Category: Student Perspectives (page 1 of 9)

The Dual Degree Experience

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

In the world of Heller, you will find a multitude of students with a wide mixing of degrees; Sustainable International Development (SID) and Coexistence and Conflict Resolution (COEX);  MBA and Global Health Policy and Management (MS); Public Policy and Social Impact MBA; the list goes on. So, why do students chose to spend even more time studying to pursue a dual degree? I cannot speak for all of my classmates and their rationale behind their choices, but I can speak for myself and my experience within the dual SID/MS universe and I will venture to do so today!

Full transparency – my experience is likely a little different as a result of doing my first entire year online. However, the content of courses remains largely the same, whether it’s held online or in person.

First, let’s breakdown how the SID and MS degree are dissimilar:

The SID degree is largely qualitative (hence it being a Masters of Arts), but should one desire to take more quantitative courses, there are a variety of options for electives that lean more quantitative. Elective-wise — the SID also has more space for building out specific interests within the program providing more flexibility. Requirements include gender and environmental courses, but allow you space to select from a bundle of options.

The MS degree, on the other hand, is much more quantitative in nature  (hence it being a Masters of Science). The MS program is only 9 months (if taken as a stand-alone program), so it has more requirements and less space for electives. However, it is meant to be a highly focused program, so although you have less flexibility on electives, you cover lots of important ground through the required courses.

Now, let’s compare the similarities between the SID and MS degrees:

Both the SID and MS program attract individuals who want to really make an impact on the world. Be it through strengthening a health system, environmental advocacy, quality hospital administration, or development practitioners streamlining processes for quality, you can be sure that your classmates are as driven for change as you. Additionally, these programs both create tight-knit communities that will likely remain connected well after graduation.

Lastly, I want to touch on how these programs complement each other:

As can likely be deduced from my previous observations of the differences each degree holds, coupling a Master of Arts with a Master of Science has created a really well-rounded look at the issues facing today. By marrying both qualitative and quantitative studies, I feel I am not only ready to look at a complex problem to think critically and creatively about a solution, but that I can also implement useful data tools to back my thoughts with evidence. Also, I am excited to further explore the intersection of health and development in the future, and these degrees will certainly prepare me well to do so.

It boils down to this: each degree— even as a stand-alone degree— will provide you with a wonderfully rich program. If you, like me, want to explore various avenues then consider adding a dual degree, as it will only enhance your learning and make you more marketable when you are searching for your next career!

If you want to speak with me more specifically about my experience with this dual degree program please do not hesitate to reach out anytime!

Matching Heller Classes to Skills

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As my own job search begins to get underway in earnest, I have been thinking more about my own skills and those that I have developed at Heller specifically. I’m also thinking about the skills demanded by employers, and the degree to which Heller coursework aligns with these. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way in which skills I’ve gained or strengthened at Heller translate to the requirements included in job listings, and I thought I would share a few examples to help make the utility of specific Heller courses seem a bit more concrete.

Skill/experience: experience with statistics and statistical packages such as STATA, SPSS, R, etc.

Countless job listings include some version of the above preferred qualification. In Heller’s statistics courses like “Data, Models and Decisions,” students learn how to construct regression models and run various statistical tests using STATA, one of the more commonly used stats software packages. Additional courses such as “Working with National Datasets” and “Evaluating Survey Data Using Stata” expand upon fundamental skills and introduce students to other software platforms such as SPSS.

Skill/experience: experience conducting qualitative research including surveys, focus groups, interviews

Many research-oriented jobs, as well as jobs in consulting, program management, or international development, will require some amount of qualitative data collection and analysis. Core courses in Heller degree programs, such as “Research Methods and Evaluation” in the MPP program, introduce best practices in qualitative research and enable students to practice designing study proposals. Many classes include experiential components in which students have the option to interview external stakeholders. One example is the Team Consulting Project, the MBA capstone project in which students typically conduct research to inform recommendations to a real world client organization.

