Women at Work: Michelle Le

Beatrice Smith

Inspiration for higher study is often a very personal one.

While undergraduates pursue degrees to land that first job as “the thing you do after school”, or perhaps just to please older generations, higher or further study is usually motivated by an event or a passion. For Masters student Michelle Le it was a year volunteering in South Asia that inspired a drastic career change.

“I had just spent 12 months volunteering in Bangladesh in an economic development role as part of the Australian Youth Ambassador Program (AYAD),” Michelle explains. “I was successful in securing an economic development role with World Vision in Dhaka, Bangladesh for 12 months.

“During this time, I mainly worked on providing research and analysis to help inform the design of development programs to increase the livelihoods of disadvantaged women in Bangladesh.”

Michelle says that working in a global taskforce to design a five-year food security and economic development plan “that impacted 50,000 extremely poor households in Bangladesh” sowed the seeds for her next step once she returned to Australia.

“This experience inspired me to become an economist, and I was ready for a career change,” she says. “I chose to enrol in the Master of Economics (MEc) at the Australian National University (ANU) because it was one of the best programs in Australia, and ANU allowed for mid-year commencements, which meant I could go straight from volunteering to study.”

For Michelle, whose undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Business Administration followed by a Master of Information Technology, one of the most important factors in choosing where to study her MEc was how the university would support her learning, given she had never studied economics before.

“ANU offered a two-year program, with the first year serving as a bridging course for students like myself who had not undertaken undergraduate studies in economics,” she explains. “The broad economic knowledge and skills gained through the MEc has provided a solid foundation on which to build my career as an economist.”

Michelle also praises the flexibility of the degree for helping her gain a foothold in her new career before graduation. While she commenced studies in 2015 as a full time student, Michelle was able to transition to part-time study this year when she gained a position at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). While it means she won’t graduate until 2019, she’s already been able to combine her learning at ANU with her current career.

“The rigour of the MEc has also allowed me to further develop my critical analysis and quantitative analysis skills, which have been valuable in my various analytical roles at PM&C,” she explains, crediting the ANU with helping her land the position in the first place.

The College of Business and Economics (CBE) at ANU regularly sends out emails to all students advertising available scholarships and internship opportunities. I saw an ad for the PM&C Vacation Employment Program in one of these emails and applied. I was lucky enough to be selected as a 2016 intern for the Economic Division, which was the launch pad for my career as an Adviser at PM&C.”

Michelle says that with this flexibility, those who work full time don’t have to rule out further study.

“As a domestic student, I had the flexibility to modify my workload each semester, which is incredibly useful in helping to balance work and study,” she says. “Most ANU lectures are recorded and accessible online, so even if I don’t attend all my classes, I never miss out.

“Many of the postgraduate classes also cater for working students by scheduling classes early in the morning or in the evenings so you can go before or after work. And most of my lecturers are more than happy to schedule a consultation hour (outside of their usual office hours) that suits my work schedule.”

As for people seeking a similar career change and unsure about the next step, Michelle says it’s worth doing your research.

“Find out whether you can get credit for any prior study you have undertaken,” she says. “For example, if you have completed an undergraduate degree in economics, you could potentially get credit for the entire first year of the program, which would shorten your degree significantly. Find out whether your workplace will support you to undertake further study—PM&C is very generous in helping their staff with both study assistance and leave benefits.”

If Michelle’s career change and journey at ANU has inspired you, you can find out more about a Master of Economics – including flexible study options, scholarships and information about credit – on the College of Business and Economics website.

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author