Author: douglasnevins (page 1 of 2)

Doug’s New Year’s Resolutions

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

While I’m wary at this point of setting New Year’s resolutions, and try not to make any that are too unrealistic (case in point: I actually CANCELLED my Planet Fitness membership last week), I’m tempted each January to set some goals or develop a new hobby or discipline. This year I am aspiring to read more for pleasure, and hoping that the January break gives me time to get a head start of sorts.

The impossibility of reading for pleasure, given the voluminous quantity of reading assignments for class, is a bit of a running joke in graduate school. Still, I’ve found that during the pandemic period I’ve turned increasingly to movies and TV for entertainment, and while these have their virtues I am looking to integrate some novel and short story reading into my routine (plus, I am running out of things to watch!) As a former English major, I have always enjoyed fiction and poetry, but increasingly my reading habits have turned to non-fiction. I devour news and articles about current events, but these do not offer nearly the same enjoyment as a great book.

So, I thought I’d share a few of the titles I have on my shelf at the moment.

3 by Vonnegut – as advertised, this collection includes three Kurt Vonnegut novels – Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. While I read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school, I’m not sure I fully appreciated it, and as many friends have recommended Vonnegut to me I think it’s time to delve more deeply into his work.

Ripley novels – another collection, this one including the first three novels in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series. I read the excellent The Talented Mr. Ripley a long time ago (the movie is good too!) but have not followed up with subsequent titles. I think I also am missing being able to travel, so novels involving holidays in Paris and Tuscany (even when the protagonist is as evil as Ripley) are an attractive alternative.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – this one is actually not yet on my shelf, but I am planning to take it out from my local library, currently offering contactless pick-ups. While I love the fairly recent film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I have never read any John le Carre, and given his recent passing, it seems like the time to get started. His first novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, is reputed to be a good place to start.

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead’s alternate history novel, in which the titular railroad is a literal rail network, has been on my shelf for a while and seems like a timely read.

While there’s no guarantee how much time I’ll have once classes begin, I’m resolving (publicly!) to make an effort to read these novels and others this year. I’d welcome any recommendations! Happy reading.

 

FINALS!: It’s Crunch Time for Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As another semester draws to a close, Heller students find ourselves in the midst of another finals period. Returning from Thanksgiving break to a marathon session of exams and other assignments is a bit of a rude awakening, but luckily the end is in sight!

In my first year as an MPP student, my midterms and finals mostly consisted of research-based papers and policy briefs. Getting back into the swing of academic research and writing was a challenge after years of being out of school, but ultimately I felt like I was reviving skills I had used frequently in college. Having been an English major, I wrote a lot of essays in college! Exams, not so much. Now, as a first-year MBA dual degree student, I have found myself confronting both papers and exams, both take home and “in-person” (over Zoom). This is a new challenge entirely and has required me to rediscover study skills long neglected since high school. Flashcards? Check. Moments of frustration about a persistently confusing concept? Check.

The best thing about studying for exams at Heller is that everyone is in the same boat and that studying need not be a solitary activity. As much as I have sometimes found that the most productive use of time is to rewatch lecture videos, review textbooks, and drill accounting and econ problems on my own, in general, I have found it even more beneficial to hop on Zoom with a friend or two and go over course content together. This would be my number one recommendation for future Heller students. No matter how well you think you understand a concept, you’ll feel more confident once you’re able to explain it to someone else. I often find that when I study with friends, our collective intelligence (I recommend the Leadership and Organizational Behavior course if you’re interested in this concept!) far exceeds our individual knowledge of the material.

This same principle holds true for writing papers. Part of the appeal of studying public policy for me was the prospect of discussing topics with curious, knowledgeable, and critical peers. This has definitely been the case at Heller, where I know that my MPP classmates will offer insightful comments and feedback on my ideas for research papers and projects. I’m actually looking forward to the last few assignments I have, once I’ve completed my more quantitative finals because I’ll have the opportunity to dig into a policy area of interest.

The finals period is no picnic, but the supportive culture at Heller makes it manageable. Faculty care about our learning and growth, and assignments are intended not to trip us up but to help us confirm that we understand course concepts and can apply them. As weird as it is to be taking exams again, I know this process will help me feel more confident upon leaving Heller that I’ve gained new knowledge and skills. Plus, we have a long, well-earned winter break at the end of the finals period! Good luck to my fellow students – we’re in the home stretch!

