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EPA Master’s experience review

Read in Bahasa Indonesia.

30th August 2021, I received my Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in the Engineering and Policy Analysis program at TU Delft. I’ve spent 2 years studying in the Netherlands. It started in September 2019 and was over in August 2021. This is a review of my graduate program experience.

What I learn from the program

Written on their website, EPA focuses on “analyzing and solving complex problems that involve many parties with many conflicting interests”. Engineering and Policy Analysis is located under Technology, Policy, and Management faculty. EPA utilizes many models and simulation (technology) to analyze policy. I feel like what I’ve learned in the engineering and policy analysis program intersect with the science-based policy approach.

Once, I analogized my program as

a political restaurant that provides a scientific approach menu.

I learned a lot about scientific methods and approaches to understanding and analyzing a policy. I specifically learn how to develop and utilize a model as a tool to help the policymaking process.

all model is wrong, but some are useful.

This quote often nailed into my head again and again. It’s not recommended to use a model for prediction. We use models to find out what might happen. We also use it to test the assumption that underlies the policy. Our strength lies in exploration instead of optimization. We try to find out what could happen in the future and make sense of it using the societal lens.

The courses

In the first year, we received 12 obligatory compulsory courses divided into 4 quarters. Among them, I learned two system simulation paradigms such as discrete event modeling and system dynamic. Later on, I also learn agent-based modeling. I suppose these three paradigms are the most common in system modeling and simulation.

Besides discussing policy from a system perspective, we also taught how to approach it based on various involved stakeholders. I learned policy analysis that considers multi-actor and their conflicting interest. I also learned how to model the process focusing on the stakeholder and/or their action instead of the system itself. For example, game theory and social network analysis approach.

After the first year, I feel like a carpenter with many tools on their belt. Besides the technical skill of models and simulation, I become more aware of the political and cultural influence as well.

In the second year, our study started to be narrower. The first semester was meant for specialization and the second semester was meant for the thesis period. Our study became varied according to the students’ interests.

I took a serious gaming specialization package, which consists of serious games design, simulation masterclass, and participatory system. I don’t think there were any courses taught by the EPA program, it was under different majors. I learned how to use a game as a learning medium and I’ve succeeded in making two serious games. The first one is about the plastic soup phenomenon, and the second one was supposed to train players’ perspective-taking skills. Again, several learnings that I’ve gained this semester increase my arsenal.

In the last semester, I worked on my thesis, the final boss to get a master’s degree in the EPA program. Thesis in EPA amount to 30 ECTS and formally last in one semester. My topic and others have become really varied here. I wrote about sanitation governance in Indonesia titled Recognizing the Sanitation ‘Swamp’ in Indonesia.

Throughout the study, I’ve handled various real-life cases. Muddling through all those opposing interests, different views, ethical considerations, and cultural boundaries. It gave me a realistic glimpse of what can I do with my gained knowledge. So yeah, the carpenter and their tools.

The atmosphere and the technical aspect

To put it bluntly, I enjoy the companion of my classmates. It felt more diverse compared to my course on other programs. The gender composition is relatively balanced. Because we’re separated from TU Delft’s main location, we shared stories pretty often. Or maybe all of this has only happened in my mind.

We spent our first year mostly in Wijnhaven, Den Haag. We shared the building with Leiden University. We got most of the fifth floor. Well, we don’t get exactly a full year because of the pandemic.

From the technical need, studying during lockdown wasn’t harder. The internet is pretty stable, the water and electricity never cut out, and the Delft inhabitant density is pretty low. The challenge was purely non-technical. The learning surroundings drastically change. Communication has become always limited by a screen. My private space, workspace, and safe space were mixed up into one space.

Fortunately, course files such as slides and readings are already provided from the university site. Even though it was sometimes less user-friendly, it served the purpose. Most of the papers for reading were provided before the class. This trained me to understand the paper core idea and the time it took became shorter and shorter. Some courses even provide questions to guide my reading. Even though I don’t read everything, I read many papers compared to when I was in my bachelor’s program.

Assignments took a large portion of my time and the course evaluation. More than two-third have final assignments, others have weekly or biweekly assignments. Less than half have scheduled exams. A few exams were formated in take-home essays with a week or so of working time. Considering the time spent, I felt it’s fair when the assignment has a large weight for the final score.

