Month: October 2021

Keeping Up with the… Current Affairs

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I’ve recently been thinking more about my go-to sources of information about current affairs and policy, in part because I have a new job responsibility in which I have to compile interesting items related to data and higher education on a weekly basis. One of the great things about attending Heller has been discovering new sources of information and learning how to better use both popular press and more wonky, research-based sources to keep abreast of developments in the policy and non-profit spaces. I thought I’d share some of my favorites in this blog post.

One of my top recommended sources is probably already familiar to many prospective Heller students – the NY Times. I find that their coverage of national politics, the pandemic, and the economic recovery is some of the best out there, and they also are a resource to find examples of great data journalism. In courses at Heller in which I’ve had to do data visualizations, maps, or dashboards, I’ve turned to the NYT for inspiration on how to design an effective graphic. The Times is pay-walled, unfortunately, but you can get a subscription through Brandeis for free!

I’d be remiss not to recommend a publication co-founded by Heller Professor Robert Kuttner and former professor Robert Reich – The American Prospect. This is a great magazine with free online access to articles and blog posts. It’s a great source for in depth analysis of public policy developments and the legislative process in Washington, particularly if you are interested in issues related to the economy and workforce.

If you are looking for more local news, I find the Politico MA Playbook to be a great resource. I subscribe to their email list so that I get a brief update almost every day. Politico provides quick, succinct updates on legislative and policy happenings on Beacon Hill, and is great to follow if you are interested in Massachusetts or Boston politics.

An invaluable resource for MPP and other Heller students are think tanks which research domestic public policy issues. Some of the think tanks whose reports have been regularly assigned in my courses include EPI, Brookings, and Demos. While these offer more of a specific perspective, rather than objective news reporting or analysis, they also tend to produce reports with more extensive research and detail than what you would find in a journalistic source. While you have to be careful to balance these with more academic sources in papers, reports from these types of organizations can be great options for citations.

Last, but certainly not least, is less a particular source than a chaotic, unregulated mix of hot takes: Twitter. Still, despite the fact that many Twitter accounts possess no particular expertise in the topic area they post about (and although it can be a time waster and procrastination tool), Twitter is also heavily used by journalists, policy analysts and researchers, and academics. Some of my favorite sources for policy perspectives are NYT Opinion columnists Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein; economists Arindrajit Dube and Branko Milanovic; and the climate reporter Kate Aronoff.

Reading strong policy analysis in many forms, whether columns, reports, or tweets, is a big part of learning to write stronger policy analysis. The emphasis on writing has been one of my favorite parts of my Heller experience, and I appreciate the many recommendations I’ve gotten from faculty and classmates of smart commentators to follow (and imitate!)

5 Ways to Manage Anxiety during the Admissions Process… And One Way to Prevent It

In case you’ve missed it: it’s officially fall. On my drive here, I was treated to the sight of beautiful gold and red leaves along the banks of the Charles River, I’m wearing one of my favorite sweaters today, and the applications to Heller’s program are beginning to come in. That’s right: it’s admissions season again! Now, don’t panic: you still have plenty of time (the deadline for the PhD application is December 15th, and the first round deadline for most of our master’s programs isn’t until January 15th), but this is certainly the time when most students are starting to narrow down their lists of schools to apply to and begin the application process. I’ve written before in my post The Art of Waiting about the anxiety that comes after you’ve submitted the application, but as a recent conversation with my younger cousin (who is starting the undergraduate application process now) reminded me, the application process itself can also be a major source of anxiety for a lot of students. With that in mind, I want to share a few tips to manage your anxiety during this process and give you one tip to prevent it.

1. Channel your nervous energy. Have you been catching yourself refreshing your email for hours on end? Chewing your nails down to the quick? Tapping your foot so long it wears a hole in your carpet? While some people shut down when they’re anxious, other people find themselves absolutely bursting with energy. Find a way to redirect this energy, like taking a long walk while listening to a podcast or doing a quick work-out in your living room to let off some steam. You can also put that energy to a productive use by writing a thank you email to your recommenders or by engaging in some volunteer work (which will look great on any future graduate school or job applications).

