Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

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

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

Research resources (virtual and physical)

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

…not to mention research librarians!

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

Periodicals and software

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

Workshops

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

Study spaces

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

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

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

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Dear Future Saz,

Congratulations on graduating with a Social Impact MBA and a Master’s in Sustainable International Development from The Heller School! Looks like you’ve done it again. You’ve graduated with a mouthful of interdisciplinary degrees! All jokes aside, all I can ask you is how?

How did you do it, Sazia? How did you overcome the trials and tribulations of life while juggling two years of intense coursework? Finish the Strategic Management Midterm paper? Figure out which organization to do your team consulting project on? There’s so many courses and assignments we can ask you about but what matters the most is that you did it. You, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, did it. You, a Muslim immigrant, did it. 

These past two years must have “Zoom-ed” by. With your entire first year being online and in a format you struggled to grasp at times to being in person for your second Master’s, your experience at Heller was truly one-of-a-kind. At times, it felt like weeks of classes go by in a blink, in others, you can’t wait for the weekend. I hope you were able to take time for yourself during these weeks and got a chance to breathe. I know old Saz would not shy away from retail therapy at the Natick Mall, but I do hope her future version engages in more frugal forms of self-care. 

Now comes the next big step in your life – choosing a career. Before your parents ask, ask yourself. What are you going to do now? Your interdisciplinary degrees open you up to a multitude of professional opportunities. I remember old Saz coming into Heller with the hopes of refining her skillset to become an international humanitarian aid worker. Now, I assume your interests and skills have equipped you for other routes. After two semesters, I learned so much about making an impact on a smaller scale, which stemmed from experiences like serving on the board of a local non-profit organization. At the end of the day, I know Sazia’s goals and aspirations will transcend time. They will transcend old Saz and future Saz. I want to serve underserved communities, and give a voice to those who aren’t equipped with the faculties to do so. I know future Saz will want to uphold these values. 

The possibilities are endless, and it’s scary. But it’s also so exciting. I cannot wait to see how you implement the valuable knowledge and wisdom you gained these past two years into your career. But never forget, the journey is sometimes more beautiful than the destination! Never forget the professors who left an impact on you, the specialized courses you never thought of taking but ended up loving, and the friendships that blossomed in your cohort over the past two years but will remain a lifetime. Congratulations again, Saz. Be proud of yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Dear Future Hannah,

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating Challenges in Graduate School with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Heller!: Daniella Levine’s Acceptance Story

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

After a week of working remotely (in what my organization called at the time a “work from home test-run”), I was in the midst of a post-work debrief with some of my colleague friends when the email notification popped up on my phone.

I’d been getting bombarded by Brandeis and other academic institutions for weeks at this point with reasons why I should consider their school and the special opportunities they had to offer. Yet, I was confused – wasn’t I the one who should be wooing them – sharing my value add? Suffice to say, when another email came in from Brandeis, at 5:20 on a Friday afternoon no less, I was skeptical that it would be a significant update. But when I opened the email and saw that it carried news, I suddenly could not hear what the four boxes on my screen were saying. Logging into my account without trying to signal any emotional change in my face for fear that someone on my call would ask what was happening, I tried to keep my face stoic and unchanged.

Ultimately, however, my face betrayed me as my expression quickly transformed to reveal what the letter said: I was accepted. Interrupting my friends (which is common for me and my stream of conscious style) to relay the news caused the whole screen to erupt in celebration. Good news was hard to come by those first couple weeks (months) of the pandemic, and being able to share my excitement in real-time with the women who had spent the last four years inspiring and uplifting me was such a gift. Then came the screenshots and texts to family and friends alike, all eagerly awaiting any news.

Heller’s commitment to social justice and equity drew me in and is what has sustained me over the last year. They not only practice what they preach, they actively work to do and be better and I am so lucky to be a part of the change, surrounded by driven and like-minded peers, faculty, and professors.

Preparing for a Virtual Admitted Student Event

If you’re one of the lucky students who has gotten into one or more of your top choice schools, first of all, congratulations! The good news: the worrying is over! The bad news: the decision-making isn’t. Even if you’ve only gotten into one school, you still have to make the choice as to whether this is the right program for you or the right time for you, and if you’ve gotten into multiple schools, well, you still have to answer those questions! The question of, “Is this the right time for me?” is going to be deeply personal, but when you’re trying to answer, “Is this the right program for me?” there are a lot of resources that you can tap into to help you answer. Most schools (including Heller) are hosting a variety of admitted student events that you can use to help you decide which school is right for you.

