Category: Student Life (page 1 of 4)

My First Semester: A Look Back with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

With finals season officially at a close, it feels as though I’ve just awoken from an enlightening, yet hectic, dream. My first thought was: “Wow, my apartment is a mess.” But after a thorough spring cleaning (in the middle of a literal snowstorm), I was able to genuinely reflect on my first semester at Heller and remember some key lessons learned.

Like most students, I was worried about starting graduate school in the midst of a pandemic. Because classes were completely online, I chose not to move to the Waltham area and instead, remained in West Virginia for the semester (and if you’ve ever looked at the rent in the greater Waltham area, you’d get why). Yet I worried how connected I would be to everyone.

I also worried about the workload. The idea of taking four classes didn’t seem too overwhelming, but I had been out of school for about three years—just enough time to forget what it felt like to write a 10- to 20-page paper. Other graduate students warned me that I’d need the extra hours available during the week to keep up with the workload. Was I up to the challenge?

Three and half months later I can confidently say (pending final grades) that I was, thanks to some incredible support from my classmates and professors!

Whether you find a place right in the center of Waltham or 500 miles away, you’ll find that your classmates are there for you. My MPP cohort is spread out from one coast to the other and yet we communicate nearly every day. I mean, being in a classroom is nice, but have you ever shared real-time reactions and memes with your 20-40 classmates about what’s happening in class? It can truly turn some of the slowest guest speaker lecture days into one of your favorite classes.

Pro tip: Download Slack before graduate school and use the Newly Admitted Heller Facebook page to build your cohort’s Slack channel! You’ll thank me later, trust me.

On a serious note, being able to communicate with my classmates outside of monitored spaces was a godsend when I was lost in a lecture or missed a class. The kind of people who attend Heller are the kind who are willing to go above and beyond to help their classmates. We’re truly all in this together (cue HSM earworm) and I’m constantly amazed by the things that I learn from my classmates.

The workload wasn’t the easiest adjustment, yet it didn’t take long to find a study routine that worked for me. Remember: If it works for you, stick with, don’t compare it to others. Imposter syndrome is real and will have you feeling like you’re not doing enough real quick. Don’t let it get you!

But if you feel like you’re struggling more than you should, be honest with yourself and others. Talk to your classmates to check if you’re doing too much. Are you skimming most of the five 30-page reading assignments, or are you deep reading all of them? Are you finding 50 sources for a 10 page paper or a reasonable 20? We’ve all been there! I definitely have…but being honest and speaking about it with my classmates and professors prevented endless future headaches. Heller professors want to build you up, not break you down. Don’t be afraid to meet with a professor one-on-one to talk about where you’re at. I promise they (at least MPP professors) won’t bite.

Looking back, this semester wasn’t too bad (though I may be wearing some rose-colored glasses). But I know I couldn’t have gotten through it without my cohort. To the applicants and newly-admitted students, find the people who will have your back during this experience. Trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds!

Reflecting on the Fall Semester with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As the Fall semester begins to wind down, I’m beginning to reflect on my greatest accomplishments over the past few months. Some of these accomplishments are big, others are much smaller. Sometimes I get caught up in how tough everything seems to be, on the assignments I didn’t do too well on, or how much work I have left to do in the next few weeks. That’s why I think it’s important, especially when things are stressful and difficult, to think about my successes at Heller so far.

I feel proud that even while I was up to my eyeballs in work for the Global Health Policy & Management program, I managed to begin work on my Capstone paper and presentation for the program I did last year, Conflict Resolution & Coexistence. I feel proud that I have been able to carefully balance both of these large responsibilities. I am writing my Capstone on the need for comprehensive, culturally-competent sex education for women and girls in India. I have been able to utilize some of the new skills and knowledge I’ve gained in the MS program and apply it to my COEX capstone. For instance, I can now better understand a large survey of teens’ knowledge of reproductive health. I now know what a regression is and how to interpret it within studies about sexual health. Being able to marry the skills of COEX and MS has been a big accomplishment for me this semester.

I also take pride in researching and writing a 16-page paper for one of my classes, Democracy & Development, over the course of one week. We were given a broad assignment of researching any topic that related to the class and I chose to write about the influence of various radical women on the politics and philosophy of Malcolm X. I also consider this a big accomplishment because I was juggling my other four final exams and projects at the very same time. In the end, I consider my paper to be a well-researched and well-written success!

My last accomplishment revolves around my ability to maintain important relationships while simultaneously managing finals. In all the madness of finals, it can be easy to forget friends, family, and loved ones. But I know I couldn’t possibly have completed this semester without the help of the people closest to me. I made an effort to make some time to meet friends for a socially distanced visit, to watch a film with my roommate, and to FaceTime with my parents. Reaching out to them for support makes such a difference and I consider it a huge accomplishment to maintain these connections despite the craziness of finals season.

FINALS!: It’s Crunch Time for Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

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!

Changing the World 101: Democracy and Development

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Sampath’s class, “Democracy and Development”, has been a breath of fresh air for me this semester. As a new student in the MS-GHPM program, I was missing the readings on social theory that I was so often assigned as a COEX student. Luckily, I was able to take Professor Sampath’s class as an elective course from the Sustainable International Development program.