Interview Tips from One of Our Interviewers

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

In my role as a Heller Admissions Grad Assistant, I have had the pleasure of conducting interviews for the MPP and MBA programs. As these are my degree programs here at Heller, I love talking to prospective students about their backgrounds and reasons for considering these degrees. I enjoy interviewing people – I always found it interesting to take part in interviews of job candidates while I was working full time, and in my prior career as a college admissions counselor I conducted many interviews with high school students applying to college. Interviewing Heller applicants is a new experience, since our prospective students have substantial academic and professional experience, but are also often looking to pivot industries or learn new skills.

While I am by no means an expert, I thought that for this week’s blog post I would try to come up with a list of tips for folks considering an interview with Heller.

In no particular order….

Be yourself!

This probably goes without saying, but it helps neither you nor us to present an inauthentic version of yourself in the interview. Heller students come from many backgrounds and have varying levels of real-world experience with policy and management – and that’s ok! We want to know what experience you DO have, and how it has inspired your interests and relates to your graduate school goals.

THAT SAID….

Don’t be afraid to brag!

It’s helpful for us to know what you have accomplished and what you’re proud of so far in your academic and professional career. It’s totally fine to talk a bit about your achievements in the interview. I usually begin by asking interviewees to “tell me a little about yourself,” and end by asking if the applicant has questions OR anything else they want to share. Hopefully, these moments provide a chance for people to share some points of pride.

AT THE SAME TIME…

Be prepared to talk about challenges you’ve encountered.

It’s common in job and grad school interviews to be asked about both your strengths and weaknesses, or successes and failures. It’s a great idea to spend a moment reflecting on how you would answer these questions. Discussing a challenge you’ve encountered or an area in which you’d like to improve is a great opportunity to give us a sense of how you’ve grown and changed, and of how graduate school can help you to continue leveling up your skills.

Think of a couple questions to ask.

It’s always a good idea to have a couple questions in mind to ask your interviewer. For one thing, that’s what we’re here for, and we’re sure you have questions! In addition, this can really demonstrate that you’ve done some research about our programs and are at the point where you have specific questions that aren’t as easily found on the website.

The interview is informal, but professional.

Our interviews are not meant to be intimidating or overly formal. I try to conduct my interviews as a conversation as much as possible. And I will certainly not be wearing a tie. That said, it’s best to try to find a quiet place to do your interview, and be sure you’re ready to get started on time.

LASTLY…

Have fun!

Again, we hope that the interview is a fairly relaxed experience that enables you to learn as much about Heller as we learn about you. Getting a sense of “fit” when looking at grad schools is important, and we hope that the interview is an opportunity to do that, while hopefully enjoying the experience! I hope these tips are helpful for any prospective students reading, and I look forward to interviewing some of you in the future!

Election Week Fretting

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

By the time this blog post is published, we will (likely) know the outcome of the US presidential election (editor’s note: still waiting!). For political buffs like me, and of course for the millions or billions of people who will be directly impacted by the electoral outcome, this has been an anxiety-inducing few months! At Heller, we learn how to use data effectively, but also are taught to be skeptical of how data is presented and aware of the potential for error. This is a lesson that many people took to heart after polls failed to predict the stunning outcome of the 2016 election. Our inability to fully trust the information we have about how people will vote only increases our uncertainty.

However, I want to write this post not about the election itself, but about the experience of being a part of the Heller community throughout the primaries and general election. Being a part of an MPP cohort and a student body full of knowledgeable, thoughtful, and politically engaged individuals made following this election a unique and unexpectedly rewarding experience. My classmates and professors pushed me to be more self-critical about my own political preferences and assumptions and consider substantive policy differences between candidates rather than simply following the horserace. Through conversations during class, brown-bag lunches with faculty, lectures, and other events, we had the chance to analyze the election and candidates in the context of political theory and history. For someone like me, who tends to favor big, universal policy interventions rather than targeted, means-tested ones, I was challenged to think through the logistics of major policy change and consider the costs and benefits involved.