In this new world of Zoom, it can be tempting to leave your camera off and attend the event from bed; after all, you’re already in, right? But think about it: the current students will someday become your colleagues and classmates and the faculty will one day become your thesis advisors or mentors. These people’s opinions (whether or not you end up attending the school!) still matter because after all, they’re in your field.  Well, I have three easy tips to make sure you make the best first impression.

1. Be camera-ready. Okay, you can leave your sweatpants on, but your top half should be presentable. There’s no need for a suit and tie, but aim for business casual. If the room behind you is visible, make sure it’s in a reasonably presentable state, or better yet, use a Zoom background if your camera has the capability. In other words, prepare the way you would if this were a virtual meeting with your supervisor; even though you already have the job, you want to present yourself in the best possible light.

2. Prepare your elevator pitch. Chances are, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself. The faculty and staff probably already know your background from your application, but especially if you’re meeting with current students or alumni, take a second to think of how you want to present yourself, so you’re not left either stammering to come up with an answer or ending up in a diatribe about your experience at summer camp in the fifth grade. An easy formula is past+present+future, so for example, “I first became interested in social policy when I was interning with Congressmember X while I was earning my bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, I’ve worked as a consultant for multiple projects, but I’m most proud of my work with Organization Y, where I helped them to develop an improved delivery system for those living in food deserts. I’m interested in learning more about Z, and I would eventually like to work as a program director for an organization that focuses on reducing homelessness.”

3. Get some questions ready. Again, you’ll want to tailor this to the group of people you’ll be meeting, but you should still ask the questions you want to know. A well-researched, to-the-point question is sure to make you a stand-out! For faculty: “Do any of your current research projects employ students?” “What type of student is successful in this program?” “Do your classes rely more on independent work or collaboration?” For current students: “What surprised you about this program?” “How available are faculty members?” “What’s been your favorite class and why?” For alumni: “What skills did you gain in the program that have proved most useful?” “How helpful was the Career Development Center in finding employment?” You can even write these on post-it notes to stick to your computer so you won’t forget!

There you have it! Now you’re ready to make the best possible first impression and get the answers you need to help make your decision. Remember, admissions offices are hosting these events for you, so make sure you come in prepared to get the answers you need.

Balancing the School-Work Lifestyle with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

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

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

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

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


  1. Get organized.

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

  1. Find your crew and work as a team.

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

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

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

  1. Know when to take a step back.

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

Hello Heller!: Sazia Nowshin’s Acceptance Story

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

One fateful Friday in late February of last year, I was leaving my workplace to go back to campus and received an email from Brandeis regarding an “update on my application.” As I was walking down the stairs to the backdoor exit, I opened the email and went to my application. Thinking back on it, I’m sure I should have been more nervous. But at the moment, I was so tuckered out from a long day’s work, I opened up the email as casually as possible. However, when I discovered that I got into Heller, I stopped in my tracks immediately. I remember texting my closest friends and FaceTiming my parents. 

Congrats on brandice,” my friend told me, whose ability to remember the school I applied to mattered more than spelling Brandeis wrong. 

I remember my sister being ecstatic over text, and my parents having extremely different reactions. My father’s first question immediately was “how much does it cost?,” a question that Heller Admissions can help answer for prospective students and parents (please don’t judge my shameless plug). My mother, on the other hand, was bawling at the idea of me moving to a different state for school. Nonetheless, I believe they were all proud of me.

Once I received my decision from Heller, I was faced with a difficult decision. I had to choose between this program and another social policy program in New York. Either way, I would have had to move because I had lived at home all my life, needed to change my environment to really focus on my graduate education, and experience new things in life overall. After weighing my options and consulting with many people whose opinions I value, I ended choosing Heller. 

The biggest factor that caused me to hesitate with Brandeis was name recognition. The other program was from a school that all my friends knew and had a high ranking in social policy programs, and no one but my professors had known of Brandeis’ esteemed academic reputation. But name recognition only gets you so far, in my opinion. One should choose their program for what it truly offers. With Heller’s program, I would be able to experience the vast opportunities the Greater Boston area has to offer and the diverse student body of Heller. The program at Heller was also better for me in terms of financial aid and the opportunity to network with those in the international development community, which is the field I strive to have a career in. 

When it comes to choosing which program or school one wants to attend, what really matters is if one believes they can make the most out of where they are attending.

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