Category: Student Perspectives (page 3 of 12)

Dealing with COVID-19 as a Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

As we enter our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can feel never-ending and draining. If you have experienced COVID personally, in your family, or close friends group, here is a list of ways on how I have tried to stay safe versus sorry during this time.

First, if you test positive for COVID or come in close contact with someone who has, you should communicate this to others in your academic and professional settings. What we have been seeing a lot during this pandemic is people not wanting to disclose their status but in order to keep the numbers low and everyone safe, it is important to communicate. I recommend that you reach out to anyone you have been in close contact with, communicate to your professors so that they can better assist you with help on assignments or deadlines, and speak to your supervisor so that they can assist you in rescheduling hours and work-related tasks.

Second, make sure to wear your mask, wash your hands with soap and water, and disinfectant high-touch surfaced areas such as doorknobs, light switches, dishes etc. These steps will keep the spread of COVID at a minimum so that you and others are protected against the virus.  If you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive, make sure to self-isolate; it can be confusing on how long to self isolate for, especially if you received a COVID-19 vaccine but make sure to follow CDC recommendations.

Third, isolation and self-quarantine can be very difficult, having to sit in one space staring at the walls. Begin to find hobbies or things that interest you. Work out or do yoga for 15-20 minutes to keep your body up and running if you are able, start a new book, meditate or begin a self-journaling journey; anything that will keep your mind or body stimulated without causing too much stress on yourself.

This pandemic has been a hard and long one, but by following these simple steps, we can help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

The Heller Student Association

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

When I decided that Heller was the right place for me, I also decided right then and there to make sure I took advantage of the opportunities to get involved on campus and with my peers.  For some, it looks like joining a hiking club, proactively sitting in a public space to engage in conversations with others, or to be intentional with being active in a WhatsApp group chat. Whatever involvement flavor you feel most comfortable with, there is an opportunity here at Heller for you to get involved.

I have always been drawn to governing boards – be it in student council in high-school, an honors club in undergrad, or – currently – as a co-chair for the Heller Student Association. It has always been important for me to feel that my voice was heard when I spoke up, and I have learned that governing bodies such as the HSA really do work well to amplify the voices of those they serve. Upon completing our first “Town Hall” it served as a good reflection point for me (hence me blogging about it today).

The mission and vision of the Heller Student Association (also referred to as ‘HSA’) is:

“to take a holistic approach on understanding and empowerment in all of our educations through a focus on cross-collaboration between students, working groups, professors and staff at Heller. The mission of the HSA is to participate meaningfully in decisions affecting student’s time at Heller. We will amplify the voices of the student body by bringing your input to the faculty, administration, career services, staff, steering committees and program directors whom we meet with regularly.”

So how is this relevant for you,  dear blog reader? Well, if you are currently a student at Heller, know you always have access to a group that will work to amplify your voice – so long as it aligns with the aforementioned mission and vision of the organization. And, if you are a student considering Heller, know that the voices of you and your peers are taken seriously when/if you join this family. The faculty and staff at Heller have a great working relationship with the Heller Student Association and value our presence. As a Co-Chair, me and my fearless Co (shoutout to Zari) have the opportunity to listen and offer input on the students’ behalf at meetings that do not typically hold a student presence. We are not there just to check the “is a student present?” box. No, we are instead actively engaged in conversations that effect students.

All of this to say, if you’re wondering what it looks like to be in concert with the faculty and administration as a student, the Heller Student Association is a great example of that. Also, Heller has a wide variety of student groups that go far beyond being an advocacy/governing body. So, if your comfort for involvement includes joining an organization, consider the Heller Student Association!

Financing Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

The feeling you get when you receive your offer into the graduate school of your choice is undeniably one of the best feelings ever! You may have been working on your application for months, recommenders may have bailed out on you, the personal statement began to look like a blur after too many rewrites, but you finished it, submitted it, and got in. The next order of business is always “so how will I pay for this?” This can be answered in many ways, but for now, I will just offer my own two cents.

For me, I was lucky enough to leave my undergraduate institution with minimal student debt because I was granted a full scholarship. However, unlike undergrad, I knew that it would be difficult to secure sufficient funding in grad school. When I started my grad school application process, I would search the websites to determine how schools would disburse financial aid. Heller usually offers at least a 30-50% merit scholarship to most students applying to their programs, though some programs may offer more. This was a green flag for me when applying because it showed that Heller did not want students to unnecessarily worry about the financial part, but to come in and be able to learn without the additional stress.

A few things I learned when seeking funding for grad school: First, I learned when searching for funding, you need to be specific in your wording. I would recommend searching for “scholarships for public policy students” or “scholarships for graduate students”, which would narrow the information down to my particular request, avoiding the disappointment that comes with finding a great scholarship only to see in the description, “this is only for undergraduate students only”.

Second, I live by the saying “closed mouths do not get fed” and from this, I took the initiative to reach out to my mentors, former supervisors, or programs that I worked/volunteered for. This can be helpful because many jobs or programs have funding to support individuals’ academic efforts. Sometimes these can be free without any additional requirements, or you may have to fill out an application and work out a system to receive the funds. If you do not advocate for yourself and your work ethic, then who will?