2. Indulge in smart self-care. Self care doesn’t always look like giving yourself permission to eat that entire gallon of ice cream (although sometimes it certainly can!). Take this time to indulge in self-care that actually makes you feel good and energized afterwards, like taking a bath, meditating, calling a loved one, getting coffee or dinner with a close friend, treating yourself to a healthy new recipe (whether you make it yourself or order take-out), or taking yourself out on a movie or museum date.

3. Put things in perspective. Imagine the absolute worst-case scenario: you’re rejected from every single school you’ve applied to. What then? I don’t mean to downplay the feelings of rejection and sadness that receiving a denial can induce, but at the end of the day, it truly isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t even mean you won’t ever go to grad school. Sometimes when you think the universe is saying “No”, it’s really only saying “Not yet”. You can spend the next year making sure you’re prepared for the next round of applications, and you’ll have a head-start on everyone applying for the first time.

4. Take break from social media. There’s nothing worse than taking a break from relentlessly refreshing your email only to go onto Instagram and be immediately confronted with someone else’s post about their acceptance. Especially if a lot of people in your immediate circle are going through the same process as you, consider taking a break, or at least setting limitations for yourself when it comes to social media. By the way, this goes double for sites like GradCafe, CollegeConfidential, or Reddit discussion boards. Remember: everyone’s situation is unique, and trying to “hack” the application process by following the tips that worked for a stranger on the internet is unlikely to actually pay off.

5. Put an embargo on app-talk. With the holidays coming up, the chances of the Thanksgiving table conversation turning to graduate schools and applications is at an all time high, and your great-aunt is probably just dying to tell you about how her friend’s sister’s son-in-law got into every single graduate school with a full ride. Get out ahead of it by giving a quick update, setting a boundary, and moving the conversation along (“There are a couple of schools I’m excited to hear back from, but I don’t want to talk about graduate school when I have all this delicious food in front of me. Aunt Betsy, tell me more about how your vacation was?”). The same tip goes for your friends, if they’re in the same boat as you. Set aside ten minutes at the top of the gathering to compare notes, and then change the subject.

BONUS: Give yourself enough time. There’s nothing more anxiety producing than feeling like you don’t have enough time to do everything you need to do. Make a plan early to organize your time, and stick to it. If you break down what you need to do into simple, manageable steps and give yourself a workable timeline to complete it, things will feel a lot less overwhelming.

Boundaries Help Me Have It All

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Over the last few weeks, I have been feeling a lot more fatigued than I expected. With the Jewish holidays coinciding with the start of school (read: two days off from class each week for the month of September), I did not really feel like I got into a rhythm until a month and a half into the semester. But even so, the workload was nothing new: last year, I decided to continue to work throughout my first year at Heller, I maintained about 15-20 hours a week of work for the organization I worked for prior to my return to school, as well as 4-6 hours a week with Heller admissions. Between that work, school assignments, and class time, I still found hours in the day to spend outside with my dog or even fit in a nap. So why does this semester feel different?

Being in person has afforded me many positive experiences. I focus better in a classroom. I enjoy the small talk class breaks and walks to and from Heller that being on campus provides. Yet, all of that on time is something I have not had to engage with in a year and a half. A luxury of starting school during a pandemic was there were much fewer social expectations and distractions to get in the way of work. I was able to do 20-25 hours of work a week because I did not have plans on weeknights. I could finish school assignments in a timely fashion because I did not have any scheduling conflicts.  I did not spend most of my days out and active but instead had to only be presentable for one three hour class a day.

I am delighted to be back in person and by the opportunities to engage socially, both with my peers and my friends in the Boston area. But I needed to find the right balance.  I spend some nights prepping for class the next day, where others, I am happy to grab a meal with friends. Graduate school is about compromise.  It is about doing what makes you feel more comfortable at any given moment. Trying to fit it all in is not ideal. The overload can be exhaustive and destructive.  There are times where I award myself a night off because I am at capacity for the day and need to listen to my body and my mind. There are other days where I  know pushing myself to finish a reading or paper is the best choice. The pandemic helped me feel comfortable setting boundaries and now I am finding ways to employ that skill in my everyday life and I cannot be my best self without the word “no.”

