Tag: Student Life (page 1 of 2)

Boundaries Help Me Have It All

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

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

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

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

When It All Starts to Make Sense

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

*This may be true of other graduate school programs, but as I am enrolled at Heller, I write under the assumption that this is special to the Heller curriculum.*

People who go back to school must have an affinity for learning. Or at least those who choose to go back to school for a higher degree in social sciences. To take time off from income-earning to invest in education is not a lightly made decision.  And yes, in many cases the degree is beneficial and necessary to excel in the workforce. Yet, it is not guaranteed that higher education equates to higher pay. So that loops us back to – people who go back to school must have an affinity for learning.

For me, the return to school full-time brought some fear and anxiety, but overall I felt comfort and joy. Previously, when I would engage in study groups or one-off lectures, I always left feeling inspired with a yearning for more. I missed being intellectually challenged. I missed the debate and dialogue that sometimes only an academic event evokes. So my return almost felt imminent.

In undergrad, my academic path felt scattered. I enrolled in a slew of courses that seemed interesting that also fulfilled my core curriculum. However, there did not seem to be a congruent theme each year, let alone every semester that linked all of my areas of study.  So when I started to experience deja vu in my Heller courses, I was at first shocked. My course readings seemed to blend together. The lectures started to feel familiar.  I began to recognize components of my studies in my everyday life.  The work I was doing in my applied regression class helped clarify my readings in research methods. The theories discussed in my policy analysis class underpinned the teachings in my contemporary issues in gender policy course. Instead of accepting this fluidity at face value, I questioned and doubted it. It did not seem possible that I could actually identify core concepts in different classes let alone find ways to coherently employ them through interdisciplinary action. And then when I realized this was not a fluke or some construed imposter syndrome, it all started to click.

The Heller MPP program‘s curriculum design fosters accessible education, which promotes applicable learning. Each course structure enables the student to build upon the course material not just within the designated class, but throughout their time at Heller. No class, concept, or curriculum exists in a chasm. This cohesion reinforces each new idea and on a personal note, helps me to feel more confident in my skills, aptitude, and intellect. I am proud of my academic growth and I am indebted to Heller for pushing me to see beyond the class schedule binary.

Transitioning Back to Life as a Student with Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Making the decision to attend grad school is a huge, life-altering choice. How do you know if you’re ready? And how can you get prepared to do your very best, especially if you’ve been out of academia for a while? To help you think further about and ultimately answer these questions, I’ll tell you about my decision to apply to the Heller School and my experience taking a break from my career in order to jump back into student life.

After working in the non-profit fundraising field for 5 years, I began to realize that I wanted to expand my career options by evolving my knowledge of conflict resolution, international development, and global health. I also wanted to focus my work specifically on sexual and reproductive health, as well as women’s empowerment in South Asia. After speaking with representatives from Heller Admissions and hearing about the different degree programs offered, I decided to apply because it was clear that I could tailor my degree to fit my specific interests and career goals. Because of its nature of flexibility and individualization, I knew Heller would be the right fit for me.

Jumping back into the life of a student after years in the professional world was a big adjustment for me. Working 9-5 each week day can feel quite different from student life. As a student, the lines between “clocking in” and “clocking out” are often blurred. As an NGO employee, I was able to leave the office at 5pm and, for the most part, leave my work at my desk until returning the next morning. For a student (especially as a student attending school entirely from home), finding the time to “clock out” was more difficult. While this was an adjustment for me at first, I eventually eased into the role of a grad student, meanwhile finding ways of structuring my days so that I could dedicate most of my time to school while simultaneously reserving time for myself, having fun with friends, and self-care.

It can be difficult to know when the right time is for you to apply to grad school. In my case, I felt that my career trajectory had hit a wall, and I was ready to gain the skills and knowledge I would need to expand and grow my career options. You may also feel ready to learn new skills and find innovative ways of thinking about conflict, international development, public policy, or global health, and Heller is a meaningful environment to do exactly that!