Lastly,  working and going to school can be difficult. I found full-time or part-time work-study jobs to be beneficial. Note that most schools do not offer work-study for graduate students, especially international students. But even if it is not work-study, some on-campus jobs are able to hire students directly to their payroll if the department allows for it.  I advocate for on-campus or work-study employment because they work the best with students’ academic schedules, and they also are able to provide support and resources, and you may be able to score a job that fits your academic interests.

Seeking funding for graduate school can be rough, but it does not have to be. Always reach out to the school of your choice and see what resources they provide to graduate students; if you do not ask, then you will never know. This information is sometimes public but not always, so it is important to really advocate for yourself and your needs when you’re applying, during your time in the program, and even after you graduate.

End of Semester Wrap-Up: Favorite Classes

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

After what feels like a whirlwind, we are finally at the end of the semester. It honestly feels weird to already be almost done because it felt like the semester went by so quickly. It was full of hard work, some stress, lots of learning and lots of great times with my friends and classmates. Some specific highlights I can recall are orientation, my first class of the year, a visit to Salem, and a Friendsgiving celebration. While looking back on the semester, I always like to reflect on the classes I took, and which ones were my favorite. This is what I would like to share in this blog post; specifically my favorite classes of the semester.

The very first class I took after arriving at Heller was actually a MPP class called Contemporary Issues in Gender and Public Policy. Even though this class was outside my degree, it ended up being one of my absolute favorites. Fighting for gender equality and gender justice are my passions, and what I want to focus my career around. I loved learning in this class all of the policies that either elevate gender equality or cause unforeseen problems that continue to disadvantage women and LGBTQ+ individuals. The professor also did an amazing job of addressing gender issues from an intersectional lens, and seeing how the impacts were different based on issues like race, class, gender identity etc. We also got the opportunity to have some speakers that are gender policy professionals and hear about their experience working in the field. It was amazing to hear about all the great work that they were doing and to hear exactly what kind of jobs you can do in this field. Lastly, our discussions in class were amazing. We all brought our different perspectives, and I left class every day feeling like I truly understood gender policy on a deeper level. Especially if you’re interested in gender issues, take this class!

One of my other favorite classes was Introduction to Geographic Information Systems. Especially in the environmental world, this software is a really important skill to have. While it seemed daunting at first, the professor really teaches the class in a very understandable and comprehensive way. He gives you a lot of confidence in your abilities to use the software and create a map that displays issues you’re interested in. It’s a great hard skill to have, and taking this class made me confident I can bring this software to my career. It also makes you think about the utility of maps in a different way; they’re applicable not only to the environment, but also health, policy issues and more! Also, even though it was a night class, we have had snacks every class, which definitely acts as a pretty great incentive to keep you more alert haha.

While I had lots of great classes this semester and learned a lot, these two were definitely my favorite out of the whole bunch. I come to the end of this semester feeling calm and content. While it was hard at times, I feel like I learned so many valuable skills and concepts that have made me more confident in my career. I also got the chance to participate in so many great events and make lots of wonderful friends. All in all? A great end to the year. 

The Art of People Collecting

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Those who know me know: I am a busy person. I thrive when my agenda is packed full. When people ask me how/why I am so busy I love to refer back to Newton’s First Law of Motion,  AKA the Law of Inertia (with a few small edits): 

 “a Hannah at rest stays at rest and a Hannah in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force (ie. my laptop breaks and I have to buy a new one which happened last night, RIP my laptop).” 

People collecting – or ‘networking’, as some fancy folks may call it – has increasingly been my focus during my last year here at Heller. Yes, I am busy, but I am busy with purpose. What does that mean? It means I have been very calculated in choosing which jobs/roles to take on outside of my classes while wrapping up my final year. When I boiled down my goals and desires for this year it pointed me to three major aspirations:

  1. Collect people, both within Heller and within Boston as a larger community, who can help pour into me and build links to finding a career upon graduation
  2. Make enough money to survive (hey, Boston ain’t cheap)
  3. Do well in classes and get to know my classmates

So, I started with evaluating the types of jobs I would like to pursue this year and landed on these four (yes I did say four, but they are all only a few hours each week):

Graduate Assistant (job 1): Naturally, as a Graduate Assistant at Heller Admissions, I get to connect with many folks who come and go (both students, professors and staff). Plus, I enjoy this role and am learning and growing with each shift. I have also worked in this role since last January so it was easy for me to continue in this position, checks all three boxes! 

Babysitter (job 2): At this point, my mind started running… how can I find another job that allows for schedule flexibility but also pays decently and allows me to collect people? My research led me to: babysitting! Shout-out to Care.com. At first I thought, well, it’s pretty easy money. Then I realized, you never know what kind of connections individuals have, and by babysitting for various individuals across Boston I am building my people collection up outside of my direct network within Heller. Checks 2 out of 3 boxes!

Digital Assistant (job 3): An opportunity arose to be a “Digital Assistant” in a few of my classes. This role piqued my interest because it checked box 2 and 3, and arguably 1 as well. This has allowed me to build deeper relationships with some of my professors as I help them navigate Zoom during class. 