Being part of the MPP cohort has made a somewhat stressful election cycle fun, at least some of the time. During the Democratic primary debates last fall, the MPP student association reserved lecture halls and bought snacks to host watch parties for anyone in the Heller community. Discussions about the candidates’ performances and platforms began on car rides home from campus after the debates and continued the next morning when everyone gathered in the Zinner Forum before class. As Heller shifted to remote instruction, political discussions continued through text threads and Zoom happy hours, as well as periodic “tea with the director” cohort meetings on Zoom. Faculty like Professor Bob Kuttner set aside time at the beginning of each class to discuss the race in the context of the pandemic and economic crisis. While of course the stakes of this election are far from academic or theoretical, the policy disagreements revealed during the primary and general election provide rich material for analysis in public policy classes. I feel supported intellectually and personally by my Heller peers during a difficult political period for our country, and I know that the outcome of this election, whatever it may be, will only inspire Heller students to re-commit to using their knowledge and policy skills to advance social justice and equity.

Virtual Internships During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

A key feature of the MPP program at Heller is a summer internship between the first and second year. This was one of the selling points for me – the chance to take on a totally new professional challenge and learn in a hands-on way as a complement to my coursework. As Heller has strong connections with non-profit organizations, think tanks, government agencies, and research centers, I was excited by the prospect of finding an engaging summer opportunity.

The career center at Heller plans lots of great events to help students connect with alumni, organizations offering jobs or internships, and fellowship programs. I attended many such info sessions last fall, and in the spring I visited Washington, DC and New York City for Heller career treks. I was hoping to spend the summer in one of these cities, and I applied mostly to non-profit advocacy and research organizations.

As fate would have it, my summer looked very different than that. I had not pinned down an internship plan when the semester ended, and many internship programs had been canceled or moved online. It was challenging for many Heller students to transition to remote classes in the spring and to feel like we might miss out on opportunities we expected to have over the summer.

That said, remote internships were still an option, and I was lucky enough to be connected with a Heller alum in a city workforce development office through the help of one of my professors. I’ve been working part-time since July on a project looking at the transition of adult workforce training programs to remote service, a project which involves interviewing program staff, researching the sector overall, and assisting with presentations and reports to stakeholders. This has been an excellent opportunity to practice skills that I learned in Heller classes, such as conducting a literature review, editing an interview guide, and coding interview transcripts. I’ve become more knowledgeable and passionate, about workforce education, particularly around issues of inclusion and access. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated underlying inequities in resources and access to services, and it feels meaningful to work on immediate policy challenges at the local level. I’ve definitely developed a greater interest in city-level government and policy, and have a much better feel for the policy and non-profit spaces in the Boston area than I did previously.

As challenging as graduate school during COVID can be, working on policy issues where they directly impact people and communities was exactly what I hoped to do when I applied to Heller. I am grateful to the MPP program and to my internship host agency for supporting me, and I hope that my work will make a real difference!

 

 

 

 

New Semester, New Challenges

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

With the semester in full swing, I’ve had some time to get used to some new types of classes that I am taking this fall. In the first year of the MPP program, most of my coursework involved extensive reading, writing, and qualitative data analysis, but not as much quantitative content (with the exception of a full year of statistics, which I really enjoyed!). Now that I have enrolled in the MBA program as well, I have embarked on a sequence of accounting and finance classes, beginning with Financial Reporting and Analysis this semester, as well as taking Economics of Social Policy. It is strange to suddenly have problem sets on a weekly basis for two classes, and to have quizzes and midterm exams. I believe the last time I took a formal, closed-note exam was about a decade ago! Intimidating as it may be to memorize the formatting and rules of various kinds of financial statements, learn how to complete adjusted journal entries, and reacquaint myself to the discipline of studying for quizzes and midterms, I am really pleased to be delving into this subject matter. As I hope to work on policy related to labor and workforce development, I hope that developing a stronger foundation in finance and economics will prepare me to better understand corporate behavior, the job market, and macroeconomic policies that impact wages and employment.