Skill/experience: experience managing a budget and performing financial analysis

One of my primary motivations to add a dual MBA to my MPP course of study was wanting to take accounting and corporate finance courses. Even non-MBAs, however, will have the chance to take coursework in economics, cost-benefit analysis, and program management. In addition, students who choose to participate in the Heller Student Association or a Heller working group can gain experience managing an organizational budget. Many students will develop these skills in internships, as well. Not to mention having a crash course in personal finance during grad school!

Skill/experience: teamwork, leadership, project management

While these are skills that can be learned in many types of settings, even as someone who worked for years in very collaborative office environments, I found that my efficacy and communication abilities working in groups improved during graduate school. All degree programs will include at least some group projects, and these are a great way to strengthen teamwork, listening, and interpersonal skills. While these may be difficult to capture on a resume, the Heller degree itself conveys that you have experience working in a close-knit, collaborative environment.

As I prepare to re-enter the working world, I feel grateful for the varied practical skills I have learned at Heller. Visiting the Career Center here is a great way to figure out how to effectively communicate my strengths in resumes and cover letters. While learning for its own sake is important, and highly valued here, it’s great to know that Heller is preparing students to work in settings where we can take on challenging, real world issues.

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.

Back to school (Unlike ever Before) with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Ever since Heller moved to remote classes in spring 2020, I’ve been looking forward to the semester when we return to in-person classes. At first, we hoped to return in the fall, then spring, but as the gravity of the pandemic situation became clearer Heller students settled into the rhythms of online learning, growing used to unexpected benefits like being able to engage in class discussions (or digressions) using Zoom chats, and sleeping until 8:45 for a 9 AM class.

Still, many Heller students, myself included, continued to hope for a return to in-person classes prior to our own graduations. In my case, I’m happy to be able to spend my final semester at Heller back on campus. I type this blog post sitting at the admissions front desk, a spot where I spent many hours during my first months at Heller, but had not revisited for over a year until just a few weeks ago. As today is a holiday, the building is largely empty, but on class days I enjoy striking up impromptu conversations with students and staff passing by the desk, and stepping outside to say hello to friends and take a welcome break from mask-wearing. Lunch time events, such as activity fairs and community-building sessions, have begun to take place again, and though we have not yet returned to the days when event organizers enticed students to attend events by providing free pizza and other snacks, Heller has hosted a couple “coffee with the Dean” hours complete with free Dunkin Donuts.

Being back in a classroom feels very different. There are aspects of the Zoom experience that I miss, but overall I find that conversations flow more easily, time passes more quickly, and it is easier to meet classmates in person, even with our faces obscured by masks, than as tiles on a screen. As a course assistant for an MBA class, I assist the professor in managing dual-mode instruction (in which some students join an in-person class over Zoom). It has been an interesting and fun challenge to troubleshoot classroom technology, and I’ve felt privileged to be included in meetings about dual instruction and to contribute feedback on successes and challenges. I have found that graduate school includes many unexpected learning experiences in addition to those indicated on course syllabi – experiencing the ins and outs of hybrid pedagogy firsthand is one such lesson.

Is being back on campus perfect? Does Heller feel the same? I don’t think it possibly could. The world, and all of us, have changed as well. But I feel grateful to be at Heller, a community that has stuck together and made the best of things throughout the pandemic period. Although some days I grumble to myself a bit that I have to get up around 7 AM and navigate traffic before 9 AM classes, as soon as I see a familiar, half-covered face on campus, or have an impromptu chat with a new acquaintance, I’m reminded how great it is to be back!

Looking ahead to your Capstone with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Let’s be honest, the process of planning, completing, and presenting your Capstone and Master’s Thesis can be completely overwhelming! To make things a little easier for you, I’ll outline the steps I took to complete my Thesis and present it to the school.

