Tag: Student Life

Andrea’s 2021 Resolutions

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Lately, I haven’t even attempted to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve had too many years of making grand commitments on January 1st, and by April I can’t even remember what I was supposed to do. I find starting a New Year’s resolution in March to be much more effective. Don’t ask me why. Something about March makes me want to change my life…

But for the sake of grad school (and this blog), this year I will try again! If I learned anything from my first semester, it’s that graduate school can take over your life. It’s easy to let hobbies, self-care, and even old friends fall by the wayside when you’re diving head first into academia. And if you’re one of the many graduate students who also has a job or a child (or both!), then there’s really not much time for anything else.

I’m making these resolutions with us in mind. It’s easy to let the world pass us by while trying to simultaneously get a degree and keep our lives together. Yet we have to remember (and honestly, I’m just talking to myself here) to dedicate time to activities that make us happy, relax us, and overall keep us sane. Who has time for that mid-semester mental breakdown anyway?! Here are my resolutions that (hopefully) will help prevent that:


  1. Spend at least 1 hour every day away from the screens

What a sad goal to start with. But committing at least one consecutive hour away from the screens every day is necessary for grad students (especially those of us in Zoom university). Although we have to stare at our computers for most of the day, we don’t have to spend every study break watching Netflix, Youtube, or scrolling on social media. It’s fun and oh so mind-numbing, but our eyes need a break. I plan to spend this hour relaxing, listening to music, cooking, spending time with my partner, or doing one of the following resolutions!

  1. Call a friend, family member, or therapist every week

Now I’m not saying speak to the same person every week (unless you see your therapist every week… like me), but talking with someone who’s world does not revolve around endless assignments will help pull you out of whatever funk or anxiety grad school may have put you in. Plus your mother/father/old best friend from high school or college wants to hear from you. Trust me. (Note: this can also be checked off by speaking to a neighbor or coworker—about something other than work—for an extended period of time.)

  1. Go outside every day. Even if it’s freezing. Even if it’s just for 3 minutes. Do it!

That fresh air is necessary! Taking ten deep breaths in fresh air can relieve stress that you didn’t even know you were holding onto. Spending time outside last semester brough me pure joy. But I didn’t do it as often as I could have. This semester, I have a feeling I’m going to need that joy.

  1. Do something that makes me smile or laugh every day.

Sometimes we have to consciously bring joy into our lives. It’s easy let it fall to the wayside with the responsibilities of work and school. This year I want joy to be a priority in my life. For me, most of the previous resolutions would bring my joy every day. For you it may be different and that’s okay! But trust, a good laugh a day keeps the anxiety monster away.


I hope these resolutions can help you too! Whether you’re a first-year, second-year, or newly admitted student, I think all of us could benefit from starting these habits. Happy New Year!

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!

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 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.

Changing the World 101: Sami Rovins’ Favorite Classes

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Lempereur’s course in Responsible Negotiation is a core component of the COEX curriculum.  Throughout my first semester at Heller, we learned to negotiate in different scenarios with a variety of (often challenging) people. Some negotiations were in-person, others could only take place by video chat, demonstrating how difficult negotiations could be based on the type of communication being used. In some negotiations, Professor Lempereur would even encourage one side to be particularly tough on the other. The goal was for our negotiations to mirror real-life scenarios that we might face as negotiators working in the world.

There wasn’t one typical or expected type of negotiation in this course. We sometimes negotiated in groups or teams, and sometimes one-on-one. At times these negotiations took place in person, sometimes by email. The negotiations covered a huge range of topics – from a legal dispute over car repairs, to political negotiations over a fictional autonomous region, to the personal and professional issues between two owners of a tech company. Our cohort didn’t simply learn how to responsibly negotiate, but we were also taught how to effectively prepare, how to debrief following a negotiation, how to properly manage our time, and how to work with (rather than against) the people with whom we negotiated.

As the final day of our Responsible Negotiation course, we played a complicated “game” called SIMSOC in which we had to simulate a society in every aspect. The COEX cohort was broken up into groups, each of which represented a different community. I was a member of the poorest community. While each group was given certain resources to begin the SIMSOC game with, our group began with no jobs, money, or food, and we had no ability to travel to the other regions. We quickly realized we would have to wait until another group visited us, and so we began to prepare for the negotiations that would take place once they did.

When we finally interacted with members from the other groups, we managed to pledge votes to a political party in exchange for jobs. Soon, however, our group began to split on the topic of money. Some wanted the money we were now earning to be collective, others wanted to keep their money for themselves. This led to a heated debate and ultimately two members of our community defected to another. SIMSOC took place over the course of the morning and afternoon, and by the end, the COEX cohort was exhausted. We finished the day at the Stein, a restaurant and bar on Brandeis’ campus. It was a great way for me, my fellow COEX students, and Professor Lempereur to unwind after a long and challenging final day of class.

Heller Bucket List: Elizabeth Nguyen’s “Must Do” Experiences around Waltham

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

There are a number of exciting things to do and see when you start your program at Heller. For those of you moving to the area for the first time (or even those of you who have been here your whole lives), the amount of “must-do” activities can sometimes seem overwhelming, but remember, you have your whole program to cross them off your list. After two years at Heller, here is my list of things to make sure you do at Brandeis, in Boston, and in the New England area!

  1. Go to Brandeis events – Sign up for the general Brandeis listservs and follow the Brandeis Facebook pages to find out more about Brandeis events going on outside of the Heller building. I follow the Campus Activities Board and have gotten information about great events the past two years that I have signed up for with my Heller friends. During Halloween, there was a fun zombie escape room (we escaped!), a zoom chat with John Finlay from Netflix’s show “Tiger King”, free tickets to a Red Sox game, and even free ice cream in the summer!

