Category: Student Perspectives (page 1 of 8)

Yes to Summer Reading

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

A defining assignment in my Heller career came before I even stepped foot in the classroom. The summer before the program begins, in addition to some of the virtual on-boarding and orientation programs, Heller asks all MPP students to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Typically, when we think of summer reads, they are romance novels and light reads to match the airiness and warmth of the summer.

I would not say that The New Jim Crow fits the description. According to a New Yorker piece published in 2020, The New Jim Crow “[…] considers not only the enormity and cruelty of the American prison system but also […] the way the war on drugs and the justice system have been used as a ‘system of control’ that shatters the lives of millions of Americans—particularly young black and Hispanic men.” All the same, it had sat on my book list for months and I was excited for the push from Heller to finally read it. 

Not only did The New Jim Crow set the foundation for my studies at Heller, but it was also the perfect summer book. I was enthralled, as so many pieces of a broken system were weaved together by one coherent report. It sought to educate the reader without incendiary or alienating language. It brought clarity; in a time of publicized racial reckoning, The New Jim Crow meticulously outlined the past, present, and future of racial prejudice. It fostered a sense of renewal through its emphasis on the magnitude of work that needs to be done and the political vacuum that must be filled to attain retribution. It underscored shared accountability. Most of all, it provided a refreshed account of our systemic perpetuation of slavery through its digestible, direct, and transparent telling. 

Since consuming Alexander’s words a year ago, my work and studies have been grounded by the narratives of the millions who suffer under American persecution. The confines of American society conscript too many to an unjust life: they force individuals to live a life of constant fear devoid of any respect or decency. The emotional and sociological brutality of the institutional and social imbalance in the United States can entrap and torture a person, without having to place them in a physical prison cell. And Michelle Alexander uses her platform to demonstrate that too many are still waiting for physical and emotional salvation.  

Heller’s commitment to the eradication of discrimination can be seen in the requirement of each public policy student to engage with such material as The New Jim Crow. We as a nation can only be as good as our worst policy. As a school, we can only be as impactful as the effort we put in – and after I closed a heavily marked-up copy of The New Jim Crow, I knew Heller was the place I was going to learn to make a difference.

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!

Wondering What Courses to Take? Sami Has Suggestions!

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

When I first took a look at Heller’s course list, I felt overwhelmed by so many fascinating options. Choosing which classes to take is definitely no easy task at Heller, but to make it *slightly* easier for you, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite courses. I definitely recommend taking a look at these classes (or other classes taught by these professors) when it’s time to create your own course schedules.

  1. “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” with Professor Nanako Tamaru was a truly enlightening course about the role of women in peacemaking processes. I especially enjoyed the structure of this class and appreciated Professor Tamaru’s ability to spark a fascinating discussion among classmates. I also loved our final project: An opportunity to write an op-ed that will ultimately be published on Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peace, and Security” blog. You can find the blog and other examples of final projects for the course here.
  2. Professor Lawrence Bailis’s course on “Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing” is another favorite of mine. Each week, Professor Bailis would invite a guest speaker to tell the class about their experience and answer questions. Hearing from actual activists about their real world experiences in advocacy and organizing presenting such an insightful perspective. The variety of issues our guest speakers represented was enormous. We heard from participants in the Egyptian revolution, gun rights activists, American politicians, and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. During my two years at Heller, I’ve taken three different classes with Professor Raj Sampath, and I really recommend checking out some of his courses. Each class has only one assignment: A 10-ish page paper on a subject of your choosing related to sustainable international development. I love the freedom of being able to choose my own research topic! Professor Sampath’s classes are very discussion-based, and we would often break out into smaller groups to talk about that week’s topic. The course introduced me to many social theorists and philosophers who helped inform my work as a peace-builder and conflict resolver.
  4. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I began Professor Lee Panas’s course on STATA software. I initially felt intimidated by data management and statistics, but Professor Panas has an amazing way of making his students feel comfortable and supported. STATA is a complicated and nuanced software and I wanted to add it as another tool in my tool belt. I also recommend this course because knowledge of STATA can be hugely helpful as you enter the job market. I now feel much more comfortable managing and analyzing data because of Professor Panas’s course.

There are many, many fantastic courses to choose from at Heller, and these are just four of them. I highly recommend considering these classes, but if that’s not a possibility, I certainly recommend connecting with these professors during your time here at Heller. Happy class registration!