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation)

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

Hey Future Hannah,

You just graduated Heller with a Master’s of Arts in Sustainable International Development. You’re now officially: Hannah, M.A. How does it feel? I hope you are feeling incredibly proud of yourself, and taking time to acknowledge your achievements. Despite your worries and stress, you managed to finish it all! Even those quantitative classes, the economics classes and your Master’s thesis you were so worried about; you did it! Take a deep breath, and do something to celebrate! If you’re anything like current Hannah, you’ll probably go out for a celebratory ice cream.

My current question is what’s next for you? Are you taking some time off to travel (hopefully in a covid safe world)? Are you going straight into your career? Decided to do another graduate degree (take a breather girl!)? Whatever it may be, I do hope you give yourself a little time in between graduation and your next steps. If you decided to go the career path, I am so curious which route you ended up going down. With an NGO? A nonprofit? I know current Hannah is wanting to graduate a gender professional– did that dream become a reality? Whatever you decide to do, I know it will be great regardless.

I know that you’ve already done the hard part, but just a few thoughts from your past self. I hope you challenged yourself in grad school- took lots of classes in new subjects and tried new things. I hope you gave yourself grace when you were juggling so many things, and maybe could not put as much focus on projects as you’d like. I hope you always made time for self-care and hanging out with friends. And, I hope you made the most of your time here at Heller. Because believe it or not, it’s now over and you’re onto the next great thing.

Best,

Hannah

The Dual Degree Experience

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

In the world of Heller, you will find a multitude of students with a wide mixing of degrees; Sustainable International Development (SID) and Coexistence and Conflict Resolution (COEX);  MBA and Global Health Policy and Management (MS); Public Policy and Social Impact MBA; the list goes on. So, why do students chose to spend even more time studying to pursue a dual degree? I cannot speak for all of my classmates and their rationale behind their choices, but I can speak for myself and my experience within the dual SID/MS universe and I will venture to do so today!

Full transparency – my experience is likely a little different as a result of doing my first entire year online. However, the content of courses remains largely the same, whether it’s held online or in person.

First, let’s breakdown how the SID and MS degree are dissimilar:

The SID degree is largely qualitative (hence it being a Masters of Arts), but should one desire to take more quantitative courses, there are a variety of options for electives that lean more quantitative. Elective-wise — the SID also has more space for building out specific interests within the program providing more flexibility. Requirements include gender and environmental courses, but allow you space to select from a bundle of options.

The MS degree, on the other hand, is much more quantitative in nature  (hence it being a Masters of Science). The MS program is only 9 months (if taken as a stand-alone program), so it has more requirements and less space for electives. However, it is meant to be a highly focused program, so although you have less flexibility on electives, you cover lots of important ground through the required courses.

Now, let’s compare the similarities between the SID and MS degrees:

Both the SID and MS program attract individuals who want to really make an impact on the world. Be it through strengthening a health system, environmental advocacy, quality hospital administration, or development practitioners streamlining processes for quality, you can be sure that your classmates are as driven for change as you. Additionally, these programs both create tight-knit communities that will likely remain connected well after graduation.

Lastly, I want to touch on how these programs complement each other:

As can likely be deduced from my previous observations of the differences each degree holds, coupling a Master of Arts with a Master of Science has created a really well-rounded look at the issues facing today. By marrying both qualitative and quantitative studies, I feel I am not only ready to look at a complex problem to think critically and creatively about a solution, but that I can also implement useful data tools to back my thoughts with evidence. Also, I am excited to further explore the intersection of health and development in the future, and these degrees will certainly prepare me well to do so.

It boils down to this: each degree— even as a stand-alone degree— will provide you with a wonderfully rich program. If you, like me, want to explore various avenues then consider adding a dual degree, as it will only enhance your learning and make you more marketable when you are searching for your next career!

If you want to speak with me more specifically about my experience with this dual degree program please do not hesitate to reach out anytime!

