Specializing VS Diversifying: The Pros and Cons

by Ashley on January 31, 2013

Throughout both the high school and the collegiate circuit, a trend in “specializing” in committees has appeared over the last several years. That is, certain delegates will stick to a particular fields, committees, or even as specific as topics within Model UN. This strategy has been widely criticized by schools who believe that it defeats the purpose of MUN, encouraging students to only excel at one topic rather than learn extensively about a multitude. Those who specialize argue it is more efficient to delve deeply into a specific field of interest, facilitating a breadth of knowledge in that area that is much more vast than a shallow understanding of a wide variety. Which, then, is the “right” strategy—or is there one? By interviewing a plethora of students from both circuits, we have assembled the following list of pros and cons to allow you to decide for yourself. Specializing

Pros

#1: Previous experience cuts preparation time.With a preexisting knowledge base of a particular topic, research time can be severely diminished. You already have a store of facts and figures to draw from, relevant to the topic that you can throw around in committee. You already have a position paper you can draw from, maybe even past resolutions you’ve used in committee to draw ideas from. Even having experience in a specific committee type can assist in the preparation process by eliminating the need to look up specific parliamentary procedure or guidelines specific to that body.

#2: It’s easier to win. This can be viewed as a positive or a negative, depending on perspective, but is included as a “pro” here because we regard awards in MUN as positive recognition of successful delegates. When you stick to certain subjects, you tend to learn from your mistakes, from others, and excel in that type of environment. This can earn recognition for you as an individual as well as your school, and perhaps that notoriety can reap benefits such as more funding for your school. However, it should be noted that awards are only a small facet of MUN, and specializing in topics for the sole purpose of winning is not what any delegate or team should strive for.

Cons

#1: You’re not learning new things. At the risk of sounding obvious, not trying new committees and topics means you’re not learning anything about new committees or topics. A cornerstone of Model United Nations is the learning experience, and thwarting that can appear to defeat the purpose of MUN in itself. It doesn’t equate solely to topics or committees, either: by not needing to do new research, you allow valuable research and writing skills to remain static, which will only serve to inhibit your MUN career when you do come across something new.

#2: Repeated interaction with delegates. Because several schools within regions do choose to have delegates specialize, those who specialize in the same field as you will debate against you often. If you know anything about game theory, you know this type of repeated interaction with delegates can result negatively, especially for power delegates: abrasive or underhanded tactics only work so many times on the same people. Those who know you, your strategies, and your strengths and weaknesses will be able to strategize themselves on how to overcome your abilities and exploit your weaknesses. Similarly, this can foster rivalry or competition between delegates—seeing the same individual multiple times and repeatedly vying for top awards can often create unhealthy competitiveness.

Diversifying

Pros

#1: You will garner a more holistic MUN experience.  “Being a well-rounded delegate that can do well in a variety of committees is typically what head delegates are looking for in their team members,” argues Mari Manoogian, Best Delegate Media Associate. “MUN should be about exploring different topics and committees that you are interested in,” adds Amy O’Halloran, BDMA and teammate of Mari. “The best delegates I know engage in many different types of committees because they’re both eager to learn and they’re passionate about the topics…passion shines through a lot more in my experience.” In other words, diversifying yourself among committees allows for a more cultured approach to MUN and arguably international politics in general. If the true purpose of MUN is to become a better global citizen, then diversifying committee expertise is the most efficient way to achieve that. “You can’t be a one-trick pony,” states Amy.

#2: Your progress in MUN and the skills it provides you with progresses whereas others’ will remain stagnant. While the aforementioned research and analysis skills obviously maintain a positive correlation with learning new subjects, there is also the issue of utilizing this breadth of knowledge and analytical ability later in life. If you specialized in disarmament and security issues, you might not do so hot in your Human Rights class later on, whereas someone who dabbed in a bit of everything will have a foundation to branch off of. In that vein, constantly meeting new people, facing new challenges, learning new material, and having vastly different committee experiences will teach delegates the necessary diplomatic finesse, negotiation skills, and ability to adapt that they need to thrive in any environment in the future. Specializing in committees, becoming familiar with the delegates, circuit, topics and committee dynamics can often have the opposite effect — not to mention it can cause one to lose interest in MUN.

