Tag: What I Wish I’d Known

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!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Advice

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The “Heller experience” varies from student to student. There is so much to do, and for me, not having been in school since I graduated from undergrad in 2011, I wanted to do it all! Your time at Heller allows you to try new things, meet new people, and sign up to be a part of many exciting Heller and Brandeis wide events. As we approach the new school year, I want to pass along three pieces of advice I would give any incoming or prospective student:

1.  Prioritize career development, such as having an internship or Career Development Services workshops. While I chose to be very involved on the Heller campus through my on-campus work  and extracurriculars activities, I wish I had made it a priority to do more career development along the way, such as internships with organizations, especially because for the MBA, it can count as credit. There are a number of incredible organizations, including health, public policy, international development all within the Boston area. Having graduated, I think that if I had put an effort into connecting with local organizations while in school, I would have at an advantage in the job market. If internships can’t fit into your schedule, Career Development Services has a number of great workshops and informational packets as well. I would advise that students reach out sooner than later for help with interview prep or resume reviews, because graduation creeps up on you quickly!

2. Take a look outside of Heller.  It’s already overwhelming to see the options of exciting classes to take at Heller. But don’t forget, there are options to take classes or attend conferences and events at universities in the Boston area! Students often take courses for credit or for audit at the Brandeis International Business School or through the Consortium (which includes local universities such as Babson, MIT, or Harvard). During my time at Heller, I attended events and conferences that were hosted at Harvard or Boston University and appreciated the networking opportunities. I also had the chance to attend a conference in Detroit with Net Impact. Even better, you can apply for a Heller conference grant which will help offset your conference fees.

3. Challenge yourself with the social entrepreneurship events at Heller. I may be biased as someone who was known at Heller for loving everything related to social entrepreneurship, but I highly recommend that students, regardless of their degree program, sign up to take part in Heller Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize Challenge, which are two social entrepreneurship events at Heller. During my two years at Heller, I was actively involved in this event, first as a participant and then as a Director. It allowed me to plan, lead, and organize events with layers of complexity, which I have been able to reference in many of my interviews! Participants I have worked with have enjoyed this event and have found that it helps hone their leadership, presentation, and teamwork skills.

There are many opportunities for you at Heller, Brandeis, and in the Boston area. Remember that although you may be going to graduate school to further your professional goals, it’s not just the degree that matters: the connections you build and the skills you acquire can be a major asset in your future. Keep an eye out for the different events and enjoy being in school!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

For me, starting grad school was simultaneously an overwhelming, exciting, confusing, and invigorating experience. I certainly had no clue what to expect. So, what advice would I give to someone just beginning their Heller journey?

First, I want to remind incoming Heller students to stay calm: you are here for a reason, and you should be confident in your ability to do important and impactful work here. At times, you may slip into comparing yourself to other students, measuring their professional backgrounds and experiences against yours. But here at Heller, we are all in the same boat. No one is doing “better” or “worse” work than anyone else, and Heller is certainly not a competition. Essentially, everybody has the same goal of being a benefit to their communities, their nations, and the world.

Another piece of advice I can give is: the cold weather isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be! Granted, I am from the Northeast and therefore used to the cold. Be sure to buy good, sturdy snow boots, especially if you intend on walking to Brandeis, or around Waltham and Boston. Get waterproof gloves, wool socks, a warm hat that covers your ears, and a waterproof coat— these items are definitely necessary to get through winter in Waltham comfortably.   But remember, winter will always come to an end and Massachusetts summers are beautiful.

I would also recommend that you explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as possible! I sometimes get stuck in “campus mode” and spend all day tucked away in Heller. It will make a huge difference to your mental health if you find time to explore outside of Brandeis. The historic Walden Pond is only a 20-minute drive from Waltham, Cambridge has wonderful bookstores, and Salem offers everything from cute vintage shops to museums about witches. Leaving campus helped me to clear my head, and ultimately allowed me to perform better as a student. Exploring is also a great way to gain ownership over your new home and a way to feel more present and “at home” in Massachusetts overall.

The last piece of advice I want to emphasize is about cultivating relationships at Heller. I am prone to shyness, and in my first few weeks at Heller, I felt reticent to begin fostering significant relationships with professors and with my cohort. My advice to you is: Don’t hold back! Again, everyone is in the same boat and we are here at Heller for the same reasons. Share your interests and experiences with your classmates and with Heller faculty. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, attend on-campus events, and make weekend plans to unwind with your cohort. The opportunity to foster and cultivate relationships is one of the most valuable things Heller offers to its students. Ask your professors questions, even if you think it might sound silly. Listen to the members of your cohort as they describe their unique experiences. I am so very thankful for the people I have met during my first year at Heller. I have met faculty who sparked new interests within me, and friendships I am certain I will maintain throughout my life. Studying at Heller is a significant experience that we all share – cultivate those relationships and let them flourish!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man smiling at the camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Beginning classes at Heller this past fall after several years out of school, I was excited to get back into an academic mindset. While focusing on class is key to grad school success, it’s important not to overlook the amazing opportunities Heller has for research, career advising, and just generally connecting with people who are engaged in important and interesting work. My biggest piece of advice for new Heller students is to hit the ground running and identify folks on campus whom you want to meet. This might be a Heller faculty researcher whose work fascinates you, a peer whose interest areas are similar to yours, or a staff member who can connect you with helpful resources.

In my case, I was fortunate to get involved in the Heller Admissions office, through which I’ve met students in other degree programs and many staff members, and to be connected with Heller researchers through an assignment in my first semester research methods class. I also took advantage of career treks to Washington, D.C. and New York City this semester and connected with alumni working in public policy. I’ve gained a lot from these experiences, and I’m glad that there’s more at Heller still to discover. At the same time, it’s never too early to reach out and make connections.

Graduate school is really what you make of it. Everyone at Heller has a totally unique experience, and there’s no reason not to branch out and pursue opportunities outside of the core courses in your degree program. Research, working groups, campus jobs, volunteer activities – all can be a great way to get more value out of your Heller experience. One of my goals for the remainder of my time at Heller is to either get involved in a research institute or pursue an independent study. It’s great to know that faculty and advisers here will support me in this goal. When you first arrive at Heller, don’t wait to find the opportunities that will make your time here great!

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