It’s also great to balance writing- and reading-intensive classes with quantitative ones – it adds variety to assignments and helps with exercising different intellectual muscles. That said, at Heller the coursework is interdisciplinary, and many classes involve multiple types of thinking, both qualitative and quantitative. One example is a program evaluation course that I am taking this fall. The assignments require us to simulate the work of a consultant or program evaluator working with a non-profit organization. I found myself getting really excited about a data visualization assignment for this class (I think my Excel skills developed more in one Sunday afternoon than in several years working in an office!). While I chose Heller in part due to the MPP program’s emphasis on writing, research, and organizational skills (rather than being primarily focused on quantitative analysis and economics, as some policy programs are), I now find myself craving further opportunities to hone my data analysis skills. I am taking an introductory Geographic Information Systems course during the second half of this semester, and am considering enrolling in a big data course at Brandeis’ International Business School this spring. It’s great to know that opportunities are available at Heller, and at Brandeis, to challenge yourself and try new things. While I’m not necessarily thrilled about having midterm and final exams rather than papers, I’m glad to have dusted off my calculator and delved into the world of accounting, economics, and data analysis this semester.

Welcome Back: Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Back to school!

After a strange and unprecedented summer (which nonetheless seems to have flown by), I am back to school at Heller this fall for my second MPP year, and first MBA year. In keeping with a slightly corny family tradition of first day of school photos, I took a selfie on my front porch, laptop in hand, to mark the first day of classes. After having a few months to get used to Zoom meetings and remote work, transitioning back into virtual classes felt more natural than I expected. I’m excited to be back “at Heller” and delving into new subject matter.

I’ve found that it’s important to create routines and structure that better approximate the feeling of being in school full-time under normal circumstances. To that end, I’ve been setting my alarm to a bit earlier in the morning, trying to be a few minutes early to every class, and connecting with classmates on Zoom or in person, outside, for study sessions. Having a support system of fellow students to collaborate with outside of class has been invaluable, and it’s been great to reconnect with other MPP students whom I didn’t see this summer, and to meet my new MBA cohort. I’ve also found that continuing to work part-time, including at the MPP internship which I started this summer, gives my week some added structure and variety.

Doing a dual degree program at Heller can be intense. I’m currently taking 5 classes and have already had one major assignment due. That said, I’ve already learned A LOT this semester (I can balance a balance sheet, I think?) and am really enjoying being back in the classroom, virtual though it may be. The way that different classes, and degree programs, reinforce one another at Heller makes the whole experience that much more engaging and immersive.

As unorthodox as this “back to school” season has been, I’m so grateful to be at Heller and to be a part of this community.

Socializing while Socially Distancing: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

The thing I miss most about being in-person at Heller is the spontaneous interaction with fellow students, faculty, and staff that happens in the halls, Zinner forum, and at the front desk of Heller Admissions when people say hello to me during my shift. As much as I’ve missed having opportunities to grab coffee with friends at the Heller Starbucks, discuss assignments after class, or chat with my fellow Somerville residents on the commuter rail, it’s been great to keep in touch with people via virtual and socially distanced hangouts.

The MPP program faculty have been sure to plan opportunities to meet as a cohort and talk about how our summers are going. We periodically have “tea” with the director, Mike Doonan, over Zoom, and check-in with smaller groups by concentration. As MPP students, we’ve arranged a Zoom happy hour each week and have been able to meet many of the incoming students virtually, while I’ve also been able to take part in trivia and other virtual ice breakers with the incoming MBA cohort. I recently had a chance to discuss my summer internship, and hear about other students’, during a Zoom meeting with faculty and career services staff. It was great to hear what amazing projects people have been involved with despite the challenge of remote work.

I’ve also attended Zoom birthday parties with friends from Heller, watched humorously bad movies and Tiger King, and met up with classmates in Somerville and Waltham parks as the weather has gotten warmer (with six feet between us). I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much my MPP cohort has kept in touch, and I’m excited to begin a new academic year virtually knowing that the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of Heller endures.

Deciding on a Dual Degree: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I came to Heller as an MPP student, intending to focus my studies on research, quantitative analysis, and policy communication. Having worked for years in higher education, I was interested in how universities and other non-profit organizations make strategic and financial decisions, but as a policy student with an interest in economic inequality, I admittedly was a bit skeptical of corporate America and the financial system. For that reason, I was unsure if an MBA could ever be a good fit for me.