Back to School Nerves (like never before!) with Daniella

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Growing up, I used to get very nervous the days leading up to the first day of school. I would of course put off my back-to-school reading and subsequent project, letting my anxiety manifest in frustration over my procrastination. But once the poster or diorama was finished and packed away neatly and the distractions dispelled, the jitters fluttered back in. I liked school and I was always excited about the promise of a new school year, but something always made the transition from summer to school difficult. I’d later come to recognize that discomfort as a fear of change and the unknown, but as I grew older and became comfortable with the back-to-school routine, my nerves subsided.

This summer, I find myself hyper-focused on my physical return to school. And not just about the first day back, but about being in a classroom in general. When I started to apply to graduate programs, I was four years out of college, settled in a 9-5 routine. When the pandemic hit and I began school again in fall of 2020, I experienced, along with millions of other students, the unprecedented shift to online learning. Not only did I have to alter my perceptions of learning, but I had to find stability in an unpredictable time.

Now after a year of adjusting to online learning, I again must shift my conception of schooling,  and I’m realizing that I’m feeling nervous. Online learning was tough, but it granted me a certain level of physical comfort and protection. I settled into a schedule and workstyle that fit my needs: I mastered the time it took to make a snack and walk my dog in the ten-minute breaks, or the “I didn’t just wake up five minutes before class” look. I found ease in zoom life. Now, after a year and a half of being conditioned to fear the outside world, we are preparing to re-enter the classroom.

There are many components to in-person learning I yearn for, like the rush of being able to raise my hand or the potential of real dialogue uninterrupted by buffering or social constrictions of internet connections. However, I am wary of the mental and physical toll this adjustment will take. I do not know what it will be like to not only be back in a classroom but enter into an institutional atmosphere with rigid social and academic expectations.

I write this post because there is so much excitement around re-entry and I want to validate for myself and others that it’s okay to be afraid of the change. This is not a return to normalcy; this is a construction of a new normal and nerves can accompany that. So, on August 26th and the days that follow, I will be glad to be on campus, but I will also be prepared for any first-day jitters that may arise.

Graduate School and APA Citations… They Have More in Common Than You’d Think!

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

While trying to think of a good topic for this blog post, I got a text asking if I could begin doing citations for a group paper that is due sooner than I’d care to think about. While it’s possible that I audibly groaned, only moments later a lightbulb appeared above my head just like in a cartoon. Could something as seemingly mundane as finalizing references for a paper be a good blog post topic? – I thought. Upon reflection, I think it actually is! The grad school experience is a bit like doing citations (though perhaps just slightly more fun!) Here’s why:

It’s not so bad once you start: I’ve found that every time I’ve had to do citations, or a grad school assignment in general, the task feels so colossal I’m unsure how to begin. However, as soon as I start the task at hand, I fall into a bit of a rhythm, or at the very least gain a better sense of where gaps in knowledge and understanding exist and how to go about finding the answers. This helps the project feel more digestible.

For that reason, it’s oddly satisfying, even if frustrating while you’re doing it. Most papers I’ve written at Heller have caused some amount of stress and consternation, but I’ve learned something from doing every one, and sometimes grew fond or even proud of the finished product. Even the process of finishing a list of references brings a real sense of accomplishment – where once I had no idea how to cite Senate testimony or corporate 10-K statements, now I do (or, I at least know where to quickly look it up!)

Organizing your thoughts is a great antidote for confusion and imposter syndrome! I often find that I feel much less confident about my knowledge in a topic area until I begin writing down what I know and what questions I have. The same goes for citations – having 50 tabs open is stress-inducing, but having 50 sources listed in a word document or downloaded into Zotero (more on that in a moment) creates a sense that the structure of the paper is emerging.

