Category: Student Perspectives (page 2 of 9)

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.

Finals Are Over, Now What?: Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Ahh, the time is here (for finals to be over with). These past couple of months have been a challenge, with short breaks, long exams, and a pandemic happening ALL AT ONCE. It will probably take us all some time to truly recover from this whirlwind of a semester. But, there are some things we can do to momentarily let us escape the struggles and hard work we have put into being present during these trying times:

  1. Literally escape. Go on a vacation (safely, vaccinated, and per CDC guidelines) and leave your office chair with the indent on it from hours of zoom class. Even if it is a road trip, in which you will be confined to your car and basking in the glory of nature, the escape will be worth it. And remember, a vacation may be a financial investment, but the ROI on your mental health could be worth it.
  2. Return your textbooks, or even sell them. Perhaps this should have been the most pertinent one to address, but vacation is on my mind.
  3. DO COURSE EVALUATIONS. Actually, I changed my mind. This is the most important and should be done as soon as possible. We all want our grades on time, and we want our professors to know how much value we received from their classes and their instruction. I know I was excited to fill mine out to gush about the wonderful TAs I had this semester.
  4. Read a book. If you don’t want to escape via vacation, fulfill your wanderlust instead in a sea of words. A literary escape is just as valuable. Next on my list is All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage!
  5. Talk to family, especially if you haven’t interacted much with the time you had to dedicate to your studies during this time.
  6. Take up a new hobby. Granted, hobbies can take time and dedication but that is why it is important to take up something you are passionate about! I will personally explore the world of programming and try to learn a language or two (like Python) before the next semester.
  7. Sleep. I know you haven’t. I know I haven’t. I know we are all contributing to a detrimental cycle of mass sleep deprivation and we must do what we can to catch up!
  8. Just breathe. You finished. You did that. Relax and take the weight of your classes off your shoulders because you overcame the most pivotal exams of the semester.

Joining the Heller Community: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

The decision to go back to school was one that I did not make lightly. I had a steady job that supported my lifestyle and even allowed me to pay off some of my undergraduate debt. I had to make the choice to leave my full-time employment while friends, family and neighbors across the country were forced to question their financial stability and there was no certainty about the future.

“Community” drives my work. It is what motivated me to participate in student community engagement and social advocacy in college, what attracted me to the work I did post-graduation at Boston’s Jewish women’s fund, and what supported me during the last thirteen months.

One of the reasons I initially chose Heller was the notion of community. The opportunity to continue to grow in Boston was appealing, but it was the promise and allure of the Heller community that really won me over. So, when it became evident that we would be virtual for at the very least the first semester, I was wary about committing to Heller. How would I be able to connect and benefit from the community when there would be a slew of physical and emotional barriers?

I am in awe of the collective network my cohort has been able to cultivate. This has not been an easy year. With an onslaught of racial killings, a corrosive election cycle, and a pandemic plaguing the world there have been many things that could have further alienated us, on top of the virtual restrictions. Yet I have felt seen, supported, loved, and valued by my classmates. They have been a shoulder to lean on, a supporting hand, an ear to complain to, and a voice to follow. There is a common respect and an unspoken bond that link us to the greater cause, with the understanding that we are living through an unprecedented time in regard to policy and beyond. If anything, this year has sparked absolute transparency that may not have come about as organically without the current circumstances – rife with conversations of privilege, trauma, and injustice. I am empowered by my peers and am so grateful for their generosity, honesty, and vulnerability over the last year.

We joke frequently about what it will be like to actually sit next to each other during class, or what grabbing a drink will be like in person when we don’t have to act as our own bartender. If this year has been an indication of the year to come, I look forward to seeing what’s next.

(Half of) A Week in the Life of a Heller Student

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Working as a Graduate Assistant in Heller Admissions, prospective students often ask: “what is it like to be a Heller student?”. My response is always, “in what way?”.  Are you curious to discover the number of hours you should set aside weekly for assignments and readings? How to get involved in clubs and other social groups? Student job hours? Or, perhaps you are seeking to uncover what the course content is like? Well, I am hoping this blog post serves as an example to help answer all of the above. **As a disclaimer, this is my own personal experience, and I in no way claim to speak on behalf of others at Heller.

Monday: I am naturally an early morning person, and spend around two hours each morning reading and working on assignments before class. So, I am up around 6am and prepare the readings for the classes to come. I log onto Zoom around 8:55am to be ready for class to start at 9am. This class, entitled, Immigrant Integration in the United States: Policy, Practice and People is technically part of the Public Policy Masters. However, as a student at Heller, I am able to take courses across disciplines to fulfill elective requirements. This class, with around 25 students, lasts just under 3 hours and concludes at 11:50am. I try to intentionally keep Monday afternoons as open as possible, as it is my set aside family time. But, I usually end up working on assignments or readings for around 2 hours at some point in the afternoon or evening.