EPA Grand Challenge

EPA grand challenge is an annual conference thing conducted by the EPA study program. We, the students, get a chance to present our thesis research result or process. In a way, it became our place to gather and share our various research topics. I think I barely understand what their research is.

It’s important to me because I did my research independently. This event gave me the chance to share and at least gave it a life worth more than an electronic file residing in the repository server. Back then, it also reminded me that I’ve walked far and knew a lot already.

What I learn outside the program

The Netherlands is the first four-season country that I visit. It’s also the first country that I visit outside Southeast Asia. I learn the hard way how the season affects work and activity patterns. For the first time, I feel a mood change because of lacking sunlight. I never really appreciate before, how comfortable it is to have a stable day and night period.

I learn how to cook. I am no Gordon Ramsey but I couldn’t accept one warm meal a day. My finance, taste preference, and health couldn’t take packaged food every day as well. Well, it’s not worth bragging to my friends but it helps me survive.

In terms of communication, I am sometimes really careful in how I say things. Conscious of me being unattached to the English language, I can use intense words without meaning to. On the other hand, the Dutch are relatively direct in communication.

Other than feeling like a hobbit, I take a lot of time to take in all the differences. The food, the teaching and learning style, the communication pattern, the weather, the season transition, the street rules, and many more. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. To put it into context, I briefly stop at the crossing before continuing although I already know the pedestrian is the priority. I sometimes still see both directions before crossing a one-way road. It’s not that uncommon in Indonesia to see motorcycles go against the flow.

For the last two years, I have been experimenting with a few things. One of them is to develop my own website and try out different writing styles and types. It helps me to express myself freely. I’m not prematurely trapped in the optimization game and chased the numbers.

I was also involved with a couple of organizations and committees. Besides logistical work, I edited several videos such as Indonesian student colloquium sessions and EPA grand challenge 2020 closing, developed and maintained websites of the Indonesian student association in Delft (PPI Delft) and the annual Indonesian cultural event (InDelftnesia 2021). I also volunteered as a scientific article editor and developed the virtual exhibition of InDelftnesia 2021.

Things that make me jealous of the Netherlands

There are several things that I envy as an Indonesian.

I am really jealous of their tap water. The tap water is directly drinkable. It is too expensive for flushing but as an environmental engineering alumnus, drinkable tap water is still one of the highest achievements.

I love the cycling culture. The cycling path is generally wide, safe, and dedicated. I even follow some channels, such as Not Just Bikes and Bicycle Dutch to get better information. Anyone would cycle in the Netherlands. Even though people could have a car, they would still cycle.

It’s pretty comfortable to stroll around the city. The sidewalk is well-maintained and the public transport is quite well-connected. Walking is a safe and comfortable experience. I wonder how it feels to walk in Indonesian streets without worry being grazed by passing vehicles.

I’m thankful for being acknowledged when I share my experiences of visiting museums or libraries. The buildings are clean and well-groomed. Some of them could be expensive but they also provide free pass on a certain date, student pass, packaged month pass for any museums. I also wonder how does it feel to visit a library without being judged as a nerd. I’m a nerd though.

I love to see how the culture and the infrastructure are intertwined. I think they wouldn’t cycle as much if the cycling path is not provided. They wouldn’t kayak if the river is inaccessible. It wouldn’t be fun to walk around the city if it’s not connected. Not sure if the library has anything to do with literacy but some of their libraries have music practice rooms and ps4 games to lend. It made sense to me why I love going to see a library.

Final part

Being able to study in the EPA program at TU Delft is such a blessing to me. Even during the lockdown, I have it easier to study compared to my experience freelancing back then in Indonesia. The discussion topic is really varied and realistic, ranging from nuclear power plants to relief aid logistics to a pandemic. Yes, I learned how to make a model before it happened. It is surreal. As a boy who is curious about many unrelated things, it really suits me.

Compared to my past self, I am more confident in communicating my idea and putting my argument out there, especially in English. The phrase “see you on top” doesn’t suit me anymore because I’m already at my top. My parents don’t expect their child to hold a master’s degree. So, maybe… just maybe… “see you at another top” would be a more suitable phrase to tell.

I gave my experience during the EPA master’s program five stars.