Category: Research

Is the PhD in Social Policy right for me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is drawing to a close, we’re beginning to gear up for the Fall 2022 entry cycle, which means we’re doing a pivot over here on the blog: while we’ve been focusing on the needs of our admitted students for the last few months, now I’ll be shifting my focus to those of you who are just embarking on your journey to find the right program. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. Next up?

PhD in Social Policy

What is it? The Heller PhD curriculum trains students to ask critical questions about social policies and their outcomes and to conduct rigorous, creative research in search of solutions to persistent social problems. The PhD program consists of a small set of core requirements, allowing students to design learning plans that support a broad array of research interests. Students in our program major in one of our four concentrations: Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families. In each of these, faculty resources and research centers of the Heller School are used to enrich the academic environment and also provide opportunities for students to work on research, outside practical training, and broaden their career network.

Who’s it for? Our typical PhD student has between 5-10 years of work experience, although we do sometimes admit students with less experience if they have strong academics. They’re driven to make systemic changes in policy rather than work with individuals, and they’re interested in conducting the research necessary for making informed policy decisions. If you’re the sort of person that likes doing a deep dive into social issues and wants to contribute to the body of knowledge advancing social issues, the PhD in Social Policy program might be right for you.

What kinds of classes will I take? You’ll take 60 credits over the course of two years before moving onto the dissertation stage of your degree. Courses in the Heller PhD program fall largely into three ‘buckets’: theory, methods, and your concentration area. In addition, you’ll be able to take electives like Immigrant Integration in the US: Policy, Practice and PeopleFoundations in Social Theory: From the Early Twentieth Century to Critical Race Theory, and Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy. From there, you’ll move onto your comprehensive exam and the dissertation stage of your degree, where you’ll select a four-person dissertation committee tailored to the needs of your specific dissertation topic. The committee members serve as mentors and guides through the dissertation process and always include a scholar from outside the Heller community (this could be a professor within Brandeis, someone you’ve worked with at another university, or someone working on research in your field).

Where will it take me? After graduation, about a third of our students go into academia, another third go onto work in research institutes and the last third go into roles within the government or non-profit organizations. However, regardless of what sector they’re operating in, most of our recent graduates are taking on roles related to research: recent graduates (graduating within five years) have job titles like Deputy Director of Regional & Community Outreach, Director of Research of the Institute for Health Equity, or Director for Behavioral Health and Opioid Stewardship. Students who have graduated ten or more years ago have titles like Associate Professor/Executive Director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation;  President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate; and Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

How is Heller’s program different? Heller is a top 10 school of social policy, home to 10 renowned research centers and institutes that cover social policy areas ranging from disability policy to asset inequality. Heller PhD students concentrate in one of four policy areas (Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families), each of which is linked to a Heller research institute. The PhD cohorts within Heller are usually under fifteen students per year, allowing for increased interaction with faculty and facilitating tight-knit cohorts. Heller also provides funding for full-time PhD students for their first four years, including a stipend; at Heller, PhD funding is not contingent on working as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Many of our students do work as TAs or RAs, but your funding package is to reward you for the work you’ve already done, so any money you make as a TA or RA would go straight into your pocket.

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.

Heller Reading List: Doug Nevins Shares His Favorite Readings

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

For this week’s blog post, I’ll be reflecting on a few interesting readings which were assigned in my MPP courses this past year. Before starting my program,  I actually missed having assigned readings and the opportunity to discuss them in a class setting. Heller has more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the rigor and relevance of assigned readings.

Summer reading: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander Cover of The New Jim Crow

MPP students typically read this book over the summer and discuss it with their cohort during orientation. While I had been familiar with some of Alexander’s findings and arguments, I had never read the complete book until last summer (I regret not doing so sooner). It is truly a remarkable, troubling, and eye-opening book. The book documents how mass incarceration functions as the newest form of racist, structural oppression in a long history of oppressive systems in the United States. Alexander is particularly adept at tracing the judicial history that has codified our racist policing and carceral systems and insulated them from legal challenges. I think The New Jim Crow is essential reading (for policy students and for pretty much anyone), particularly in our current moment.

Fall and spring semester: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gøsta Esping-Andersen

Cover of the Three Worlds of Welfare CapitalismI know – it probably sounds a bit dry! However, reading selections from this book in two courses at Heller really influenced my thinking about history and comparative political economy. If you’ve heard Bernie Sanders talk about the virtues of Danish health care and social welfare, but wondered what historical factors actually influenced the differences between US and European social policy, this book provides an excellent introduction. It served as excellent fodder for classroom debates about how fixed and permanent the differences between the three welfare state models identified by Esping-Andersen actually are, and about what lessons we might draw from non-US contexts about ways to improve our own system.

Fall semester: Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven GreenhouseCover of Beaten Down, Worked Up

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am very interested in labor history and policy, and thoroughly enjoyed the elective which I took on this subject in Fall 2019. This book provided an excellent and very readable historical overview of several key periods in US labor history, from early victories by garment workers’ unions in NYC, to the conflicts between public-sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, to cutting edge organizing efforts led by gig economy workers. Greenhouse is a former NY Times labor reporter, and his style is both informative and fun to read. Prof. Bob Kuttner invited Greenhouse to visit our class and discuss labor history past and present. This was a great opportunity to hear stories about labor organizing and to learn a bit more about the process of reporting on unions worker-led organizations.

I’ve really appreciated the balance of different types of assigned readings at Heller, which has included accessible non-fiction works, journalistic and historical accounts, political and sociological theory, and policy and research reports. I hope these three examples provide some insight into the value of the readings assigned in the MPP curriculum. I know I’m looking forward to this coming year’s assignments as well!

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