Category: Student Life (page 1 of 6)

Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After attending a really interesting library workshop this afternoon, I realized that for this week’s blog I’d like to give a shout out to the Brandeis library, especially since tomorrow (April 16th) is National Librarian Day. The library is an incredible resource for Brandeis students, and despite having not set foot in the building itself in over a year I still take advantage of their services on a weekly basis. And, after a year of studying at home without a change in scenery, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of library study spaces next semester!

Here are some of my favorite features of the Brandeis library:

Research resources (virtual and physical)

The library has amazing resources for conducting research using primary and secondary sources. Innumerable databases and archival resources are available, as are physical primary source documents such as those held as part of Brandeis’ US government publication depository. These really come in handy if you need to find specific legislation or review the Congressional Record, as may be needed to write papers for MPP and other courses at Heller. In my experience, Brandeis has an excellent selection of books regarding 20th century US social and political history – while writing several papers in my first year, such as one on the role of left-wing organizers in the early US labor movement, I found lots of additional sources just by wandering the stacks near a book whose call number I’d found online.

…not to mention research librarians!

Two research librarians are available to assist Heller students with research, while data science librarians and other professional staff can assist with specific research needs and technology tools. An hour meeting with a research librarian will be more productive in terms of finding resources and refining a thesis than many hours spent spinning your wheels alone (speaking from experience). Heller-specific resources are available here.

Periodicals and software

In addition to academic research databases, Brandeis students have access to lots of archival newspaper records as well as free access to some current newspapers and periodicals like the New York Times. Additionally, lots of free or discounted software is available – for example, STATA, which is used in statistics courses at Heller, and ArcMap, used in Heller’s GIS mapping electives. It’s great to have a chance to learn these tools, for free, during grad school. Plus, we get a free LinkedIn Learning subscription, which is a great resource for learning how to use data science software or strengthen other technical and professional skills.

Workshops

In addition to LinkedIn Learning, the library itself offers countless workshops on a wide variety of topics. I’ve set a personal goal of doing as many qualitative and quantitative data–focused workshops as I can this semester. In just the past few weeks there have been workshops about qualitative data coding in Atlas.TI (great if you are doing interview-based research), basic and advanced Excel skills, and text mining using R.

Study spaces

As I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking forward to studying on campus again. The library has some beautiful spaces, some featuring tall windows and natural light, some nestled underground by the stacks for when you really need to hunker down. There are standing and treadmill desks, large tables for group work, comfy chairs, and computer clusters. There’s also a Starbucks location – critical!

This barely scratches the surface of what is available through the library – there’s also the Writing Center, Sound and Image Media Studios, the MakerLab, and University Archives. Brandeis is a major research university that manages to feel like a small college, and the library, with its vast yet approachable resources, really reflects that. The library should be one of your first stops if you visit Brandeis – having fun is guaranteed.

Scuba Diving and Grad School: What’s the Difference? Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about  (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.

First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other.  But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.

At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it.  At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?

Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.

If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students (Part II)

Now that we’ve gotten all of the logistical stuff out of the way in I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students, let’s talk about the experience of coming to the United States for graduate school. I’m not an international student myself, but I previously worked in an International Students and Scholar’s Office, so I’ve heard first hand some of the problems that international students run into and have some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Plan for homesickness. This isn’t limited to international students, of course (a lot of your classmates will be moving to the area from other states or cities), but it can be especially difficult when you’re moving from another country. It’s totally normal and natural to occasionally feel lonely or uncomfortable while you make this transition, but there are definitely things that you can do to combat it. You’ll want to strike a balance between old and new; maintaining your connections to your friends and family back home, while also establishing new bonds with your classmates and faculty. To maintain those connections, I would suggest: bringing a lot of photos of friends and family to decorate your new home, find a local restaurant that serves your favorite food or drink from back home, set a recurring skype or zoom date with someone back home once a week, maintain some of your old habits (if you always went for a jog before work, or had a cup of tea once you came home, keep doing that!). To establish new bonds, participate in a mentorship program, join a club or study group, participate in cultural events in your new city, and open yourself up to new experiences.

