Specially to the first year students

Dear MPhil. ICH first year students,

I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that I was in your position just one year ago. As someone who is new to a place, people and most importantly for most of you an absolutely different educational system, there are many things that you will learn, adjust to and wish to have known about in advance. I had many of those I-wish-I-knew-before in my first year as an MPhil student at UiO.

To make the transition into the student life in Oslo just a little bit easier for you, I thought to share some thoughts or pieces of ‘advice’ if you wish to call them. Of course, I don’t promise you that you will not find moments that are frustrating and challenging. But honestly, moments like that tend to be the highlights of any adventure. So not having them might just make your year that much less exciting; or not if you don’t like adventures!

In any case, these are some of the things I personally thought were important to know ahead. There are also few points that when I asked my classmates, they saw as good to keep in mind. Let’s just call them: ICH (International Community Health… remember that one because I will use it from now on) useful tips.

1- In a program that only has twenty some students, it is so important to know your classmates from the very beginning. You will be spending hours each day with these people and it makes life that much easier for each of you if you got to know each from day one. So, take time to learn your classmates’ names and a bit about them before you get buried with lectures and exam.

2- Speaking of exams, two things about them. The first, no need to stress TOO much about them but yes of course, take them seriously and do the work. Secondly, I found it greatly useful and helpful to discuss and brain-storm with some of my classmates in the take-home exams. At the end each of you will have her/his own work but you will be surprised at how much you can get after a cup of coffee to vent about the exam.

3- This leads me to group work. Yes, we all love group work… or do we? Well, wether you like it or not, you will get plenty of it during your first year of ICH MPhil. For me personally, group work, PBL and group presentations were the most grueling part of the course. Not because of the questions or the material, but the group dynamics. But I also should admit that it was the most learning part of the course. When you get the freedom to choose your group-mates, don’t fall into the trap of picking those who are ‘easy to work with’ (although we can debate if people like actually exist. We are all hard in some or other form). Make sure you change your group every time; you will be surprised at how much you will learn about them but most importantly about yourself.

4- Apart from obligatory courses, you will have to do your thesis project. Please, and pretty please start thinking about this from the very beginning. I totally understand that it can be overwhelming with everything. But make sure you start to think about project ideas after orientation week. Approach professors and discuss your thoughts with them. Of course, there is always room to change topic but the process is a long one, so start it early!

5- On a technical part about lectures. Firstly, I highly encourage you to NOT miss any lectures no matter how ‘boring’ they may appear. You can learn a lot from a ‘boring’ lecture. Secondly, don’t worry about buying text books (maybe Line would disagree). You can totally get them from the library and/or second years (myself included. I have two books for the first semester that I bought, let me know if you want to borrow them).

6- Lastly, don’t forget to have fun in everything you do. It makes a big difference to do things with the right attitude 🙂

So, good luck with the start of an exciting year and enjoy every bit of it!

*NOTE: For non-ICH MPhil. readers, you will get your share of posts that you can relate to. I just had to do this one for the firsties!

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MPhil One Year On: Some Reflections

Time really flies by very fast and it is hard to believe that it has been exactly one year since I embarked on the journey of MPhil in International Community Health.

It has been a year full of learning, challenges and thought-provoking ideas. I thought what a better way to start my blog posts than with some reflections from the past year at the University of Oslo (UiO).

I just came from a trip in Bangladesh a month ago and on my ride from the airport to my friend’s place’s house, I noticed an ad on a bus that immediately took me to the class lectures and group discussions at UiO. Bellow is a picture of the ad.

A campaign ad in Bangladesh: “Motherhood is Unique: Let’s make it safe”

In a very old and rusty bus with a picture of a modern couple the ad says: “Motherhood is Unique: Let’s Make it safe.” I immediately started to ponder who is the target of this ad/campaign? Is it the policy-makers who will never take public transport in a country torn by economic hierarchy? Or is it the general population of a country that barely 70% of its people can read? It also made me wonder whether this campaign ad has actually been pre-tested on the target population. What would a woman in the village where she does not have access to basic health care think of the couple in the ad? Would she understand that this is to safe her life? How much of change will an ad like this change to the maternal mortality in Bangladesh?

It was what seems like a simple ad on a bus that made me appreciate all the long discussions I had with my classmates during the past year. I do believe that I may not have been able to notice this ad altogether hadn’t I taken a health communication course where we talked at length about different strategies for health awareness. It also made me realize how much I have actually gained from the course and how reflective I have become about things around me; things that I would otherwise take for granted.

Yes there were many grueling days before deadlines for the exams, but when you go outside the classroom and into the real world; you do understand the value of a setting that teaches you critical thinking. My first year of the MPhil has certainly given the tools necessary to think critically on health and society.

The past year has truly ignited a passion in me to study and observe the many complex ways of interactions between illness, health and social contexts. I never thought that medicine could ever venture into the realm of social and cultural codes. But I was totally wrong; I learned that the two are tied to the hip.

After one year of learning so much in this program, I can only imagine how more I will gain in the coming year especially being in the field to do research on my own.