  1. The first step is the planning process. Ask yourself: what do you want to research? What type of work would you like to do? Which organizations could you see yourself working with? If you’re going with the Summer internship option, be sure to ask your Practicum Program Manager for a list of organizations where Heller students have interned in the past. This will help you narrow your search and will also help you make connections. Your internship experience will likely determine the course of your Capstone paper. In my case, working on educational programs for girls in India revealed a gap in teaching sex education to young people. This led me to my final Thesis topic, the need for Comprehensive Sex Education for Indian youth.
  2. Writing a 40-70 page paper may feel totally impossible at first glance. I found it helpful to break my paper into chunks, and only think about one section or subject at a time. Breaking a large paper down into smaller parts is a simple tool that can make a big difference in the writing process. Be sure to conduct thorough research and take thoughtful notes while you do. Staying organized is half the battle!
  3. As someone who often feels uncomfortable with public speaking, the notion of presenting my research and findings to the entire COEX cohort was definitely intimidating. As a result, I tend to over-prepare, but this amplifies my confidence leading up to a presentation. Be sure to practice your presentation and run it by a friend or family member for a fresh pair of ears and eyes. I found it so helpful to practice my presentation in front of both Heller and non-Heller friends. Their varying perspectives gave me insight into ways I could improve my Capstone presentation.

Completing my Master’s Thesis and presenting my work during the Capstone presentations was a fulfilling and meaningful way to finish up my time at Heller. Beginning the process can be so overwhelming! But in the end, you’ll feel so proud of your accomplishments and all the hard work you’ve put in here at Heller.

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.

Back to School Planning with Doug

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

One month to go!

As I write this blog post, less than a month remains before classes start at Heller. For admitted students, I imagine the next month will be filled with excitement, anticipation, and impatience. If you are planning to begin classes at Heller this fall, I hope you have the chance to take a break from work and other obligations and relax, travel, and see family, as well as apartment hunt and begin preparing for classes. Here’s my advice for preparing for the academic and professional side of things, so that you can hit the ground running once classes begin.

At this point, you should be able to view the schedule of classes either on Workday or on the Registrar’s website. You can get a sense of what classes you are required to take this fall, as well as what electives are suggested, by looking at either the website of your academic program or the Individualized Learning Plan forms available for most programs on the “for students” section of the Heller website. These forms can help you to outline your schedule for the next couple semesters. While it’s not necessary to have everything planned out before you start, I found it helpful to peruse these materials before the semester began.

Some additional cheat codes regarding class registration: you can view previous semesters on the Registrar’s site to get a sense of what electives are available in the spring, and once you have access to Workday, our course administration site, you can “browse syllabi” from previous semesters to learn more about courses you might take in the future (with the caveat in both cases that it’s subject to change).

Now is also a great time to review the list of faculty in your program and see who shares your interests and chairs your concentration (if applicable for your program). You might consider reaching out during orientation to a professor with whom you aren’t taking a class this fall – that way you can meet them a bit sooner and hear their perspective in addition to that of your adviser and first-semester professors.

I’d also encourage you to view the career center website and get set up on Handshake as soon as it is possible to do so. Fall information sessions with employers will be available to register soon. I’d definitely recommend scheduling a career advising appointment early in the semester and introduce yourself to the staff.

Lastly, once you have access to Workday, you can view jobs for students and apply for an on-campus job. You can also join career-focused Heller groups on Facebook and LinkedIn (there is also a Brandeis graduate student housing group on Facebook).

While you’ll be provided with the info you need by email and once you arrive on campus, spending some time perusing the website and finding information specific to your own interests and goals doesn’t hurt. Good luck as you gear up for the fall semester!

Back to School Post-Covid

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Well friends, the summer is slowly wrapping up and I am soaking in every last minute of quality pool time with my family and friends. I am currently in an odd in-between space as I finished my internship in Missouri, am planning to visit family I have not seen for over 2 years in Canada in about a week’s time, and am now regrouping in Pennsylvania before moving to Waltham in a few weeks. As someone who trends very type-A when it comes to organization, I have to fight the urge daily to fully unpack – as I know I will then have to repack in a very short time. I thrive in constant change, but for whatever reason, packing gives me an odd sense of anxiety… I like to think that’s normal?

