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Independent mental health counsellor and award-winning MSc in EBHC graduate Nur Hidayati Handayani shares her experiences on the programme with us

Tell me about yourself

Where did you study and work previously?

Before and after completing my Master of Counselling (MCouns) at the University of Auckland, I have been working as an independent consultant, practising mental health counselling. I have served Indonesian government, national and international non-profit organizations, and UN agencies as their programme specialist. My focus has been on developing, monitoring, and evaluating the programmes that address a wide range of issues, from adolescent and youth health to prevention of gender-based violence.

What were your experiences in your previous studies?

At the University of Auckland, my MCouns experience was both enriching and challenging. The programme combined intensive coursework with practical internships, facilitating the application of theoretical knowledge of trauma informed counselling in real-world scenarios. My thesis research on "Cultural Challenges to Counselling Practices in Indonesia" provided valuable insights into the complexities of cross-cultural counselling.


Photo of a female Indonesian student in her student robes standing inside a historic Oxford university building


Tell me about your MSc here in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

Why did you choose Oxford for your Master’s programme and what helped you make that decision?

Since I was nine years old, I have dreamed of studying at Oxford University, inspired by the numerous world-renowned scientists who have walked its halls. For years, I entertained the thought that I could let go of my childhood dream and replace it with another. However, I realised that not attempting to pursue it would be my greatest regret; it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. Furthermore, the MSc in Evidence-Based Health Care programme is particularly well-suited to a health professional like myself, an offering I have not found at other universities.

Why Evidence-Based Healthcare?

As an independent consultant, I have recognised the necessity of studying evidence-based healthcare. My primary role involves improving health-related programmes and policies, which requires skills in synthesising evidence to make informed decisions within the healthcare system. This programme is designed to navigate the complexities of healthcare delivery with scientific rigour, ensuring that interventions are not only well-intentioned but also demonstrably effective. I aspire to contribute to a future where healthcare decisions are grounded in solid evidence, thereby improving the quality of healthcare on a national and global scale.

What has your experience of the programme been?

It has been an outstanding experience; the curriculum is well-structured, and the department continuously seeks feedback from its students to enhance the programme. I had the privilege of serving as their student representative for two years, during which time I had only positive meetings with them. The staff exemplify a blend of expertise and humility.

What have you enjoyed?

One of the aspects I've enjoyed most during the programme have been the break times in our intensive 9 – 5 structured course weeks. These moments provided a valuable opportunity to connect more deeply with my classmates and tutors, drawing inspiration from their experiences and insights. Additionally, the 3-course-meals offered by the programme for lunch and dinner have consistently been a highlight for me. Just thinking about the delicious meals makes my mouth water!

Were there any barriers for you or things that could be improved?

At the beginning of my first year, I encountered imposter syndrome, a challenge that I understand is quite common among Oxford students. This experience initially posed a significant barrier to my confidence and sense of belonging within the academic community. However, I am grateful for my supervisor, Marta Wanat, who provided patient and insightful guidance, helping me navigate through academic life and overcome these feelings. Her support was instrumental in improving my self-confidence and academic performance.

What was your experience of academic support/supervision?   

The academic support and supervision were exceptional. Faculty members were always accessible via email, offering personalized guidance that greatly improved my learning experience. Their expertise was crucial in refining my research and ideas, especially for my award-winning dissertation on social prescribing. These one-on-one sessions not only advanced my academic skills but were also a key factor in my professional development.

What was your experience of pastoral care and support?

My experience was extremely positive, marked by a strong community feel and comprehensive support for both academic and personal needs. The university offered an extensive array of resources and services to help students succeed. Within the college, the Junior Dean and academic officers played a crucial role, always being responsive and attentive to our needs. This level of support across the board made my time in the programme not only manageable but also rewarding.

When you were able to come here, how did you find Oxford as a place to study and live/stay?

By day, I was involved in the wide range of academic activities at Oxford, biking, walking and punting past centuries-old buildings with my cat; by night, I spun tracks, as DJ Axelle, that got those same brainy heads bobbing. It's the only place where discussing evidence-based health care over lunch or dinner seamlessly transitions into mixing tracks at colleges, making Oxford not just a hub of learning but a dance floor of diverse experiences. I found the perfect rhythm between study and play in Oxford. This proved you can both hit the books and drop the beats, all in the same storied streets. Please find DJ Axelle on SoundCloud and all other online music streaming platforms!


A photo of a young woman smiling and laughing sitting in a punt boat with her cat

Anything else you would like to tell us about?

Throughout my academic journey, the profound words of Bell Hooks served as a guiding light: "One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we often dream about receiving from others." This insight became a lantern in the darkness, illuminating the path of self-compassion. This experience taught me an invaluable lesson: the kindest path often involves trusting in oneself to find a way through even the darkest moments. So, repeat after me, “I got this!”.


Your advice to potential students

What would your advice be to students considering studying your programme at Oxford?

You'll find a rigorous curriculum supported by robust mechanisms, within a community of esteemed professionals and experts. This unique environment fosters intellectual growth and professional networking, preparing you to contribute significantly to your field.

Do you have any specific tips or recommendations?

Balance is your best friend—mix rigorous study with the rich experiences Oxford offers. Network like a pro; your next big collaboration could be waiting just around the corner. Bring your curiosity, your drive, self-compassion, and maybe some comfy dancing shoes. You're going to be part of an exciting journey of learning and finding out new things!


Nur Hidayati Handayani was a winner of the EBHC Best Dissertation Prizes for 2022-23. You can read her response to winning and a summary of her dissertation here