Technology helps! I shudder at the thought of completing a Master’s degree in the pre-internet age. I rely on technology to organize sources and to begin taking notes and sketching out arguments. Two great tools are Zotero, in which sources can be organized into folders, notes can be attached, and bibliographies can be automatically generated; and Atlas.TI, in which PDFs of scholarly sources or interview transcripts can be loaded and annotated, with common codes used across documents to organize themes. Both are available for free through Brandeis.

Share the love: One of my professors described a bibliography as “a love letter to yourself,” meaning, if you plan to continue studying the same topics and building expertise in a given area, bibliographies from earlier assignments will be an invaluable resource. I’d also say that keeping track of sources is an important part of collaboration – even if your paper is never published, it might be shared amongst peers or even by a professor, with your permission, and as important as your original work and arguments may be, the citations themselves will provide a roadmap for future readers. This spirit of sharing and collaboration is a key part of the graduate school experience.

See? It’s not so bad. Even the seemingly dry parts of an assignment can be useful later on. Plus, volunteering to do citations on a group paper immediately endears you to your classmates. It’s the little things!

What’s for Lunch? Doug Nevins’ Brandeis Culinary Tour  

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Of the many things I am looking forward to this fall, when Brandeis reopens for in-person courses, revisiting some of my favorite culinary destinations ranks… not as high as seeing friends and professors in person, or attending class without opening Zoom – but still pretty high! I miss the many dining options available on and near the Brandeis campus, as well as the opportunities for hanging out and studying with classmates which they provide. For incoming and prospective students (and anyone who has been remote this past year and happens to read this blog), I’ll share a few recommendations of my favorite spots on campus.

Einstein’s Bagels

New Yorkers may quibble with bagels made outside their home state, but for me, walking towards Heller from the commuter rail at 8 AM in a decidedly un-caffeinated state, Einstein’s, located in the Shapiro Campus Center, beckons like an oasis before the long uphill walk to Heller. With ample seating, it’s a great place to have meetings, study, or pause before or after a train commute to campus.

My go to order: everything bagel, double toasted, with veggie cream cheese, and a large iced coffee (in all seasons, because I am from New England).

Louie’s Deli

Housed within the Usdan Dining Hall near Heller, Louie’s is a great, quick option for grabbing a kosher sandwich in between classes. There are plenty of other options in Usdan as well.

Go to order: chipotle chicken salad sandwich on challah (+ chips and a pickle)

International Business School deli

I must admit I have never been 100% clear on the name of this place, but it’s a satellite of one of the best sandwich shops in Waltham, Dominic’s (the primary location is also walking distance from campus). This is a great spot to meet people and study, with ceiling height windows facing the pleasant Sachar Woods.

Go to: meatball sandwich with provolone

Heller Starbucks

The one, the only – the place to see and be seen. A central convening point in Heller’s Zinner Forum, this spot is a great go-to for quick coffee refills and snacks during breaks from class. I tried to avoid going more than twice in one day, but during long study sessions, it can be unavoidable.

Go to: coffee, tea, pastries, chips (I believe they also have fruit)

Off-campus honorable mention: South Street Market

Less well-known to Brandeis students than the neighboring Prime Deli (also a great option), South Street is my go-to for sandwiches on the days I am willing to walk a further distance from Heller (also conveniently located by the train station). A great place to take a break from campus, though running into friends is not uncommon!

Go to: pesto chicken panini, Italian wedding soup

As I’ve learned from watching innumerable cooking competition and travel shows during the pandemic, dining out is about more than food – it’s a way to connect with your community. Frugal-minded grad students should absolutely take advantage of the fridge and microwaves in Heller to avoid dining out too often (this is among my top resolutions for this fall). Still, it’s also worth taking advantage of opportunities to grab lunch with friends and use your lunch breaks as an opportunity to explore campus. Let’s eat!