Anyway, as I consider what is ahead for my second year at Heller, I amSmiling young girl on a scooter filled with that same eagerness and anticipation that one feels on their first day of third grade *see attached photo*. Why third grade? Well for starters, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Wine and she was wonderful. To this day, I still love wine and I attribute that back to the love she instilled in me at a ripe young age (no one tell my mom I said that). Although I will not be back-to-school-shopping for cool new overalls or fancy new white sneaks due to budgetary concerns, I will still be rolling up to campus on some pretty hot wheels just like 3rd grade Hannah did. And by that I mean my 2004 Mercury Sable.

Prestige establishment aside, an underlying feeling this year that is new to me is that I feel as though I know many of my colleagues and professors quite well already, yet I have never met them in person. Am I excited to meet them in person? Of course! But it feels almost like online dating, where I have an idea of what the rest of their person should look like, but up until this point it is almost all imagined. Funny enough, one thing that often strikes people off guard when they meet me after only conversing via Zoom is my height (I am just a tad shy of 6 feet tall for those who are wondering).

So, the aspect I am most looking forward to with being back on campus for my second year of Heller are the informal chats before and after classes. No need to schedule a Zoom meeting or ensure your laptop is charged, I can simply run into folks and converse without the plethora of externalities restricting our interactions. Also, I am a big body language person, so to be able to read your body language to understand how you are feeling and/or how I am making you feel is important to me.

My excitement for being back in person on campus is one that 3rd grade Hannah can relate to. However, no 3rd grade Hannah could have guessed that the second-year grad student Hannah would have had the experiences she has had over the last year alone thanks to COVID. Regardless, I would like to think that I have made her proud and my goal this year is to enjoy the friendships and connections that evolve as we all enjoy being back in person on campus.

 

FAQs for Prospective Students, from Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a Graduate Assistant with Heller Admissions, I hear from so many prospective students interested in studying at Heller. Often, they have similar questions to ask me about the admissions process and the Heller experience. I’ve narrowed it down to the top three questions I’m most commonly asked to help you to streamline the process of completing your application, to improve your application to Heller, and to make important decisions about your plans to study in grad school.

  1. Based on my professional/academic background, should I apply to Heller? Yes! One of the things I like most about Heller’s admissions process is that it is truly holistic. Instead of looking at just GRE scores, or reference letters, or grades, the Heller Admissions department takes everything into consideration. If you’re worried about a lack of professional experience, for example, or less-than-ideal grades during a semester of undergrad, keep in mind that we take into account the whole package that an applicant has to offer. We know you can’t simply be boiled down into grades or test scores, and we want to see who you are, and how you intend to change the world after your time at Heller.
  2. What should I write about in my statement of purpose? What you write about is entirely up to you, but keep in mind that we want to get to know you in a meaningful way through your statement of purpose. Tell us what inspires you to apply to graduate school, and what a degree from the Heller School will ultimately help you accomplish. Convey to us who you are as an individual, a student, and as someone who wants to make their mark on the world through positive social change. Tell us what you are passionate about, why you’re passionate about it, and what you intend to do about it.
  3. What is life like for a Heller student? Life as a Heller student is both challenging and rewarding. At times, your work load will certainly be intense. But all of us are 100% capable of getting our work done, and getting it done well – That’s why we’re all here! I simply can’t even describe how rewarding it is to turn in an assignment that felt completely impossible at first glance. Life as a Heller student is also about the community you’ll find here. The friendship and support you’ll gain from your classmates will be your most valuable tool as a graduate student. There will be challenging moments during your Heller experience, but there will be far more rewarding moments filled with accomplishments and a strong sense of community.

As we get closer to the 2022 application launch date (early September!), I hope these are helpful to all of our prospective students, and remember: you can always contact us with any of your questions!

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