Why Study Gender Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

At a very young age, we learn to identify distinguishable characteristics both through innate and formal education. Differences in skin-tone, size, hair color and texture; there exists a long list of traits that individualize each person. However, gender is believed to be clear-cut and stagnant, at least according to mass opinion: “God made man, and from man’s rib came woman”. Seems simple enough – yet this archaic archetype is just that, old and outdated.

So it’s no surprise that gender-specific policy has followed this binary and misaligned trajectory. Gendernormativity dictated socially acceptable gender identification until the mid-20th century. Even in the 60s and 70s during the social awakening of the US, when gender expression started to be publicly challenged, people were confined to their assigned gender and expected to continue to behave accordingly.

Society and policy alike have a lot to say about what constitutes a woman and what is her expected role in the home and the workplace. Women are expected to be model mothers and devoted contributors to the market, but denied the tools to do both effectively. When she abides by the system, a woman is reprimanded – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are detrimental to her survival. When she tries to navigate outside of the system, she is chastised – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are, again, detrimental to her survival. Welfare and FMLA, two government-sanctioned programs created with the intent to benefit women, only further constrict them, especially BIPOC women.

As such, many of the core threats to our civil structure stem from gender-based inequity. One in four girls skip school when they are menstruating because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products; they then fall behind in school and are unable to break the cyclical trends of poverty. A white woman’s work is valued at seventy-two cents to the white man’s dollar, which still out-performs the Hispanic woman’s 52 cents. Paid parental leave is not federally mandated and for many women, especially in blue collar professions, pregnancy is grounds for extermination.

Women are not given the same tools as men to succeed. The XX Factor identifies five dimensions of women’s lives that, if achieved, can positively impact her: economic empowerment, education, health, personal safety and legal services. If just one of these five dimensions is enhanced, a woman’s well-being and livelihood are dramatically shifted. But health, education, personal safety: are these not basic necessities allotted to citizens? Why are women still struggling? Our system is broken, and its effect is women’s demise. We must restructure our foundation to eliminate the imbalance prevalent in our Western culture to dismantle the extortion of women’s freedom.

Building Community around the World

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

This blog post today comes to you from Springfield, Missouri (pronounced Missour-ah). You may be thinking, “Springfield, like from the Simpsons?”, but no, the Simpsons are allegedly based off of a city in Springfield, Oregon. Although I have yet to run into Marty Byrde (any Ozark fans out there?), I have met some pretty incredible individuals during my 12-week stint living in this new location. The next natural question would certainly be, why are you living there? So, to remove the absolute gut-wrenching suspense you must be feeling in anticipation I will tell you – I am here for my summer practicum.

So, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you will have to enter into a foreign place and create community. Maybe you already have numerous times, or maybe graduate school will be one of the first major steps outside of your geographical zone of comfort. I would like to put forth my tried-and-true, simple-yet-effective tip for building community in a new place. Also as a disclaimer, *wow, how odd would it have been if I had stated what is to follow even 2 years ago*, but these tips work best when not accompanied by a pandemic. As a testament to the uncertainty of our future, and to ensure this post remains relevant in the years to come I will add, these tips also work best when not accompanied by a meteor strike, alien invasion, or black hole as well.

Okay, so let me establish some credibility with you before I launch in. There is nothing worse than someone giving advice on something they know little to nothing about, amirite? I have traveled both nationally and internationally, totally alone, to places including Atlanta, Georgia; Utila, Honduras; Chemnitz, Germany; Tres Lagoas, Brazil; Deventer, The Netherlands; and now, Springfield, Missouri. Sometimes I travel with others, or meet folks at my destination, but often I am arriving knowing no one. How then does one make friends quickly and sometimes without being fluent in the language?

Here is it, the tip you have all been on the edge of your seats to read: I find a church (or another house of worship) and a gym literally the day after I am settled in.

Why these spaces? First of all, they are universal and it is an easy connection point.  These physical locations are outward embodiments of aspects of individuals typically not discussed upon general introductions. I like to stay active and care for my body, just like those around me at the gym. I also like to stay engaged spiritually, just like those around me at the church. BAM! Easy conversation starters. “So, how long have you been coming to this gym/church?”. They respond (and if they’re well versed in social norms will likely ask), “and how about you?”. That’s when you can hit them with the fact that you just arrived in the area.

The second reason I really like this method is that, unlike a restaurant or mall, these places are extremely conducive to conversation. Moreover, folks are not generally under super strict time constraints when venturing into a church or gym. This allows for deeper questions and eventually social media/cell phone number exchanges. I have found that when people discover that you are new to the area they want to help you feel connected.