Finals Are Over, Now What?: Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Ahh, the time is here (for finals to be over with). These past couple of months have been a challenge, with short breaks, long exams, and a pandemic happening ALL AT ONCE. It will probably take us all some time to truly recover from this whirlwind of a semester. But, there are some things we can do to momentarily let us escape the struggles and hard work we have put into being present during these trying times:

  1. Literally escape. Go on a vacation (safely, vaccinated, and per CDC guidelines) and leave your office chair with the indent on it from hours of zoom class. Even if it is a road trip, in which you will be confined to your car and basking in the glory of nature, the escape will be worth it. And remember, a vacation may be a financial investment, but the ROI on your mental health could be worth it.
  2. Return your textbooks, or even sell them. Perhaps this should have been the most pertinent one to address, but vacation is on my mind.
  3. DO COURSE EVALUATIONS. Actually, I changed my mind. This is the most important and should be done as soon as possible. We all want our grades on time, and we want our professors to know how much value we received from their classes and their instruction. I know I was excited to fill mine out to gush about the wonderful TAs I had this semester.
  4. Read a book. If you don’t want to escape via vacation, fulfill your wanderlust instead in a sea of words. A literary escape is just as valuable. Next on my list is All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage!
  5. Talk to family, especially if you haven’t interacted much with the time you had to dedicate to your studies during this time.
  6. Take up a new hobby. Granted, hobbies can take time and dedication but that is why it is important to take up something you are passionate about! I will personally explore the world of programming and try to learn a language or two (like Python) before the next semester.
  7. Sleep. I know you haven’t. I know I haven’t. I know we are all contributing to a detrimental cycle of mass sleep deprivation and we must do what we can to catch up!
  8. Just breathe. You finished. You did that. Relax and take the weight of your classes off your shoulders because you overcame the most pivotal exams of the semester.

(Half of) A Week in the Life of a Heller Student

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Working as a Graduate Assistant in Heller Admissions, prospective students often ask: “what is it like to be a Heller student?”. My response is always, “in what way?”.  Are you curious to discover the number of hours you should set aside weekly for assignments and readings? How to get involved in clubs and other social groups? Student job hours? Or, perhaps you are seeking to uncover what the course content is like? Well, I am hoping this blog post serves as an example to help answer all of the above. **As a disclaimer, this is my own personal experience, and I in no way claim to speak on behalf of others at Heller.

Monday: I am naturally an early morning person, and spend around two hours each morning reading and working on assignments before class. So, I am up around 6am and prepare the readings for the classes to come. I log onto Zoom around 8:55am to be ready for class to start at 9am. This class, entitled, Immigrant Integration in the United States: Policy, Practice and People is technically part of the Public Policy Masters. However, as a student at Heller, I am able to take courses across disciplines to fulfill elective requirements. This class, with around 25 students, lasts just under 3 hours and concludes at 11:50am. I try to intentionally keep Monday afternoons as open as possible, as it is my set aside family time. But, I usually end up working on assignments or readings for around 2 hours at some point in the afternoon or evening.

Tuesday: One of my student jobs includes working as an English Language Programs Tutor (ELP), so I meet with two tutees this morning, one at 7am-8am, and the other from 9am-10am. I also spend time working my GA job this morning, working from 8am-2pm (with an hour break for the tutee). Each week I spend 3 hours as an ELP, and 7-8 hours as a GA. At 2pm my role switches back to a student, as I jump into my Women, Peacemaking and Peace-building class. This course is part of the Masters in Coexistence program, and while it fulfills a gender requirement for my SID degree, I am always impressed by the quality of the content and walk away having learned so much. This class goes from 2-4:50pm and has around 35 students.

Wednesday: This is my “Zoomiest” day. 9-11:50am I virtually attend Bioethics and Intersectionality. This class is a requirement for the MS GHPM program, my second degree. Last week, from 12:30-1pm I attended a small “Coffee with the Dean” event, as I deeply value networking and love to socialize. Then, from 1pm-2pm I have a meeting with the Heller Student Association (HSA). This year I was elected to be the co-coordinator for events, but will take on the role as co-chair of HSA for next year – this is a great way to get connected and to invest in your graduate school experience. Then, from 2-4:50pm my class, Strategic Management takes place. This is an MBA course. As someone who is interested in leadership, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take this course, which also counts as an elective. My day is not done yet! From 5:30-7pm I meet with my Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship pals. This is the highlight to a long day, and another way to get connected.