Cons

#1: You are likely to face opponents who do specialize. While I loathe to put a euphemism for “winning awards is harder” as a con, it is inevitably true. Delegates who specialize will know a lot more about your committee and how it operates (and thus how to work it), and often about the topic itself. As knowledge of the topic is a large portion of awards, delegates who know more about it generally have a large advantage over those who don’t.

#2: You’re putting a lot of trust into your research abilities. Let’s be honest: most delegates’ idea of researching is skimming the Wikipedia article that matches the topic and checking what the capital of their country. Allowing delegates to diversify for the purpose of garnering more knowledge is putting a lot of trust into their capability of effectively doing that. For delegates that truly understand the learning aspect of MUN, this is hardly a con, but for many teams this is a very real setback.   We asked the MUN community for some of their opinions as well and received the following feedback:

“I think that specialization makes a lot of sense if you do it based upon the topic of the committee, rather than the committee itself. For example, I usually take up the committees that address scientific/technological topics because those are the topics that interest me most. However, through that process I’m able to get a taste of a lot of different committees, such as GA1, CSTD, crisis rooms, etc. That’s what we usually do when we assign committees: we make sure that the person going into his or her room is happy with the topic, and takes an interest in it. Ultimately, when delegates enjoy the topic that they’re debating in committee, it makes for a much more substantive and exciting environment.” -Michael Denigris, Gulf Coast High School

“I can’t really see how repeating the same or similar committees would be any fun if the delegate is hearing similar debate over and over again….It may not be cheating [as far as the conference is concerned] but it cheats the person repeating these topics. Part of MUN is that you learn about a wide variety of cultures, issues, and points of view. Without that, you may be the best delegate of a ‘special topic’ but you’re not really becoming a better mun’er.” -Soraya Ferdman, Best Delegate Media Associate

“By specializing, if its done well, you essentially create a reliable panel of experts. Each individual delegate can gain incredible knowledge and is available to share said knowledge with other delegates, promoting the committee experience by being able to share that with them. You develop a reference network. And while diversity of knowledge is always good, fortunately you can circumvent this issue because topics are rarely repeated verbatim….also, specializing makes you a valuable resource to other delegates you can utilize your knowledge base in their own committee. If you have a team full of specialized delegates, your resources for researching are endless.” -Nick Stampar, University of Miami

“Personally, I’m a specialized historical crisis delegate. I don’t see anything wrong with familiarizing yourself with one specific committee type and excelling at it, and actually it can be kind of fun to see the same group of people in your committee at many conferences– it makes MUN seem like a closer community to me. I think every committee is different enough in the direction it goes that even after doing the same committee many times, a delegate still has to prepare and be ready to think on their feet.” -Ellen Perfect, Best Delegate Media Associate

“My area of expertise is 20th century history, so that’s why I usually go with committees like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Prague Spring or the Boer Wars. If you want to do well in committees I think you almost have to specialize to a certain extent…if you vary it a bit even within your area of expertise you can still learn a lot, and honestly, I think I would learn more that benefits me from doing several World War II committees than one fantasy committee.” -Fred Kolb, University of Florida

“I did DISEC and related committees like IAEA throughout high school, became good at them, and thought I liked disarmament and security issues, but starting senior year of high school and in college I got exposed to a lot more ECOSOC and development committees (WHO, UNDP, etc.) and realized I enjoyed those more. I think early on, people should explore and they can specialize later. Then again, the trend of crisis committees at the college level nowadays makes it difficult to specialize.” -Kevin Felix Chan, Best Delegate Co-Founder

This topic is highly contentious in the current MUN environment, and this article is only meant to scratch the surface of it and expose a few minor pros and cons to each side. Whether there is a “right” or “wrong” strategy is up to you, but remember: it’s not always black and white, and the gray area of specializing and diversifying is often what will lead you to success in MUN.

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