Meet Austin, MSc Capacity Development and Extension Student
Austin hails from the small town of Carlisle, Ontario just 30 minutes south of Guelph. During his undergraduate studies in international development at the University of Guelph (U of G) he completed a specialization in agricultural development and began to see himself pursuing a lifelong career in the field. The MSc Capacity Development and Extension Program allowed him to target his research skills in an area of rural development he was most interested in. Austin is currently researching new strategies for capacity development of agriculture in rural Ghana and hopes to see his findings put into practice in the future.
Program: MSc Capacity Development and Extension (CDE)
Hometown: Carlisle, Ontario (Thanks to U of G, I have lived in Guelph for the last 8 years, making Guelph feel like a second home!)
What did you study for your undergraduate degree?
I studied International Development Studies with a specialization in rural and agricultural development here at U of G.
Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies at the University of Guelph? Did your undergrad experience shape your decision to further your studies?
I decided to continue my academic career at U of G due to my continued interest in international development. I realized that I needed to complete my master’s if I wanted to pursue a life working in the development field. CDE offered the perfect opportunity for me to blend my skills and interests in a graduate setting, on a campus I love.
What is your research focus?
My research is on developing new strategies for capacity development of agriculture in rural Ghana using digital radio.
How have you found ways to get involved as a grad student?
While the pandemic made it difficult to be involved in certain respects, it created opportunities to become involved in other ways. I have been the Teaching Assistant (TA) for three online courses and found interacting with the students extremely rewarding. I have also been lucky enough to create the CDE Student Engagement group and act as the coordinator. This group allows students to support each other in an academic and social capacity through bi-weekly meetings.
How has your graduate program experience been different from your undergrad experience?
My graduate experience has many parallels to my undergraduate experience, however, my favorite difference is that the research I’m doing now allows me to target what aspect of rural development I find most impactful. It has been a blessing to be able to throw myself into topics I am most passionate about.
Where are your favourite spots in Guelph?
It is difficult to narrow down my favourites, since Guelph is such a great city! My favourite coffee shop to do work in is Red Brick Café, my favourite study space is McLaughlin Library and my favourite bake shop is Eric the Baker. Guelph Lake is a must see, swim, hike, and fish. And if you are looking for a relaxing and fun night, check out the Mustang Drive-In Theatre.
What do you find most challenging about your program?
The most challenging aspect of my program so far has been staying on track with research deadlines during the lockdowns. It can be easy to get down on yourself for a perceived lack of progress, but we must be gentle with ourselves knowing that at certain points throughout life we can become more or less productive than normal.
What are some free-time activities that make you happy, or relieves stress?
I find cycling allows me time to completely let my mind reset. A long ride gives me uninterrupted time to refocus on what is important to me. I often find my best ideas come when I am on my bike.
What are your plans or goals after graduation?
I am hopeful that my research findings will be put into action by the organization I am working with throughout my thesis. Being able to work in Ghana and actualize my research would be a dream come true.
What advice would you give to an undergrad student considering graduate school?
Personal relationships are more important than you could ever imagine. Make the small effort to sit in the front during your lectures and go to your professor's office hours. Giving a face to your name can make a huge difference in your grades. It also helps establish a bond worthy of a quality reference letter for your applications to grad school.
What or who is your greatest inspiration? Why?
I found my greatest inspiration in a professor I had during my time in undergrad. Dr. Sally Humphries continually drove me to want to be a better student of development studies. Her lifelong work with famers in Latin America is a constant reminder of how your passion can improve lives.
What's one fun fact about yourself?
My favorite time of year is Movember. I have long been a men’s health activist with the Movember foundation and every year brings a more ridiculous moustache for donations and awareness.