Thursday: After working on assignments for a few hours, I log into my 9am class, Randomized Controlled Trials (aka Advanced M&E). This is a SID class with about 10 students. This class is much more technical than theoretical, and I have been intentional to include a good mix within my electives to sharpen my hard and soft skills.

Facing Challenges This Semester

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced this semester was spring break, or lack thereof. Having just graduated from my undergraduate institution last May, I was accustomed to having a week-long spring break that consists of going somewhere to escape my current struggles at school. With the exception of the pandemic, spring break was always a time for me and my family to go to New York City to visit family. I never realized that graduate school meant that I would graduate from week-long breaks to a one-day break. Of course, this accounts for the time during the break that I would be doing work, in which then the break does not really become a break. But, I digress!

As much as I would love to have longer breaks, the one that I received this semester taught me the value of relaxation and doing absolutely nothing. Yes, nothing. Nothing can mean lying in bed all day, binging Schitt’s Creek, or playing with your roommate’s dog (which doubles as pet therapy). That being said, having this short break allows me to do nothing as well as time to think. Yes, there is not much time to plan and book a whirlwind vacation on some tropical resort, but it alternatively gives me time to think about my role in my program. It gives me time to think about all the places I can go with my degrees, and where exactly I will end up. Nothing does not have to mean nothing. In graduate school, we make the most out of what we have, even if that includes nothing.

I used to be so much more excited about spring break, and now I look forward to a day off of Zoom. But, I see it as a rite of passage, as a form of “adulting” of sorts. This does not mean I will never find myself on a beach in Hawaii, but it does mean I am finding ways to keep myself motivated in graduate school while focusing on my studies. With current circumstances, much of the time we spend is indoors or in limited interaction. That being said, even if you want to do “nothing,” you always have the option to do it from a more tropical location.

 

Letter to My Past Self with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time here at Heller comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what kind of advice I’d give to the version of myself who first came to Brandeis in 2019. I’d have quite a lot to tell her about classes, projects, friends, and new experiences, so I decided to write a letter to my former self.

Dear 2019 Sami,

Congratulations! You just began your time at the Heller School. You’re about to have a very meaningful experience. This experience will also be challenging, rewarding, stress-inducing, and so inspiring. Sometimes, the experience you’re about to begin will be difficult and overwhelming, but please remember to hang in there! Difficult experiences are often the most rewarding, and they will lead you to feel such immense pride in yourself and in the work that you’re going to accomplish. Remember never to give up, and that it is ok to be exhausted because it means you’re working your hardest!

Remember, Sami, that everyone here is in the same boat as you. Sometimes it’ll be tempting to think that everybody except you knows exactly what they’re doing. But don’t be fooled! All of your fellow classmates are learning and growing alongside you. You’ll receive so much support from them, too, and you’ll be able to happily support them back. As a group, you and your fellow Heller students will evolve and expand, personally, professionally, and academically. Remember that they don’t know more, or less than you do. Instead, you are all offering your very own unique contributions to your cohort’s experiences.

Please keep in mind how important it is to take care of yourself and make ample time for self-care. Rely on the emotional support offered by your friends at Heller. Meet with classmates outside of the classroom and give them space to tell you all about their perspectives. If cultural differences feel out of your comfort zone, allow yourself to handle the discomfort and learn from it. Your classmates are the best resource you’ll find here at Brandeis!

Lastly, 2019 Sami, never lose sight of your goals and ambitions. They’ll change, of course, during your time at the Heller School. Your perspectives will broaden, and your ideas will grow, and your capacity to learn will evolve. You’re about to have one of the most amazing experiences of your life! So get ready, you’re about to transform in all sorts of ways you can’t even imagine yet.

Yours truly,

2021 Sami

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