Student spotlight: Mark Dempsey (Executive MPA 2019)

Mark smiling in a green sweater with arms crossed, in front of a turquoise brick facade and white-framed windows.

Coming from a background in development finance and EU financial policy, Mark joined the Executive MPA to make a career switch to the field of digital policy.

Mark Dempsey is a two-year Executive MPA student from Ireland. Having worked in development finance and regulation in different parts of the world, Mark joined the 2019 Executive MPA cohort to delve into the world of digital affairs and EU digital regulation.

Hi Mark, tell us a bit about yourself – why did you join the Executive MPA?

My name is Mark Dempsey, I’m in my early 40s, and I decided to do the Executive MPA after reaching a bit of a crossroads in my career and personal life which led me to reconsider my direction for want of a better way of putting it. I’ve been working in EU financial regulation and development finance, and I’ve lived in the Middle East, in London and in Frankfurt, where I initially did my training with the German Stock Exchange. Ultimately, financial regulation was not really my calling. I saw the Executive MPA as a means of making a transition in my career and of pursuing my interest in technology policy and to gain a deeper understanding of how and why data is used, its societal impacts and its applications in artificial intelligence (AI) for example.

Which area of concentration did you choose?

I chose the Digitalisation and Big Data concentration. A few months into my studies, Joanna Bryson, who is well known in the AI and ethics field, joined Hertie, and the Centre for Digital Governance was establishing itself. Between Daniela Stockmann, Joanna Bryson and Slava Jankin, they’ve got a fantastic faculty, and I’ve been able to benefit from their teaching – I was fortunate to co-author a chapter together with Joanna and Keegan McBride for an Oxford University Press publication on transnational AI governance coming out later this year. It was a great way to take a deep dive into the subject and forced me to read both wider and more academically on the topic.

How have you made the programme fit your schedule?

I work part-time and study part-time which is manageable. As a freelancer, my hours are flexible. I consult primarily on EU financial legislative proposals and EU political affairs (Brexit for the most part). The Executive MPA is a flexible programme but especially so if you chose the two-year track. I have been able to postpone courses to the second year if work deadlines have had to take precedence and this has been particularly helpful in a pandemic when mental health also has to be taken into consideration. As regards the Executive MPA modules themselves, the interdisciplinary nature has been especially appealing and the flexibility has allowed me to have the time to bring my digital knowledge up to a required level for future employment.

What have been your favourite courses?

Certainly, Joanna’s course Ethics and governance of digital technology was fascinating. Then there was Slava’s Artificial intelligence for decision-makers which was quite challenging given the sheer amount covered over the four days. I’m very much a Europhile, so EU Governance with Mark Dawson is also up there. Sustainability with Christian Flachsland was both fascinating and eye-opening (which I took in an auditing capacity) and I also liked Digital governance with Daniela Stockmann, who brought in a lot of geopolitics as well, given her background on China. Mark Kayser’s “When to trust the numbers: Informed data consumption” was also instructive given that I don’t have a data background; it was a fantastic introduction into how to scrutinize data in media, research and journalism, learning when to use data, and discerning how and why certain data might be reported.

Have you been engaging with topics in digital affairs outside the classroom as well?

Yes! There have been a lot of online events in the last 18 months. I oscillated between Zoom events organized by the DGAP (German Council on Foreign Relations), the Centre for Digital Governance at Hertie, Humboldt University’s Society of the Internet, the Brookings Institute in the US, and all the different associations and think tanks discussing AI and its interaction with geopolitics, EU regulations and the data economy. One learns over time how to filter the good from the not-so-good events – one of the few advantages of being stuck inside for such a long time in front of your screen!

Any advice you would give to prospective Executive MPAs?

If you’re moving to Berlin and you want to embrace it fully, get involved in your studies but don’t let them dominate. Get to know Berlin by volunteering a little for example. I volunteered with some NGOs and set up a mentoring programme with BeginnerLuft in Neukölln to help migrants prepare for the German labour market. I also got involved in Techstars as a mentor to young entrepreneurs. And even though I say I don’t like networking, it’s so important. When you’re trying to establish yourself in a new area, try and tie in your previous background too.

The very nature of the Executive MPA courses is that you squeeze what would normally be taught over a term into four days’ worth of classes. So, if you don’t do the readings, you won’t get what you want out of the course, simple as that. Be as committed as you possibly can, and don’t go into it in a half-hearted way. This year with COVID has been super challenging for everyone, but I would certainly recommend the Executive MPA if you know why you are doing it and what you want to get out of it.

What is your favourite spot in Berlin?

I enjoy the lively vibes in Volkspark Friedrichshain while taking in a good book and of course Berlin’s many lakes, but I haven’t been as often as I’d like! They tend to get pretty crowded.  But generally, Berlin is great for parks and a wide selection of great art museums in what is a lively city with a buzzing cultural and music scene.


Apply to the Executive MPA programme by 15 August and schedule a consultation call with an admissions representative today.