Aaron Watts-Jones studied the MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards and now lives in Papua New Guinea. Aaron works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as a Disaster Risk Reduction Officer, Coordinator for the New Guinea Islands.
“The MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards allowed me to explore the science behind the natural world and its interaction with society. Essentially this course allowed me to marry both interests in the development/humanitarian sphere – a career path I've always wanted to pursue.
“My favourite module was about the management of geophysical and technological hazards, largely because I felt this would be most applicable to future job prospects. Going on field trips to Italy and doing the placement in Uganda cemented my learning from this module, which I found very helpful and interesting.
“I got to see first hand the interplay between the environment and society, and the practical application of disaster risk reduction (DRR). I find that I learn most when 'doing' rather than burying my head in books and theory – I hadn't realised at the time but I've taken a lot from these field trips and the exposure gained has certainly give me an edge on my competitors from a social science background.
“I also very much enjoyed the summer school element of the course. Coming from a small town in south Wales and wanting to pursue a career in the aid world isn't something I could relate to many people about, so meeting like minded people was very helpful. I particularly liked the focus on leadership as I found out a great deal about my own ability – what I was good at and what needs to improve. The Finish environment was beautiful, and the fact it rained everyday was like being 'home from home'.
“The experiences gained from my field work have helped my career progression massively. I cannot emphasise enough how important the Ugandan placement is if you’re eyeing up a career in the aid world. Gaining exposure with a local non-governmental organisation in a country like Uganda is priceless and not to mention extremely fun and rewarding! It’s these sorts of experiences that set your CV apart from the rest, and in the ever competitive world we live in, this is pivotal.
“Gaining an understanding of what is meant by ‘community-based disaster risk management’ and the practical application of DRR methodologies, such as hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessments (HVCAs) has been extremely helpful. When working with remote communities I'm still using and refining the same HVCAs – this is just one example of how my experience at USW is shaping my everyday life, one and a half years after leaving. Placing yourself in a country like Uganda and having to immediately adjust to their way of working (and time-keeping), you pick up on subtleties you may not realise at first, eg, the way you present yourself as a foreigner, socially acceptable greetings, the pace at which you work and the fact that working in a bit of the local dialect always proves to be the greatest ice-breaker. “These experiences have shaped how I approach tribal leaders in some of Papua New Guinea’s most remote communities. I haven't yet been received in a negative manner, so I'll keep going as I am.
“In the aid world the majority of people come from a social science background, such as international development, humanitarian affairs, political science, etc. So when I say I studied MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards people always react in such an interested way, like, 'I didn't even know such a course existed'. So the targeted nature and uniqueness of the course, with the practical experience it provides really helps to catch the eye of the prospective recruiter. The course translates so well into the nature of my work, so I can honestly say it’s helped me in my current job immensely."