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman circa 1911
CREDIT: COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

On the very first day of class, we discussed Emma Goldman, an Anarchist writer and activist who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. I excitedly geeked out over the readings we were assigned— they were fascinating! To think that one hundred years ago, an immigrant to the United States was brave enough to vocally advocate for women’s rights, anarchism, and queer rights is so exciting, to say the least. I continue to be truly struck by the readings we were assigned of Goldman’s. I admire her clarity, her bravery, and her emphasis on maintaining joy within revolution.

In general, Professor Sampath’s class is a delight. Even though we often discuss the most difficult and heavy topics, such as racism, politics, intolerance, and histories of oppression, I enjoy hearing the opinions of my classmates especially when we’re split into small breakout rooms of four or five students. Despite being a fairly large class, Professor Sampath’s class can also feel like a smaller, more intimate discussion. “Democracy and Development” has proven itself to be a wonderful course, because of the way these difficult and traumatic topics are handled: carefully, and with great honesty and open-mindedness.

I strongly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath, even if you are not a student in the SID program. He is a very kind teacher, and very thoughtful when it comes to his students. For example, a few weeks ago our class met amid the confusion and stress of waiting to hear who won the presidency in the US, Professor Sampath allowed us to take the class time to voice our opinions, fears, questions, and concerns. I felt grateful for this opportunity to share our thoughts with each other, and appreciative of his understanding that his students were exhausted and worried.

“Democracy and Development” is by no means an easy or simple class. But as a student, it’s also a class that I don’t approach with anxiety or fear. Instead, I appreciate the flexibility of Professor Sampath, the openness of my fellow students, and the ability to discuss in small groups within the larger class. I highly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath once you’re here at Heller, even if you’re not a social theory nerd like me.

(Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about Heller, check out this video by Professor Sampath!)

Exploring the Boston Area with Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Waltham and the greater Boston area as a whole are such fun, vibrant, and exciting places to be a graduate student. There is always something to do, something new to experience, eat, or see! It’s not easy to narrow down a list of recommendations, but here, in no particular order, are my top five:

  1. Walden Pond is a historic, wooded area that’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon in the Spring or Summer. The lake has plenty of room to swim, get a tan, relax with friends, and enjoy the trails in the surrounding woods. For history nerds like me, there is lots of information about Henry David Thoreau, who famously lived and wrote there. You’ll even be able to visit a model of his house. Walden Pond is only about a 25-minute drive from Waltham, and it is the perfect escape from the business of grad school.
  2. If you’re a fan of Indian food, you’ll love Punjabi Dhaba. It’s a casual spot to eat in Cambridge that is usually overflowing with happy customers. It can be tough to choose what to order off of their long and varied menu! Personally, I’m a very big fan of their Paneer Chili Masala. Combine that with a samosa and a mango lassi, you won’t leave disappointed.
  3. The Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum is my favorite art museum in all of Boston. Having once been Ms. Gardener’s personal art collection, it’s a unique and unusual space filled with art from many different places and times. Be sure to keep your eyes out for a few large frames with no art inside of them: after a robbery (the paintings were never recovered), the museum chose not to replace the stolen work with anything else.
  4. Take a walk along the Charles River and enjoy one of the more scenic spaces in Waltham. There is a long and lovely trail along the water that provides a beautiful walk through Waltham. It’s another great way to escape the stress of a busy day, and a great opportunity to get to know the town of Waltham in more detail. You can also explore the Charles by renting a kayak and navigating through the water.
  5. Enjoy a dance party, see a show, or do karaoke at The Middle East. A funky club and bar in Cambridge, The Middle East is the perfect place to unwind after classes end on a Friday or over the weekend. Once you’re there, you’ll discover new music, make new friends, and enjoy delicious Middle Eastern food. My favorite is getting nostalgic at their 90’s throwback dance party.

There’s so much to see and do around Boston and Waltham, it’s hard to pick just five recommendations! Once you’re here, you’ll have ample opportunity to get to know the area and discover what’s most exciting to you.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Dear Future Andrea,

Well, it looks like we did it! We are finally graduating with a Master’s in Public Policy from The Heller School. Congratulations!

I’m not surprised. Well, I’m a little surprised. Let’s be honest, neither of us thought we’d make it through Econometrics or Economic Theory unscathed. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about our final capstone. But we made it, and I’m sure you’ve learned some incredible lessons along the way. I’m only two months in at this point, but I’ve already uncovered some surprising insights on police brutality and other forms of oppression through my research. I’ve also learned that it is both useful and encouraged to speak up to leadership when you and others believe that something isn’t right. I hope that you have expanded upon these lessons and they have led you to opportunities that I can only imagine.

I wish you were here now to answer some of my questions. Do we ever return to courses in person? How does the political climate affect our emotional and mental health? How does it affect the direction of our classes? Has the struggle of attending graduate school during one of the most politically and socially tumultuous times brought our cohort closer together? What future opportunities should I keep my eye out for? Where does my path lie after graduate school?