Prepare for academic culture shock. Many students make the mistake of thinking that because they’re familiar with American popular culture, they won’t experience culture shock. But even if you’ve grown up watching Friends, there will probably likely be many moments during your new life where American culture will seem strange, and particularly norms surrounding American educational systems. Especially in graduate school classes, professors expect students to participate by asking questions and offering their own thoughts, and many of your classes may even be discussion-based, rather than lecture style. Another difficulty that many international students run into is unintentional plagiarism; it’s essential that students learn to quote and cite other sources honestly and accurately, in the way that their professors expect.  Academic work in the United States depends on making absolutely clear which ideas and language are your own, and which come from someone else; if the lines get blurred, the credibility of your work is undermined. Luckily, the library at your school most likely offers a workshop or resources for avoiding plagiarism; I would recommend looking into those as soon as possible.

Identify support systems. Speaking from someone in the admissions office, I can attest that the goal of everyone at your university is making sure that students succeed. That starts with admissions, making sure that incoming students have all the advice to make the right decision for them and have all the information they need to ensure their transition to campus is smooth. As a student, you’ll find that in addition to your professors, the Office of International Students, the library, the Health Center, and your program’s administrators are all eager to help you succeed. Don’t wait until you’re in over your head to reach out to ask for help: that’s what we’re here for! I can’t tell you how many times, as an international student advisor, I wished that a student had reached out for help even a week or two before. And remember, life happens and it can be messy. Though I certainly hope your journey is a smooth one, if a major life event happens to you while in school, please please please let the people around you know as soon as possible.

Remember that deciding to attend graduate school abroad is a big step, and will likely not be without its challenges. However, adopting the mindset that challenges are an opportunity for growth (rather than proof of inadequacy) will take you a long way. You likely have a clear reason for why you’ve chosen to make this major change, whether it’s to experience a new culture, broaden your career opportunities, achieve a new level of academic excellence: whatever your reason is, keep that in the front of your mind as you navigate through your new adventure.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Dear Future Hannah,

Here we are – May 2022, I have just submitted my last assignment and am ready to receive my diplomas! What a crazy two years this has been. To think it all began in the midst of a global pandemic. An entire year [at least] completed online while completing my Masters of Arts in Sustainable International Development. The second year [hopefully] completed mostly in person while completing my Masters of Science in Global Health Policy and Management. I did it. I now have two masters and a well-packed tool kit of new skills and knowledge to take with me as I enter the field.  All in all a good year!

My resume looks great, I am feeling confident, and now I can take some time to reflect on my experience at Heller. First of all, the connections I have made – even virtually, have been wonderful. I have met some of the most incredibly talented individuals during my time who have inspired me in every way; fellow students, professors and staff alike have deeply enriched my time at Heller and my life at large. I have also gained valuable quantitative skills to take into the field; from cost-benefit analysis to international health financing, I am feeling much more confident dealing with data. I also have a number of completed projects that will serve as competency checks for future jobs. This includes a full survey designed, a monitoring and evaluation project, even a corporate sponsorship plan for an NGO (just to name a few). Wow – I am ready!

So, what’s next? Well, I hope I have a job pinned down upon graduating, but I know how tough it can be to land the right job at the right time so I am not averse to a little patience. Will I be working with a faith-based NGO? For the government? Within the United States, Canada, or maybe even Brazil? The possibilities are exciting, but scary. I know that at this point I have more direction, but I wish I could tell my past self that it will all work out because she is freaking out a little. I wish I knew exactly which career path I was headed down. Not only for peace of mind but also to ensure I am taking classes that tailor well to that. However, the beauty of my degrees from Heller is that I am gaining information across a wide landscape of topics. This will make me versatile in the job market and flexible within my career.

Okay, now that we are here at graduation, here are some things I hope I can say as I finish this two year journey:

  • I made it through while making the best of my situation (Covid really changed everyone’s plans, but I hope I didn’t just “get through it” but that I made the most of it).
  • I created some long-lasting relationships with those at Heller who I can always lean on in the future, and who can lean on me.
  • I took advantage of opportunities for various forms of growth while at Heller.
  • I applied myself and did the best work I possibly could throughout my courses.
  • I left an impact on Heller, and it left an impact on me.
  • This investment was totally worth it, and I would not have changed a thing… okay maybe the whole global pandemic thing! But besides that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Navigating Challenges in Graduate School with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Life can be interrupted when you least expect it. So what happens when grad school gets interrupted? Life events don’t pause, and life doesn’t seem to care that you’re a busy grad student. Whether you’re dealing with an illness or injury, the loss of a family member, or even a bad breakup, how can you make grad school manageable while dealing with other difficult life events?

