specialisations, it’s really helped me to open my mind more.

“In a way, it’s not so bad that I haven’t had that work experience, because when I do go out to get the experience myself, I think I will go with a lot more of a realistic, open mind about it now, rather than just thinking, ‘I’m going to change the world’. I think it’s helped incredibly.”

The MAAPD has provided Lizzie with many more of those moments of inspiration she first experienced in the infamous coffee class. The best, she says, came in the Environmental Management and Indigenous Peoples course.

“I will never forget this class! It was designed around a resource game for us to play, where the class was divided into three different villages in Papua New Guinea, and we were all vying for a share of forest resources. Everyone really got into their roles, and as far as negotiation goes, I realised things get very difficult very quickly. It made me think, if that was just in our classroom with peers who are playing a game, you can imagine how it might happen on the ground.

“It really demonstrated everything that we had been learning. For months my friends didn’t see me because I just wanted to spend time on the game. I was completely sucked into it, but at the same time I was learning so much.”

Lizzie has now applied for the United States’ Peace Corps to put into practice everything she learned in her MAAPD. She says she’s graduating with a new perspective on the world, and encourages other students to take a similar journey.   

“I would recommend ANU hands down. I grew up in San Diego and the US has really wonderful universities but I feel, for American students especially, if you want to work in a field like anthropology or anything with an international emphasis, you need to think about going outside your own country or your own country’s views. I think there’s nothing better than expanding your mind and going somewhere completely new.”

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team