Matching Heller Classes to Skills

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As my own job search begins to get underway in earnest, I have been thinking more about my own skills and those that I have developed at Heller specifically. I’m also thinking about the skills demanded by employers, and the degree to which Heller coursework aligns with these. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way in which skills I’ve gained or strengthened at Heller translate to the requirements included in job listings, and I thought I would share a few examples to help make the utility of specific Heller courses seem a bit more concrete.

Skill/experience: experience with statistics and statistical packages such as STATA, SPSS, R, etc.

Countless job listings include some version of the above preferred qualification. In Heller’s statistics courses like “Data, Models and Decisions,” students learn how to construct regression models and run various statistical tests using STATA, one of the more commonly used stats software packages. Additional courses such as “Working with National Datasets” and “Evaluating Survey Data Using Stata” expand upon fundamental skills and introduce students to other software platforms such as SPSS.

Skill/experience: experience conducting qualitative research including surveys, focus groups, interviews

Many research-oriented jobs, as well as jobs in consulting, program management, or international development, will require some amount of qualitative data collection and analysis. Core courses in Heller degree programs, such as “Research Methods and Evaluation” in the MPP program, introduce best practices in qualitative research and enable students to practice designing study proposals. Many classes include experiential components in which students have the option to interview external stakeholders. One example is the Team Consulting Project, the MBA capstone project in which students typically conduct research to inform recommendations to a real world client organization.

Skill/experience: experience managing a budget and performing financial analysis

One of my primary motivations to add a dual MBA to my MPP course of study was wanting to take accounting and corporate finance courses. Even non-MBAs, however, will have the chance to take coursework in economics, cost-benefit analysis, and program management. In addition, students who choose to participate in the Heller Student Association or a Heller working group can gain experience managing an organizational budget. Many students will develop these skills in internships, as well. Not to mention having a crash course in personal finance during grad school!

Skill/experience: teamwork, leadership, project management

While these are skills that can be learned in many types of settings, even as someone who worked for years in very collaborative office environments, I found that my efficacy and communication abilities working in groups improved during graduate school. All degree programs will include at least some group projects, and these are a great way to strengthen teamwork, listening, and interpersonal skills. While these may be difficult to capture on a resume, the Heller degree itself conveys that you have experience working in a close-knit, collaborative environment.

As I prepare to re-enter the working world, I feel grateful for the varied practical skills I have learned at Heller. Visiting the Career Center here is a great way to figure out how to effectively communicate my strengths in resumes and cover letters. While learning for its own sake is important, and highly valued here, it’s great to know that Heller is preparing students to work in settings where we can take on challenging, real world issues.

You Ask, I Answer: How to Email the Admissions Office

I’m continuing the “You Ask, I Answer” series where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students (you can find a previous You Ask, I Answer: When Should I Start Graduate School? here). If you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

To be honest, this actually isn’t a question that I get from prospective students too often, but at graduate fairs, students often mention that although they have the desire to reach out to admissions contacts, they aren’t sure how, or feel awkward or nervous about contacting admissions personnel directly. Which I totally get! When you’re writing a message to someone in an admissions office, you should think of your email as serving multiple purposes. First and foremost, you’re trying to get an answer to a question you have, either about the program or the application process. That should be what the content of the email is focused on. But secondly, you’re also trying to make a good first impression on the people who will be involved in your application process. This doesn’t mean that you should re-iterate the highlights of your application to demonstrate why you’d be a good fit for the program, but it does mean that throughout your email, you should be making an effort to show that you’re interested in the program, you’ve done your research, and you’re a clear communicator. Let’s take a look at a (fictional) email from a prospective student and then talk about what the student could have done better:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu, AdmissionsContact2@college.edu, ProgramManager1@college.edu, DeanOfCollege1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: questions

Message:

hey ProgramManager3,

,my name is Fictional Student and i want to ask some questions about the mpp porgram ur school. i graduated 1st in my class in fictionalprogram at fictionalschool with a GPA of 3.76. since then, i worked at fictionalcompany for 4 yrs as a fictionaljobtitle, where i had fictionalresponsibilities. then i got a job at fictionalcompany2, where i works as a fictionaljobtitle2, which has the additional responsibilities of managing people. i also volunteer as a volunteerposition, and in my spare time i like to read and play music. but now i’m interested in advancing my education threw youre mpp program  bc i want to make a difference in the world. can u tell me when the deadline to apply to the program is??