I have recent personal experience with this. I had an accident which resulted in my tailbone breaking (ouch!). Winter in Waltham can be tough sometimes, and I fell after slipping on a patch of ice on one particularly chilly evening. In a split second, I was in a great deal of pain and discomfort. Shortly after, my graduate student fears began to creep in when I realized school would now be even more difficult.

I had to spend most of my time laying down, making it almost impossible to get any of my work finished. I could hardly sit through a 3-hour class or even a 1-hour meeting for a group project. I felt worried that maybe this injury would delay my upcoming graduation from Heller.

So, what would I recommend doing when life rudely interrupts your plans? In my case, I felt it was important to be as proactive as possible. I quickly contacted Sandy Jones, the Executive Director of Heller’s Global Programs. She is an incredible resource here at Heller, and she is eager to offer support to students. She was able to contact all of my professors to let them know I may need extra time completing assignments over the coming weeks. It is so important to have someone to advocate for you when you truly need it!

At Heller, I feel very lucky to have professors, staff, and fellow students who are understanding and patient when something inconvenient arises. Of course, I do still have that typical “grad student guilt” when I put myself and my health above my responsibilities as a student. Luckily, my friends and classmates remind me that self-care is a priority, and my professors have been so understanding when I can’t attend class or submit an assignment on time.

Life happens! And you never really know when an illness, injury, or personal tragedy might strike. It’s been comforting to know that at Heller, you’ll find a community of helpful and understanding people to help you through. Don’t feel shy to share with your classmates either! No one at Heller is here to make negative judgments about you, your choices, or your needs. It’s great to know that Heller is a tight-knit community of people who will be there for you when you need it most.

Balancing the School-Work Lifestyle with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

You’ve been accepted to graduate school, congratulations! You’re feeling both accomplished and relieved that you’ve passed that first hurdle. But the next hurdle is far more intimidating: how are you going to pay for it? This question forces many of us, myself included, to balance a job (or two) with the demands of graduate school. Is it possible to work and still succeed in graduate school? Yes, absolutely. Can it drive you slightly mad? Yes… absolutely.

If you’re attending Heller, you were probably offered a partial or full merit-based scholarship; most Heller students receive a merit scholarship, and many receive up to 100%. This financial aid is incredible—and one of the many reasons to attend Heller—but it can’t cover all the costs of grad school. So what do you do?

Many students will take out loans to cover the rest of the costs. Other students will utilize savings or generational wealth. Yet for some of us, like myself, these aren’t feasible options. As you will learn when you come to Heller and take courses like Assets and Social Policy, many of us don’t have the privilege (and I use that word purposefully) of those options. Supplemental scholarships may cover the remaining tuition, but this can still leave students unable to manage the cost of living. The solution: maintain a job while in grad school.

For example, I’m a first-year MPP student and I do pretty well in all of my classes. I also currently work two part-time jobs. Would I recommend this lifestyle to anyone? Absolutely not. Do I have much of a choice in it? Not really. I need this income to pay my rent and maintain a meager savings. Managing two part-time jobs or one full-time job during grad school can be overwhelming. So for those of you that will join me in these trenches this Fall, here’s my advice:


  1. Get organized.

Get a planner, start using a calendar, and write every assignment and due date down. I truly cannot recommend this enough. It’s saved me numerous times from missing deadlines or forgetting readings, and has generally helped me use my time wisely.

  1. Find your crew and work as a team.

You won’t be the only student in your program feeling stretched too thin. Find the people in your class who also feel overwhelmed by the workload and create a study group. You could share notes, review papers, or divide up readings. This will help you put your best foot forward in class.

  1. Know that there are generations of Heller students fighting for you.

You’re not the first student to balance this lifestyle, and you won’t be the last. Know that many of us here are fighting to make your experience easier. We’re advocating for flexible deadlines, reduced required readings, and pathways for support for students like you. We may not accomplish everything before you get here, but we see you, and we’re here for you.