However, after beginning my MPP courses at Heller, I met numerous MBA and dual MBA/MPP students who shared my passion for social change and economic equity. As I gained a greater understanding of the different types of organizations engaged in policy work and social advocacy, including nonprofits, foundations, and public agencies, I became increasingly curious about how they work in a strategic and operational sense. I also became interested in gaining a deeper understanding of finance and corporate structures, topics that many policy researchers who are concerned with inequality and labor issues need to understand. It became increasingly clear that the Heller MBA coursework would enable me to greatly expand my skill set and give me a chance to focus on leadership, consensus-building, and operational thinking.

To be sure that the MBA was the right fit, I enrolled in “Strategic Management,” taught by Prof. Carole Carlson, this past spring. The course was taught in an accelerated format and met for 4.5 hours once a week. However, I was pleased to find that the time flew by. The class was heavily discussion-based and required us to think on our feet and speak extemporaneously about complex cases involving business and organizational strategy. I found that over the course of the semester I became more confident speaking up in class and better able to analyze business plans and management decisions, areas in which I had limited prior experience. My classmates brought perspectives strongly influenced by values of social justice and equity, and drew upon their work experience in diverse settings including education, healthcare, and international organizations like the UN. This experience convinced me to apply to the Social Impact MBA, and I am excited to begin the program in earnest this fall.

Completing the summer quantitative pre-course has been challenging at times, and it’s a bit daunting to think about taking accounting and finance courses, subjects that are entirely new to me. Still, I’m looking forward to focusing more on quantitative skills this fall, and I’m excited about opportunities like the Team Consulting Project next summer. I really appreciate the breadth of opportunities at Heller, and the opportunity to complete a second degree in such a short amount of time.

Heller Reading List: Doug Nevins Shares His Favorite Readings

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

For this week’s blog post, I’ll be reflecting on a few interesting readings which were assigned in my MPP courses this past year. Before starting my program,  I actually missed having assigned readings and the opportunity to discuss them in a class setting. Heller has more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the rigor and relevance of assigned readings.

Summer reading: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander Cover of The New Jim Crow

MPP students typically read this book over the summer and discuss it with their cohort during orientation. While I had been familiar with some of Alexander’s findings and arguments, I had never read the complete book until last summer (I regret not doing so sooner). It is truly a remarkable, troubling, and eye-opening book. The book documents how mass incarceration functions as the newest form of racist, structural oppression in a long history of oppressive systems in the United States. Alexander is particularly adept at tracing the judicial history that has codified our racist policing and carceral systems and insulated them from legal challenges. I think The New Jim Crow is essential reading (for policy students and for pretty much anyone), particularly in our current moment.

Fall and spring semester: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gøsta Esping-Andersen

Cover of the Three Worlds of Welfare CapitalismI know – it probably sounds a bit dry! However, reading selections from this book in two courses at Heller really influenced my thinking about history and comparative political economy. If you’ve heard Bernie Sanders talk about the virtues of Danish health care and social welfare, but wondered what historical factors actually influenced the differences between US and European social policy, this book provides an excellent introduction. It served as excellent fodder for classroom debates about how fixed and permanent the differences between the three welfare state models identified by Esping-Andersen actually are, and about what lessons we might draw from non-US contexts about ways to improve our own system.

Fall semester: Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven GreenhouseCover of Beaten Down, Worked Up

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am very interested in labor history and policy, and thoroughly enjoyed the elective which I took on this subject in Fall 2019. This book provided an excellent and very readable historical overview of several key periods in US labor history, from early victories by garment workers’ unions in NYC, to the conflicts between public-sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, to cutting edge organizing efforts led by gig economy workers. Greenhouse is a former NY Times labor reporter, and his style is both informative and fun to read. Prof. Bob Kuttner invited Greenhouse to visit our class and discuss labor history past and present. This was a great opportunity to hear stories about labor organizing and to learn a bit more about the process of reporting on unions worker-led organizations.

I’ve really appreciated the balance of different types of assigned readings at Heller, which has included accessible non-fiction works, journalistic and historical accounts, political and sociological theory, and policy and research reports. I hope these three examples provide some insight into the value of the readings assigned in the MPP curriculum. I know I’m looking forward to this coming year’s assignments as well!

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