The last piece to this puzzle is, of course, intentionality on your part. I am a pretty assertive and dominant personality type as is, so I will literally say, “Hey, if you guys hang out outside of this gym/church, please invite me along!”. It can sound pushy, but I am telling you – it works!

I have made many friends in many places with this simple method. It is scary to be vulnerable in new spaces, but if you are a community seeker like myself, you will find way more acceptance than rejection along the way.

I also want to acknowledge, this method works for me, but not everyone may be comfortable or able to join a gym or church. The principle behind community building is not always the exact location, but more so the method for joining new spaces. So, go out there and find community – however you comfortably can!

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!

Life After Heller: Sami’s Job Hunting!

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Heller’s 2021 graduation ceremony was such a blast to participate in, and I can’t believe it was just a few weeks ago! Now that final projects and papers are all turned in, it’s time for me to begin the job hunt. Searching for a new job can be very exciting, but it can also be totally terrifying. Here are a few tips and resources that I’ve found helpful to make your search for a job less overwhelming and much less scary.

Perhaps the hardest step in finding a new job is knowing where to start. Luckily, there’s a number of sites that list jobs relevant to many Heller students’ interests. I love the website Idealist.com because they have opportunities both within the United States and internationally. Their site makes it easy to search by location, job type, or subject matter. ReliefWeb and GlobalJobs.org are two other excellent sites for job hunting in our fields. These sites also list opportunities abroad as well as domestic positions.

The Career Development Center at Heller is an amazing resource that you should absolutely take advantage of during your time in grad school. From helping you write a cover letter, to providing interview tips, to posting available jobs and internships, Heller’s Career Center staff are available to answer all sorts of questions you may have. Every year, the Career Development Center also hosts treks to New York City and Washington, D.C. These treks are excellent opportunities to connect with individuals working at the organizations you may want to work with after graduation. I attended the NYC Career Trek during my first year at Heller, and was thrilled to meet with Program Directors at the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

Making connections is one of the most important aspects of landing the job that you want. Be sure to network among your Heller peers and maintain connections with your professors. This is another reason why the Career Treks are so meaningful. They provide a valuable opportunity to personally connect with the people you actually aim to work with in the future. Heller professors and staff also have a lot of connections, so it’s important to network with them as well. Of course, networking can feel awkward at times. But you can leave an enormous impression on someone by simply conveying your passion, knowledge, and ability!

Most importantly, keep a positive outlook! The job hunt can sometimes feel exhausting. But your hard work writing cover letters and resumes will certainly pay off. Don’t let yourself feel discouraged! You made it to Heller, and you’ve done all the hard work of graduate school. You’ve come this far, and you deserve to feel excited about taking the next step towards your career.

Persistence is Key: How to Unlock your Summer Experience

Finding the right internship or summer opportunity can be challenging. There are so many great choices and it may be difficult to know where to start. Here are some useful tips that helped me during my search.

Connect with the Career Center:

Each program at Heller has designated staff who are primed in your program and ready to help you. They will start running information sessions during the spring semester. I highly recommend you attend at least one. It could be helpful to hear what questions or issues your classmates may have and get up to date tips and tricks from the staff. If you feel comfortable, I recommend also scheduling a one-on-one meeting as well. Whether it’s for resume building or search suggestions, you will not regret it.

Check Handshake and other search engines:

While search engines can be daunting for some (me), they are a great tool. It’s all about finding the right search words. Utilize the advanced search options to help narrow down the available jobs and internships. Identify the region, time of year, pay preference right off from the start. Make sure to include key words to ensure you’re receiving the right responses. For example, I made sure to always have the words “policy” “gender” or “women” included in all my searches, as my studies focus on gender policy.

And don’t get discouraged if the search doesn’t produce too many options at the beginning. While government agencies seem to have earlier deadlines, many agencies do not post their summer internships until March and April! So, make sure to save your search criteria and refresh often.

Network:

Yes, I know “network” can be seen as a dirty word. But if I have learned anything during my own process, it is to not shy away from your connections. And it’s okay if you are new in the field/may not have a strong network yet – that’s what being at Heller is all about. Make sure to connect with old colleagues, new professors, friends in the field. Word of mouth and peer recommendations go a long way! Heller’s network is far-reaching. Connect with professors and faculty in your field. If they do not have immediate connections, I ensure you their networks do. Heller alumni love to help, so set up that informational interview, ask that professor out to coffee, or ping that guest lecturer.

Once you’ve found an opportunity that interests you – make sure to check LinkedIn and see who you may know at the organization or what mutual connections you share. Similarly, let your advisor or professors know, chances are, they know someone.