  1. Know when to take a step back.

You may think, “Hey, I have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyoncé, I can manage this!” Do not fall into this trap. You do not have a personal chef, chauffeur, trainer, and assistant(s) like Beyoncé. Your 24 hours are not the same. I say this to remind you to give yourself a break when life feels overwhelming! Remember that you don’t have to do this all on your own, and your professors will understand if you need extensions or support. Balancing school and work isn’t easy, but it can be done. But when it all feels like it’s too much, give yourself the space to take a step back and let something go.

“The New Normal”: Things Doug Nevins is Excited About Reopening in Boston

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As vaccination rates increase and a return to something approaching normalcy feels attainable, I’ve been reflecting more about the things I’ve missed the most during the pandemic and am most excited to do again. I thought this would also be an opportunity to highlight some fun activities in the Boston area which prospective and admitted students might find interesting. While I hope that political and business leaders take a cautious, public health-focused approach to reopening, I also hope that the local institutions I love are able to come back strong in the coming months. So, presented here are the things I am most looking forward to reopening.

Movie theaters

One of my favorite things about the greater Boston area is the high density of independent cinemas showing both first run and classic or cult movies. Unlike some of the bigger chains, most of these have remained closed for almost a year. While quarantining has created ample opportunity to catch up on Netflix and the like, I really miss the communal experience of watching a classic movie (or humorously bad cult movie) in a theater – not to mention the popcorn. My favorite cinemas, the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square and the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, host screenings of classic and contemporary independent movies, as well as book talks, concerts, and other events. The Brattle in particular holds some nostalgic value for me – I can still remember attending their annual Bugs Bunny film festival as a kid, as well as numerous matinees and late-night screenings in college and since. I honestly can’t wait to go the movies again!

Live music venues

The Boston area is not lacking in great options for seeing live music, but this has also been steeply curtailed during the pandemic. Fortunately, many independent artists have found creative ways to perform online, and I feel like I’ve discovered more new music in the past year than for several years prior! Still, nothing beats local, live music, or the opportunity to see a nationally touring act live. I’m particularly looking forward to going to shows again at places like Toad, a tiny bar venue in Porter Square near the commuter rail station from which I commuted to Brandeis; the Burren, an Irish pub in Davis square which hosts informal Irish folk sessions and Beatles brunches; and the Sinclair, a Harvard Square complex where I’ve seen performances by some of my favorite indie rock and hip-hop groups.

Gyms

Ok, so gyms are technically open in some cities, but I have not been for a while. We’ll just say it’s because of Covid. But, now that more cities in Massachusetts are opening gyms, and given that the Brandeis gym is open with all appropriate safety measures taken, I’m hoping to get back into the habit. Having access to a gym is a great perk of grad school, and one I plan to take more advantage of in the coming year.

Outdoor seating

It is somewhat cold in Massachusetts in the winter, I’m afraid. However, it’s beginning to feel like spring! This past summer lots of restaurants and bars in the area created extensive outdoor seating, helped in part by street parking, and sometimes entire streets, being converted to seating and pedestrian-only areas (Moody Street in downtown Waltham, for instance). I’m hopeful that this trend towards greater walkability and shared outdoor space continues post-pandemic, and I’m definitely looking forward to it this summer.

I know the pandemic has been difficult for everyone in different ways, and that feeling able to engage in some of the activities mentioned above is a privilege. Still, I hope everyone reading can stay connected to their communities and begin to resume some of the activities they enjoyed pre-pandemic in the coming months.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students

Now that the final deadline for international students has passed for Heller’s master’s programs, I thought it would be a good time to resume the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series with a post just for international students. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, I recommend reviewing these:

I’d also like to issue a quick disclaimer: this is meant as general advice and primarily focuses on F-1 students and their experiences. However, this should not be considered definitive or all-encompassing; visa regulations and travel guidance is subject to change, so for more information, make sure to check out Heller’s Visa Process page, Pre-Enrollment Checklist, or contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholars Office.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get started! Say you’re an international student who’s just been admitted… what should you do first (other than celebrate)? Consider this your checklist:

⬜  After you’ve accepted your offer of admission and paid your tuition deposit, you’ll gain access to your Visa Information and Declaration of Finances (VIDOF) Form in March. To complete your VIDOF form, you’ll need to submit a  clear picture current valid passport including photo, expiration date, name, and passport number, as well as proof of your ability to pay for one year of your program (tuition + fees + living expenses). Generally speaking, any proof for funds you’ll be contributing needs to be 1. dated within 9 months of your start date (so there needs to be a date on the bank statement), 2. include a specific amount of funds (in other words, saying “the account holder is in good standing” is not sufficient), and 3. funds need to be liquid at the time of your program start date (meaning that they need to be funds that are immediately available, so for example, a mortgage, funds that have a maturity date after your program start, etc. would not be acceptable). If you’d like to bring dependents under an F-2 visa, you’ll need their passport and proof of funds for them as well.  Make sure to follow the instructions on your VIDOF form carefully.

⬜  After you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, check to make sure that all of the information on the I-20 or DS-2019 is correct. You’ll use your SEVIS number to make your visa appointment; make sure you bring the same documents you used to apply for your I-20/DS-2019 to your visa appointment (and don’t forget your I-20 or DS-2019!). I recommend applying for your I-20/DS-2019 as soon as possible because visa appointments can fill up quickly! You can find a full guide to preparing for your visa interview on Brandeis’ ISSO website.

⬜ Make sure you’re up to date on relevant travel information or advisories well before your flight. You can find an updated list of travel proclamations related to COVID-19 that are currently in effect on Brandeis’ ISSO website. As of now, all air passengers traveling to the United States will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days before their flight or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19, so be aware that this may still be in effect at the time you’ll be traveling, and plan accordingly.

⬜ When you enter the US, you’ll be issued an I-94 form that should read either “F-1 D/S” or “J-1 D/S” (depending on whether you’re an F-1 or J-1 student). Make sure you check your I-94 carefully to make sure it says one of those two, and that your notation on the I-94 matches your visa. If you notice a mistake on your Form I-94 (paper or electronic) or passport stamp, please try to request a correction while you are at the airport. If you do not notice the mistake until after you depart the airport, please bring it to the ISSO as soon as possible so that they can advise you on how to request a correction.

⬜  Find housing (see information in a previous post, linked above!). Brandeis does not provide housing for graduate students, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan for where you’ll be staying prior to your arrival.

⬜ All new and returning international students in the United States are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Plan (SHP), but if you will be in the U.S. and have an insurance policy that meets the waiver requirements can waive the university SHP by contacting our general customer service (800-437-6448 or info@univhealthplans.com) to request the paper (PDF format) international student waiver form. If you have health insurance that meets these requirements, make sure you waive your coverage, but if you do not, no action is needed.

⬜  When you arrive, you will need cash in US currency or a credit or debit card to which you can charge expenses. You should aim to bring $200-$500 in US currency to cover expenses in the first few days of your stay here. Bring enough small bills ($1s, $5s, and $10s) so that you can buy any snacks/food or anything else that you may need upon arrival. You may also bring travelers’ checks, but keep in mind that they may not be accepted everywhere. Make sure to check with your credit card company and/or your bank to ensure that you will be able to use your card(s) here in the US upon arrival. You may want to open a US bank account once you arrive; there are a number of local banks around Brandeis where you can get help to open an account.

Again, this is just a primer on things to be thinking about as you prepare to make your big move to the US; for more information or clarification make sure you contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholar’s Office!

 

How Social Justice Oriented is Heller? Andrea Shares Her Thoughts

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Disclaimer: This blog post reflects my personal views and experience in Heller’s MPP program. I cannot guarantee that it reflects the experience of all students of color throughout all Heller programs.

As a Graduate Assistant in the Admissions Office and a current student in the Masters of Public Policy program, I have the pleasure of interviewing many prospective MPP students. What’s interesting is that you all want to know one thing: Is Heller really the social justice school it claims to be? As a Black student and active rabble-rouser in the MPP program, I know the answer to this question very well: Yes.