    A group of eight students smile in a dimly lit room

    My team after completing the Escape Room

  2. Check out the Mapparium in Boston – This three-story tall stained-glass globe is one of the coolest places I have seen in Boston, and every time I have someone visiting, we try to go see it. The map itself is from 1935 and has some countries with different names compared to today. As a traveler and history nerd, it always is so interesting to find new bits of information on the map and see how the world has changed! Since it’s a perfect sphere, it also has fun acoustics, so bring a friend to test it out.
  3. Explore Cambridge and Boston –  There is a great free campus shuttle during the school year that drops you in Cambridge or Boston for you to explore the city for the day. Cambridge has great options for food, including coffee from Tatte or Pokeworks for sushi. I sometimes also like to explore the Harvard campus with its beautiful buildings for some hidden places to study. Boston is a great city to explore as well, from its historic Freedom Trail sites to museums like the Museum of Science, the Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Some of these places are free with a student ID!
  4. Take a day trip outside of the city – As someone from California, it still amazes me that driving an hour and a half can easily bring you to another state. Living in Massachusetts, you have the option to drop into Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and hike mountains, sunbathe at beaches, and explore cute little towns! I like going to Newport, Rhode Island for a quick getaway or up to Maine to shop at the different outlets. Sometimes, I will even drive with friends and family along the New England coast to look at the beautiful lighthouses!
  5. Go leaf-peeping in the fall – New England is famous for its fall/autumn leaves, and rightly so, because they are so beautiful. Make sure to follow along on the leaf peeping maps to tell you where you should drive to see in New England to best see the peak leaf season… but even just walking to campus, you will see the leaves change color dramatically. This fall season makes you fall in love with the Boston area and will make you want to stay forever.

As you can see, I’ve tried to include choices that are safe in our “new normal”, but these will be experiences to cross off your Heller Bucket List for years to come. No matter when you’re joining us, you’ll find that the area has a lot to offer, so make sure you get out and experience all that you can: you’ll be surprised at how fast your program flies by!

Stuck at Home? Start Exploring Boston!

Even though the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston may be re-opening this week, many of us aren’t yet ready to start exploring everything that Boston has to offer. Luckily, many Boston attractions are hosting virtual tours, giving people the opportunity to experience the cultural institutions that make Boston so special. If you’re on the fence about whether the Boston area is the right setting for your graduate studies, or if you want to get started on exploring before your move, today I’m sharing some of my favorite museums and attractions around Boston that are currently hosting virtual tours.

1. The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

Interior courtyard with palm trees enclosed by a white stone building

Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Sean Dungan

Every time a friend or relative visits me in Boston, this is at the top of my list of places to take them. It’s unlike any museum I’ve ever been to— the lush courtyard in the middle surrounded by beautiful Venetian architecture as well as it’s unique blend of Asian, European, and African art make it feel completely separate from the rest of Boston. As an added point of interest, it’s also the site of the largest art heist in history. In 1990, thieves stole $500 million works of art, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. As you explore the museum, keep an eye out for the empty frames that the museum has left hanging.

2. The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

Interior of an old brick building with various inventions lining the walls and exhibit space

Interior of the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. Photo by: Mark Spooner

This museum may not be as well known as some of the larger museums on this list, but I consider it a hidden gem. I hadn’t visited it until I started working at Heller, but it soon became one of my favorites. It’s the site of America’s first factory, and the museum holds artifacts of the industrial revolution from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and provides insight into Boston’s role in the Industrial Revolution, as well as a look into Waltham’s history. While the collection itself is more interactive, the museum website has a variety of pictures and videos to let you experience many of its exhibits.

3. The Peabody Essex Museum

Large scale sculpture of a face in an open room

Maritime Hall, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem. Photo by: Ken Sawyer

While not strictly in Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is one of my favorite museums to visit in the area. They have an eclectic collection featuring artists from around the world and often have immersive, experiential works that make visiting it worthwhile during your time in Boston. Currently, you can view their collections of Chinese, maritime, Oceanic, African, and Native American art, including photographs, sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. Fashion aficionados will also appreciate the Alexander McQueen dress on display— there really is something for everyone!

4. The Boston Common and Public Gardens

Aerial view of a large park with a small stone gazebo in the middle

Parkman Bandstand, Boston Commons, Boston. Photo: Abhi Suryawanshi

While this isn’t a museum, it’s certainly worth a visit while you’re in the Boston area as an important historical site. The Boston Common was originally founded as a common grazing area for cattle (hence the name), but eventually developed into the first public park in America. Over the years, it has been used for numerous protests, from the American Revolution to Black Lives Matter protests, and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have delivered speeches here. Across Charles Street lies the Boston Public Garden, which is part of the Emerald Necklace string of parks designed by  Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park in New York City). During the spring, tulips lining the walkway to the George Washington statue and blooming cherry blossoms make for an amazing photo opportunity.

5. Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum

Exterior of a building with a glass wall, through which you can see Dora Garcia's artwork She Has Many Names

Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum. Photo by: Dona Garcia and ProjecteSD

I would be remiss if I didn’t feature Brandeis’ very own Rose Art Museum. They always have thought-provoking exhibits, but I’m particularly fond of their permanent collection, The Undisciplined Collector. It’s a wood-paneled room filled with artifacts and artwork that’s meant to evoke the feeling of stepping into a 1960s living room. If you’re a fan of mid-century furniture or design (or maybe just really liked Mad Men), be sure to check this one out.

The location of your graduate school can play a huge role in your experience, and in my (perhaps slightly biased) opinion, the Boston area is a great place to be during graduate school. There are tons of cultural events and attractions, and there’s never any shortage of things to do, both in the city center and the neighborhoods and suburbs surrounding Boston. Even while you’re stuck at home, there’s no limit to what Boston and Waltham have to offer!

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