General:

This process is your own so take it at your own pace. Do not compare your progress with your classmates and peers. Make sure to stick to deadlines and do not be afraid to ask for help. Everyone in the Heller community is here to help you succeed!

Time Management Challenge: Summer MBA Courses

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After enjoying a few weeks off since the conclusion of the spring semester, I’m about to begin my summer MBA semester. To somewhat repurpose the saying, I expect this experience to be both a marathon and a sprint. Heller MBAs take 16 credits over the summer, the same as we would during a typical fall or spring semester, with some credits covered by a Team Consulting Project and some earned through 3 accelerated courses. While it feels a bit strange to be gearing up for MORE work, rather than less, as the weather gets warmer and things begin to gradually reopen, I am optimistic about learning a lot and having the opportunity to focus intensely on my coursework and consulting project. This has got me thinking a bit about time management, a skill that I imagine will be tested quite a bit this summer. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in this area, per se, but I think I’ve developed a bit more expertise in how to plan ahead in classes throughout my time at Heller. Here are a few things I recommend to anyone wondering how time management and planning work in grad school:

  • Plan ahead (review the syllabus!)

Folks who have taken the MBA summer courses in the past have recommended reading the whole syllabus for each course and planning ahead. Before classes actually begin, it could be worth getting a head start on readings, talking to peers about forming group project teams, and being aware of deadlines. I’ve found this approach to be useful during the fall and spring semesters as well.

  • Use your calendar

Google Calendar is an invaluable tool. I block off time that I’m in class in addition to meetings and other activities that are formally scheduled with other people. This can be helpful to make sure days off from class are reflected on your calendar and to anticipate conflicts. Perhaps slightly less obvious advice is to put assignment deadlines on your calendar. I’ve noticed that I don’t anticipate as well when I will be particularly busy unless I do this – having two or three things due within a few days isn’t something you want to realize at the last minute!

  • Anticipate challenges and points of interest

Another advantage of reviewing course syllabi is to identify areas that will either be particularly interesting or particularly challenging for you. For instance, in anticipation of taking corporate finance this summer, I’ve spent some time on Investopedia reading up on general concepts. It helps that, hopefully, you’ll actually be interested in the material you encounter at Heller!

I’ve found that managing my time in grad school is a different process than when I was working full time. The commonality, I think, is that planning ahead and being honest with others and with yourself about what you can reasonably take on, pay dividends. Perhaps comparing this summer to either a marathon or a sprint is inaccurate – it’s more like a relay race, in which your teammates are there to help you out, and despite the rigor and intensity of the process there are still chances to catch your breath.

 

Facing Your Fears at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Over the last two years at the Heller School, I found myself face to face with one of my biggest fears: public speaking. I’ve given many presentations during my time at Heller, but I’ve always been a ball of nerves in the days leading up to each one. Yet I’ve challenged myself to tackle my fear of public speaking, and I have also found useful ways to cope with the anxiety. As I approach my final presentation, the presentation when I present my thesis, I can’t help but think of how proud I feel to engage in public speaking despite my discomfort with it.

Whenever I give a presentation, I always make sure to do my “power pose” right beforehand. This helps me to feel more assertive and strong. It might even seem silly, but from my experience, striking a “power pose” can help improve confidence. It’s a small act, but it makes a difference for me when I am delivering a presentation. In fact, many social psychologists describe the benefits of striking a powerful stance, and emphasize that it can be a helpful “life hack”.

I’m also preparing to present my thesis with lots (and lots and lots) of practice. It may also sound simple, but it is very true that “practice makes perfect”. It is important to feel comfortable with the material I’m presenting and feel comfortable and confident in the way I want to convey my findings and analysis. This, of course, helps cut down on my anxiety, as I grow more and more comfortable telling my story. Practicing my presentation with a friend also provides me with useful and helpful feedback. It is so helpful to do a test run (or two) before the big day! That way, you have some time to iron out any wrinkles that might pop up in your practice presentations.

It is also so important to remember that Heller is an environment in which your thoughts, ideas, and experiences are welcome. Your professors and classmates you are presenting to are eager to hear from you. They are listening with interest, openness, and curiosity. You will simply not find a hostile audience at the Heller School. Instead, you’ll be met with an audience who want you to succeed.

These are the practices I am keeping in mind as I approach my final presentation at Heller. Relatively simple acts, like striking a “power pose”, can make a world of difference. A healthy amount of practice is always my best route. And lastly, I am keeping in mind how receptive, curious, and interested my Heller audience will be to hear about my thesis.

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