That last question is truly the most important. Where is this degree taking me? Will I continue my research by entering a PhD program, in hopes of one day becoming an expert on police reform? Or will I return to the world of nonprofits and grassroots organizing, taking what I’ve learned to help turn the needs of a community into policy? What if I took that one step further and worked as a lobbyist helping to create the policy that will impact communities? Or maybe I’ll spend some time in a local government department, gaining tangible experience in the sector of policy implementation? It’s possible that I could end up on any of these paths.

I have a feeling I know which one you ended up choosing, but I’m dying to know if I’m right! Sigh. You would probably tell me to relax and enjoy the ride. Smell the roses. Take in the scenery. All that junk.

Alright, I hear you. I’ll work on enjoying every last moment of this experience. At the same time, I’ll focus on taking every opportunity to learn as much as possible about the issues I’m most passionate about. The beautiful thing about an MPP degree is the ability to apply every lesson to your particular field, to truly build your expertise. I’ll continue to do that while you celebrate. And one day soon, I’ll catch up to you.

Enjoy your graduation, future Andrea. I’m sure you’ve earned it.

Election Week Fretting

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

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.

Learning from your Heller Classmates

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve learned so much during my time at Heller so far— but the education I’ve gained outside of the classroom has been just as valuable to me as the lessons I learned from my professors. Heller students come to Brandeis from so many different countries and backgrounds, and bring their own personal experiences and knowledge with them to Heller, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the new perspectives they’ve helped me to gain!

As a self-described “linguistics nerd”, I can’t get enough of learning new words to add to my vocabulary. Surrounded by my COEX cohort, I couldn’t help but pick up phrases from my classmates who speak French, Swahili, and Mandarin (just to name a few.) I can even properly insult someone in Arabic, if the need ever arises. I’ve studied Hindi over the last few years, and I’ve made friends who were able, as native Hindi speakers, to offer to practice conversation with me. I’ve also had fun finding similar words that exist in languages that may seem unrelated at first.

The cultural exchange I’ve had with my COEX classmates also extends to food. Every culture celebrates food in its own special way. Last fall, we held a potluck where I got to try an Iraqi stew, Egyptian shakshuka, Amish friendship bread, and baba ganoush. If I hadn’t met my friends here at Heller, I may never have had the opportunity to try and learn about new food and the cultural significance that surrounds them.

My COEX classmates have also come to Heller with very different professional experiences, which informs the way I’ve learned outside of Heller’s classrooms. My friends have told me about working as educators and tour guides, as businesspeople, as Peace Corps Volunteers, and as workers in complex conflict zones such as Syria. Personally, I worked for a variety of non-profit organizations before coming to Heller, and my classmates were just as interested in hearing about my professional experience as I was about theirs. Hearing about my classmates’ professional experiences helped me to better contemplate and understand my own career aspirations. Exchanging these ideas and information with each other was an incredible, and very exciting, learning experience for all of us in the cohort.

When evaluating grad schools, it is equally important to consider the lessons you can learn outside of the classroom as the knowledge you’ll gain from your professors. I have gleaned so much from my COEX friends, and this information has been both professionally valuable as well as culturally enriching to me personally. The cultural exchange that takes place between Heller students is endlessly informative, exciting, and fulfilling. My friends at Heller have been some of my favorite teachers.

A Whole New World: COEX to MS-GHPM

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Last year, as a COEX student, I decided to add an additional degree and to begin the MS Global Health Policy this year as well. As someone with almost zero experience or background in science or health, I nevertheless felt up for the challenge. But as the semester began, I felt intimidated by the material that left me feeling extremely out of my element. I’m the sort of student who can easily write a 15 or 20 page paper, but I have a lot of trouble with quantitative topics. I had found myself way outside of my academic comfort zone, and I felt worried. I hadn’t even taken a math class since 2007, and now I was suddenly trying to figure out equations and unfamiliar symbols. It felt like I would never catch up to my classmates who are more math- and science-oriented.

After the initial panic set in, I decided to take action and figure out what I would need to do to stay afloat in my classes. The Global Health Policy and Management degree is something I truly want, and something I know I’m capable of achieving with hard work and determination. I decided to talk to others and find the resources I’d need to thrive as a student in this program. I attended my professors’ and TAs’ office hours whenever I could. Then, I spoke to Sandy Jones, who was also my advisor in the COEX program last year and is also the Executive Director of Global Programs at Heller. Connecting with Sandy made a big difference, and she was able to point me in the direction of very valuable resources. She informed me that peer tutors are available to MS students at no extra cost. Having an individual tutor for my “Regression Analysis” and “STATA” classes has made a world of difference! I think it is also a great example of how Heller strives to support its students in a variety of ways.

Making these types of connections and finding these sorts of resources has made a huge difference in improving my first semester as a Global Health master’s student. I am definitely not 100% comfortable with quantitative topics yet, but having professors, staff, and peers at Heller to support me has made a world of difference. Now, I feel more confident in my ability to tackle difficult topics that are far beyond my usual comfort zone. At Heller, you are not simply on your own. Thankfully, there is a large pool of resources to draw upon whenever you need support or guidance.

New Semester, New Challenges

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

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.

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