thanks, Fictional Student”

You can probably tell that this email probably wouldn’t make the best first impression, but what could FictionalStudent have done better? First, they could have looked up the person in the admissions office that handles the program that they’re interested in and emailed that person (and only that person!). Sometimes students email multiple people in the hopes of getting an answer to their question, but it actually can backfire and create confusion among staff, even resulting in students not getting a reply because everyone on the email assumes that someone else will take care of the student’s question. Next problem? The tone is very informal, especially the text-speak. This doesn’t mean that you have to write in an overly formal way, but you should aim to write as a slightly more polished version of yourself, the same tone that you would use if you were emailing your boss or someone you have a job interview with. In addition to the too-casual tone, FictionalStudent also didn’t remember to proofread their email; a single typo isn’t going to ruin your chances of getting accepted to the program, but an email riddled with spelling and grammar errors definitely isn’t going to make the best impression.

Those are the more obvious errors, but I’d also add two more that may not be so obvious. First, the student is including information about themselves that isn’t relevant to their question and will most likely be repeated in their application. Think of it this way: your application is your opportunity to share more about yourself with the admissions committee, but when you’re emailing someone in admissions, that’s your opportunity for the school to share more about itself with you. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include any information about yourself (in fact, there are a lot of instances where you’ll need to include information about your background and interests), but try to keep the content of your message focused on the question you have and include only the information that’s relevant. Secondly, the student asked a question that can be very easily found on the website. I’m not saying that you have to make sure you scour a school’s webpage before you email someone in admissions, but things like deadlines and application requirements are almost always on a school’s website. Sending an email asking for something that’s featured prominently gives the impression that you haven’t taken the time or the effort to do your research. Let’s end with a corrected email that’s sure to make a good first impression:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: Questions about Submitting Test Scores

Message:

Dear AdmissionsContact,

I hope you’re doing well! I’m Fictional Student and I’m currently applying to the MPP program at your school. While reviewing admissions website, I saw that the GRE requirement is waived for students applying to the MPP program for the Fall 2022 semester. I have already taken the GRE, and I’m considering whether or not to submit test scores as a part of my application. Would you be able to tell me how the GRE is used when evaluating a students application, or what the average scores are for successful applicants? Any guidance you could provide would be very appreciated.

Thank you, Fictional Student”

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation)

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Dear future Ronunique,

The time has final come! It is May 2023 and you were able to complete not one, but two degrees during a global pandemic. Cheers to that! Even when everyone thought you were crazy for going into a Master’s program 3 months after graduating from undergrad, you were able to overcome and prove them wrong. Another exciting part is that not only have you gotten your Master of Public Policy, but your first best-friend, Mom, is graduating at the same time with her bachelor’s degree. Please hold the tears for after the ceremonies.

You made it this far, and I know it was not easy. The readings, the group work, and the e-board meetings all seemed to be happening so fast but you were able to stick to it no matter the circumstances. If no one else ever tells you, I am more than proud and 13-year-old Ronunique thinks you are very cool! What is to come next? You have gained all this incredible knowledge on how to compact social inequities, where do you go from here? I hope that you stuck with your dream of creating an initiative that will educate formerly incarcerated individuals in California on why voting matters, how to register to vote, and making sure that their votes are counted! Do you plan to go back home to the Bay Area to assist your community in the fight to end violence? Have you taken your gems elsewhere to another community in need? Are you helping the fight for access to adequate government programs? Are you doing non-profit work or working as a program manager for a government sector? Whatever you decided to do, I know you made the right decision and that you are going to do it well.

Remember your favorite quote by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it.  Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” I know you are showing up to every space alive and giving the people what they want and need. You have been more than a representation but an inspiration to others who come after you.  Do not forget to always be your best yourself in every situation. You have always been more than enough. I know you have not only impacted your own life, but others as well, which has and will always be your number one purpose in life. You were adaptable, strong, and resilient. I can not wait to see where and what you do in this next chapter. The price was high but the reward was greater.

Until then best wishes,

Ronunique

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