Gabriele Dopler

Gabi is studying on the LEAP programme in Humanitarian Practice, whilst working in the field of finance and human resources at MSF.

Originally from Austria, Gabi has a Bachelor’s degree in “Health Management & Health Promotion” as well as a Master’s in “Services of General Interest” with a focus on health management.

Below she blogs about her first semester as a LEAP student, including the benefits of blended teaching and what attracted her to the programme.

My MSF journey

Over the last four years, I’ve worked in many missions with MSF, in different projects, contexts and roles. However, each mission has always had one major goal in common: to
provide assistance to people in need, according to our principles.

Before joining MSF, I worked in the public and private sector in Austria, so the humanitarian field was a completely new experience for me. That’s why the LEAP programme caught my attention. It was a perfect opportunity for me to gain more knowledge about humanitarian action, whilst also relating and comparing the academic content to my personal experience from the field.

Why am I pursuing further education?

When I started the course, I was often asked by friends and colleagues ‘Why are you studying again?’. I originally studied Health Management & Health Promotion, and from this I went on to work mainly in Human Resources positions.

My goal is to broaden this background by focusing more on communities, advocacy and management, as I think that these are some of the major factors for successful projects in the field. The benefit of LEAP unlike other degrees, is that in addition to core modules, every student can individually choose the optional modules based on his/her profile and goals.

The reality of studying and working in the field

When I got accepted for the Master’s, I was curious how it would work – would it really be possible to combine working in the field and studying? I was lucky, having had the chance to take five months off work and concentrate on studying during my first semester. I got to choose many interesting modules – including “Media, Policy & Advocacy”, “Organisation & Management” and “Community Approaches to Health”.

I really liked the practical approach of each module, as we often worked on case studies or projects which were based on real situations in the humanitarian field. At the same time, all our arguments and results needed to fulfil the academic requirements, by having our work substantiated by evidence. I was often amazed by how many studies and academic papers are already available – and how much we can take away from these publications for our work in the humanitarian projects.

Since June, I am back working, and I have to say: working and studying is going well – a big advantage of the course is that you can study from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection.

Reflecting on my first semester

So, how was the first semester for me? Quite interesting, for sure. Everything was really new, as we were the first group to be studying on the LEAP programme. The people who worked hard to make this programme happen were really excited, as was I and all my fellow students.

The programme kicked off with a group introduction call. Initially it was quite strange seeing only names and hearing people’s voices, without getting to know them face-to-face. Because of this I was really looking forward to the face-to-face teaching period which took place in Liverpool at the end of March. During these two weeks almost all of us met and we were able to put faces to names (after having many discussions online).

Everything is new at the beginning, but once you get used to the system and the online platforms, I found studying went smoothly and I was able to plan my time well. One thing that I found really valuable was the detailed feedback given for each assignment. This was not something I’d had on previous courses and it helped me identify what I could improve on in the future.

Next steps

So, that’s a little insight into my experience as a student – the first semester has been quite exciting, getting used to the modules and studying, meeting people from all over the world. Most importantly I enjoyed becoming a student again, discussing different topics and gaining new knowledge.