Leveraging the Master’s experience and the Cambridge network in the academic world
David Disi was a Master’s student at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership from 2012–2014. In this blog, he reflects on his experience in Cambridge and how learning about sustainability influenced his career path. David is currently an executive doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
6 January 2016
I arrived in Cambridge for the first residential block of my Master’s in Sustainability Leadership straight from an 18 month-long military deployment with the US Army to Saudi Arabia, and just before I was scheduled to return to civilian life to resume my career in finance. I had completed several other graduate degrees before, including at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Columbia Business School, but all of these experiences were full-time studies and on topics pertaining directly to my career. This Master’s course would be different though.
"Before the course began, I had a growing personal interest in sustainability, as I believe it is a field that will eventually affect all aspects of business and society, but did not have much of a background in the subject nor a roadmap as to where I wished to apply what I would learn."
The majority of my work experiences came either from the military or finance. I spent two deployments (Iraq and Afghanistan) leading infantry soldiers on daily combat missions and my third deployment on a diplomatic-related training mission to Saudi Arabia. I had also worked in finance at a large investment bank in Emerging Markets Sales and Trading and then Portfolio Solutions. A combination of Cambridge’s impeccable academic reputation, opportunities to experience life on such an historic campus, the practicality of the part-time structure of the course and the importance of the topic of sustainability led me to the conclusion that Cambridge was the best option to continue my studies.
Admittedly, I was slightly unsure of the academic experience I would receive in a part-time programme and somewhat sceptical of how the topic of sustainability could affect my short-term life and career plans. I would have never thought that I would later be actively immersed in an executive doctoral programme at the University of Pennsylvania, with a research focus heavily geared towards sustainable development while also devoting time to mentoring promising sustainable development entrepreneurs, all while continuing my full-time career in finance. I credit the vast breadth of subjects covered in the Master’s course, combined with its demanding academic standards, for my decision to pursue additional academic qualifications.
The Master’s programme comprises of three major learning components: the workshops; the virtual learning activities; and the written academic assignments including a research dissertation. The workshops offered insights into the latest research in sustainability from experts in the field. The virtual learning allowed members of the cohort to share ideas while away from Cambridge and to receive in-depth training optimized for online learning on specific sustainability topics. The assignments/dissertations enabled us to learn and write about theories and advances across numerous sectors and disciplines.
In the Master’s course, I wrote about many diverse topics, including the further injection of sustainable principles into the financial industry’s investment decisions; reforming master limited partnerships to be more inclusive of sustainable investment opportunities; and finally a dissertation on integrating sustainable development practices into counterinsurgency operations in war-torn parts of East Africa.
The three components combine to offer cutting-edge research on sustainability, access to experts in different fields, discipline in academic research and writing, and opportunities for socialising, networking and exchanging ideas amongst a diverse group of individuals. My classmates, faculty members and guest lecturers came from different backgrounds. This challenged me to see the world from different perspectives.
"The course provided me with a robust knowledge of sustainability and enabled me to develop a deep understanding of what drives success in sustainability. I believe the three-pronged approach really should be credited with my desire to further my education."
To be able to apply this knowledge in my doctorate is quite fulfilling. Although I have not begun my dissertation, I have started to formulate my specific research topic: how sustainable development principles can be better integrated into entrepreneurship curriculums at leading universities. In my free time, I judge entrants in the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award, an annual competition organised by Unilever in partnership with CISL and in collaboration with Ashoka. I also mentor young sustainable development entrepreneurs in the developing world as part of a charity called The Resolution Project. Both these activities help me make practical use of my education.
As you can see from this piece, my studies at Cambridge very much inspired me to develop myself further as it changed the way I viewed the world on a day-to-day basis. I believe it was an excellent programme that provided me with a strong toolkit that I am currently leveraging.
"I strongly recommend the course to other candidates as it provides both the technical, academic, and social tools needed to better apply sustainable development to a myriad of different areas throughout almost all career paths, sectors, or environments."
I hope to continue on a career path aided by the skills that I have gained from this course, all while staying closely connected to CISL.