I have a Master’s already: Why I chose ISAM anyway

Interviewing a current student of MIAM


michelle marais headshot

Michelle Marais is one of the students from the MIAM class of 2021. She is 24 years old and she has recently completed her Master’s in Agricultural Economics. Although she already has an elaborate education in the agricultural field, she chose to do the MIAM program at ISAM and we wanted to get her perspective on why she chose this program and why she thinks it is different from a traditional Master’s.

1. What did you study in your Bachelor's Degree?

My undergraduate as well as my Honours were in Agricultural Economics. 

2. Despite already having done a Master’s before, you still came to ISAM. Why?

My background, while it is very academic, also includes many vacation jobs and long-term practical projects. I was able to develop many new skills and gain knowledge at university, but I always felt like it was lacking practical exposure. Although I generally perform well in academic situations, I find that I am always more interested in business and the “bigger picture” that agriculture offers. ISAM provided me with a platform to not only gain invaluable international exposure, but also a place where I could be taught from an industry perspective rather than a technical and academic one. I was truly excited by the philosophy and vision of ISAM when I applied. I felt that it stood for everything I have always felt was missing at many universities.

3. What is the main difference between your two Master’s programs?

My Master in Agricultural Economics was one hundred percent research-focused. I never had a single lesson, and I spent two years doing research, gathering and analysing data, and making recommendations based on my findings. I was fortunate that my project involved a start-up type business, but most of the time I spent there was simply because I enjoyed it and not because it was essential to my study. At ISAM, I am working on several projects at once, I am surrounded by a class who are all doing the same classes as I am. We are doing field visits and master classes, and the course is not nearly as theoretical. I really value the discussions we have with our professors. They are seasoned professionals who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with us. This is different from my previous Master’s, where my learning was from academic articles and reading other people’s dissertations. 

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4. If you could recommend only one Master to someone, which would you recommend and why?

I think there is a place for both. I do not think that there is a black-and-white rule for which one is best for everyone. But I will say this: I think the MIAM program is much better suited for individuals who are looking for business knowledge, to develop their entrepreneurial thinking, and gaining essential knowledge in fields such as marketing, finance, logistics, trade, and many more. I found that my research in my Agricultural Economics Master’s has taught me a lot, and helped me develop a highly technical skill. However, at ISAM I have learned much more about being a young professional, I have learned about an industry in big and small detail, I have networked with very inspiring people, and I have learned how to work in multi-cultural groups with different kinds of challenges. I think the MIAM has been the program that has most helped me become an agribusiness professional, improve my leadership, and to master the art of networking. I have no doubt that MIAM better equipped me for my future. 

5. What is in your opinion the most valuable part of the MIAM program?

I think the network that ISAM offers is unsurpassed. I have never met so many industry leaders in such a short period of time in my life. The professors are really always willing to have a chat after class, to connect on LinkedIn or to answer questions on email. The networking events are just another opportunity to broaden your network and to get to know people who become valuable contacts in the future.

6. What was the most difficult thing about doing MIAM?

Getting to know the new working culture. I am from South Africa, and I am from a very different cultural background than my professors and classmates. It took me a couple of weeks to learn what the key differences in our cultures were and to find the balance in my teams. I am undoubtedly more prepared to work in a multinational company than many of my previous colleagues who only work in culturally homogenous groups.

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7. Finally, what is your best advice for future MIAM students?

Make the most of it. I cannot emphasize enough how important networking is. Talk to your professors, get to know all your colleagues, visit as many companies as you can at fairs and go above and beyond to build as big a network as possible while you are here. Secondly, be open to all the lessons you are learning. Your learning is not limited to the time you are spending in class. Focus on the cultural intelligence you are developing, leadership skills you are learning, and the many other soft skills you will gain from this program.

8. In conclusion

Doing sound academic research is a very important skill, but it is not a skill that most professionals require. If you are looking to become a technical specialist or researcher in your future career, that is a good path to follow. However, if you identify more as an entrepreneur, a practical thinker, an aspiring businessperson and you want to be doing a Master’s that covers dozens of topics throughout the program instead of a single thesis, this might just be a good fit for you.

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