Tuesday: One of my student jobs includes working as an English Language Programs Tutor (ELP), so I meet with two tutees this morning, one at 7am-8am, and the other from 9am-10am. I also spend time working my GA job this morning, working from 8am-2pm (with an hour break for the tutee). Each week I spend 3 hours as an ELP, and 7-8 hours as a GA. At 2pm my role switches back to a student, as I jump into my Women, Peacemaking and Peace-building class. This course is part of the Masters in Coexistence program, and while it fulfills a gender requirement for my SID degree, I am always impressed by the quality of the content and walk away having learned so much. This class goes from 2-4:50pm and has around 35 students.

Wednesday: This is my “Zoomiest” day. 9-11:50am I virtually attend Bioethics and Intersectionality. This class is a requirement for the MS GHPM program, my second degree. Last week, from 12:30-1pm I attended a small “Coffee with the Dean” event, as I deeply value networking and love to socialize. Then, from 1pm-2pm I have a meeting with the Heller Student Association (HSA). This year I was elected to be the co-coordinator for events, but will take on the role as co-chair of HSA for next year – this is a great way to get connected and to invest in your graduate school experience. Then, from 2-4:50pm my class, Strategic Management takes place. This is an MBA course. As someone who is interested in leadership, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take this course, which also counts as an elective. My day is not done yet! From 5:30-7pm I meet with my Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship pals. This is the highlight to a long day, and another way to get connected.

Thursday: After working on assignments for a few hours, I log into my 9am class, Randomized Controlled Trials (aka Advanced M&E). This is a SID class with about 10 students. This class is much more technical than theoretical, and I have been intentional to include a good mix within my electives to sharpen my hard and soft skills.

Hello Heller! Kyle Doherty’s Acceptance Story

Kyle Doherty Headshot

Kyle Doherty, MA SID’22

My Heller admission story does not begin with my own acceptance to Brandeis, but my partner Ran’s. She accepted an offer to Brandeis’ MA in  Psychology program around the beginning of June, so we planned our move to Waltham. I had graduated in May of 2019 with a degree in psychology too, but had decided to take a gap year before going back to school. A little after the year deadline I set for myself, I was more confused than I was when I graduated. I knew I wanted to go back to school to get a graduate degree, but I was uncertain on the type of program I wanted to apply to. As I was doing research for possible schools for a Spring 2021 or Fall 2021 start, I found the Heller School when scrolling through the Brandeis website.

As I flipped through the webpages of all the Heller programs, I was fascinated by what I saw. I was interested in so many of the programs, but also in the existence of a school that prioritizes social justice and equity. The Sustainable International Development program particularly caught my eye because of experiences I had the previous four summers. when I would travel to China to live with Ran and her parents before returning for college. Those trips exposed me to the need for development, by showing just how privileged my American life had been. When visiting their home village, many of the houses lacked sewage, had holes in roofs, and electricity was unreliable. Thinking back to those times and seeing the current development projects occurring there such as roadbuilding and agriculture projects, I decided I would apply to Heller the next cycle. When I went to go check if Heller had spring admission, I was shocked to see that they were still accepting applications for the fall. In that moment, it all came together: my interest in social psychology from undergrad, my love for traveling, and a commitment to disrupt oppressive norms and policies. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation and immediately got all the required materials ready in just a few days. 

The wait for a decision was agonizing as it was the middle of the summer, a pandemic was raging around us, and we were also moving at the same time. It had been a long two days of moving in the July heat as I sat down to catch my breath. Flopping down on the nearest elevated surface, I chuckled when realizing that I was the first to sit on the couch my partner Ran and I had just put together. The air conditioner blared in the background as I opened the Gmail app on my phone (even when handling much more pressing issues like putting together furniture, I still like to keep my digital inbox in order!). As the screen flickered to show an unread email from ‘The Heller School’, the exhaustion I felt moments ago evaporated instantly. Not letting anyone know what was going on, I stealthily thumped in my email and password before hitting the scariest enter button of my life. If I did not get accepted here, I would not know what I would be doing for the rest of 2020. My anxiety turned to jubilation as I saw a financial aid award letter load in slowly because we had not had the chance to install wi-fi yet. I looked over to Ran with a blank look on my face and said “Well, guess I got in”, before cracking a huge smile. Seeing her exhaustion melt away too, she jumped up and gave me the most epic high five into hug combination I had ever experienced. 

After coming off the initial rush of the acceptance I took a day or two to make sure Heller was the right choice for me. It did not take long to make my decision because they had already won me over during the application process. Once accepting the offer and settling into our new place, it was time to enjoy our last month of summer before becoming graduate students.

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