First, let me be real with you, Heller is not perfect. There is a serious lack of diversity among staff and faculty that has been acknowledged by Heller leadership and is being addressed. The diversity within the MPP program is also lacking. However, this has increased every year during the past 3-5 years, which gives me hope. Both of these issues can easily lead to students only learning from a white, liberal perspective. To counteract this in the short-term, professors are transforming their syllabi to reflect a greater diversity of perspectives. It’s apparent by the way Heller addresses its shortcomings that, through all of its faults, this school still holds true to its motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice.”

I’ve been blown away by the awareness of those whom I have encountered on staff and faculty regarding racial and economic disparities within America. (Note: The MPP program mainly uses a national lens. I cannot speak for the SID, COEX, or GHPM programs, but I would hope that they are just as aware.) Yet as good-intentioned and—for lack of a better term—woke as Heller staff and faculty are, intentions do not always reflect impact. For all of their awareness, they can still be blind to how these disparities affect their students.

The Fall 2020 semester was mentally and emotionally exhausting for many of us at Heller. I saw that this was particularly apparent among the students of color within my first-year cohort. Not only were our families and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also had to continually watch people who looked like us be killed by the police with little to no retribution. Moreover, we had to discuss these topics and other forms of oppression during class as if we weren’t personally affected by them. It was exhausting.

Our professors’ intent was to shed light on the drastic disparities experienced by people of color in America. Yet their impact was an endless stream of emotionally draining conversations, that, while important to have, are not easy for those with lived experiences to walk away from. It’s not easy for us to turn off these topics in our head and focus on normal coursework. Heller needed to understand this.

The students of color throughout Heller’s MPP program came together that semester to write a letter to Heller leadership requesting more support from faculty and staff, such as: providing more spaces for us to heal together, in-class acknowledgment of our lived experiences, safe pathways for students to vocalize their needs, and more. To our surprise, Heller leadership responded immediately and worked with us to implement the changes we requested. We felt seen and heard by those in positions of power. There is still much work to be done, but that experience was confirmation that we had chosen the right school, a school whose commitment to advancing social justice stands firm, even if it has to reevaluate its own system to do so.

How Sami Rovins Manages Self Care (And How You Can Too!)

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a grad student, relaxation can sometimes seem impossible. I’ve found that learning how to relax and unwind is a skill that requires practice! And it’s such an important skill to have. Being able to unplug from school is crucial to maintaining your sanity and a sense of self. I find myself getting “lost” in my Heller-related responsibilities sometimes, but learning to relax and unwind after a long day of classes and assignments has been so valuable. Sometimes, I find myself feeling guilty when I “clock out” and turn my focus away from grad school. But it is so important to remember that taking care of your mental health and engaging in quality self-care will help to improve not only your mindset, but also, ultimately, your work at Heller.

Meditation is easier said than done, but in my experience meditation has been such a valuable tool for self-care. At first, I felt intimidated, but gradually I came to learn that meditation simply requires practice. One helpful meditation tool is an app called Headspace. This app provides meditations ranging in time from as short as one minute to much longer guided meditations. Taking time daily to center yourself and focus on your thoughts can improve your mood, which will help to improve your performance as a grad student.

I also recommend connecting with your classmates outside of Heller. Making connections that revolve around more than classes is so rewarding! Try to find other students with shared interests that don’t involve just your career aspirations and academic goals. A great way to meet people is through the Graduate Student Association. You’ll also be able to meet graduate students from other schools at Brandeis this way. Building relationships is another rewarding way of maintaining your sense of self during times when you might feel lost in a mountain of schoolwork.

Don’t forget to treat yourself! There are plenty of places to eat in Waltham that are perfect for a delicious bite to clear your mind. I love to stop by Kung Fu Tea on Moody Street to indulge in a bubble tea or mango slushee. Or you can hop across the street and grab brunch at another favorite of mine, a restaurant called In a Pickle. A bit farther from campus is another gem, a tiny Mexican spot called Taqueria El Amigo. Taking yourself out for a meal, or enjoying it with a friend, can be truly rejuvenating!

There are many ways to refresh yourself and clear your mind while studying here at Heller. My recommendation is to continually practice this skill. Relaxation and self-care are so crucial to being a good student, a good employee, and a good friend. Make sure to take care of yourself by unplugging and shifting your focus, because it’s too easy to get lost in school-related worries and stress!

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