Health Systems Education (job 4): As things started ramping up, a job in health systems education I had applied for in the summer (and was told I did not get) arose yet again. Through connections made here at Heller, I have been able to secure another part-time job that is in the field of my interests. Working in health systems education is a great way for me to continue to learn and contribute to class (checks box 3), make some money (box 2), and build a strong network of connections across Boston (box 1). 

So, it may sound like I am overworked (or just crazy), but let me assure you – I am doing okay! People collecting can look different for each person. For some it is in attending various career networking events, for others it is through informational interviews, but for me I have made it a point to work with and for those who I want to maintain connections with. I do make it a point to slow down and enjoy rest and hobbies (as my Macaron post can attest to), but “a Hannah in motion stays in motion!” and intentional people collecting has been increasingly important as I plan to stumble onto my career path.

Closing out the First Semester of Grad School

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Finally! I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for my first fall semester of the MPP program. As I near the end of the semester, I have had time to reflect on the challenges, accomplishments, and personal goals I want to set for myself next semester.

When entering the program, I had no idea what to expect initially. Being one of the few in my cohort who began the program straight out of undergrad, I had to work around the preconceived notions and tactics I have built being a student. How would the professors be supportive? How will my cohort be supportive? What resources are offered on campus if I am having a hard time or struggling? At my previous school, grades mattered the most— if you did not receive anything over a C+, you were frowned upon by peers and professors. My professors at Heller were very supportive, responsive, and understanding. At the beginning of the semester, they all instituted that we should not focus just on our grades, but we should focus on how we connect with the material and find ourselves when writing and discussing these issues with our peers, teaching assistants, and professors. This made me more comfortable with meeting with professors outside of the classroom because I felt confident enough to ask questions and express my concerns. Additionally, although I see myself as a social butterfly, I entered Heller in a cocoon. I did not know how to really engage with my peers or start conversations that were not always school-related, but my cohort made it very easy. They all wanted to get to know each other, not just on a surface-based level, and being able to grab a seat in Zinner Forum and have a conversation with a few of my peers has made my days lighter.

After overcoming these small challenges, I can say I am very proud of myself for how far I have come in an academic space. Even though I still have a small fear of bringing my own opinions up in class discussions, I noticed I am not afraid to share more on issues that may directly or indirectly affect me. I also find myself really taking my time with the assignments I turn in, asking follow-up questions prompts, deadlines, or anything else that comes my way. During my time in undergrad, I became very self-conscious about my writing skills, but after this semester, I am more confident in working with my peers on peer reviews, making numerous drafts to get that final one, and really putting my best foot forward when writing on issues that I am passionate about.

Graduate school is still not easy, but this first semester has been very eye-opening and has allowed me substantial room to grow. My goal for next semester is to be able to lead more discussions in my classroom and also fight the urge to procrastinate when a project or assignment presents itself. I want to be able to really connect my personal experiences and passions to the research presented to me and flesh out more ways to combat the issues in a social justice manner. I am super excited to be kicking off my second semester and can not wait to see what it entails.

Farewell to Heller Admissions

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I am writing this blog post during my final shift in the Admissions office before I graduate (fingers crossed!) from the Heller School. It is hard to believe that my two and a half years at Heller (and several more than that at Brandeis) are coming to an end. I’ve been feeling nostalgic today as I sent my last email from the Heller Admissions account, carried my last stack of prospective student brochures to the mail center, and right now, as I write my last blog post.

It truly has been a pleasure working with applicants to Heller. I’ve enjoyed every interview, every phone call, ever student panel I’ve moderated, and every admitted student event I’ve helped out with either in person or on Zoom. It really is inspiring how committed Heller applicants are to the values of social justice and social change which constitute the mission of this institution, and it’s always exciting to meet an applicant who connects with that mission. I’ve really enjoyed playing a small role in the application process for so many great Heller students.

If you, prospective students reading this, ultimately enroll at Heller, I hope that you experience the sense of warmth and community that I have felt in my time on campus. I hope that you have the chance to say hello to graduate assistants here at the admissions desk, and, if you enjoyed speaking with us during the application process, considering applying to be a graduate assistant yourself!

I hope that you enjoy some evenings spent with friends in the Zinner forum or an empty classroom, completing a big assignment as the building grows quiet, snacking on junk food from the C Store or takeout from Prime Deli or Tree Top Thai. As stressed out as some of those big assignments have made me, what I remember most is the sense of comradery I’ve shared with classmates as we gather together to work hard to meet a deadline – whether on campus or on Zoom.

I hope that you take advantage, at Heller, or wherever you attend grad school, of the many resources available to you, and meet as many people as possible. I wouldn’t say I have many regrets from my time at Heller, but I particularly do not regret the times that I’ve said yes to an opportunity, or volunteered, even if I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time. The only thing I would do differently is to reach out even sooner to people – faculty, peers, alums – whose experiences and expertise are of interest to me. I hope that you are able to have the on-campus graduate school experience, in order to meet as many people, and enjoy as many spontaneous conversations and chance encounters, as possible.

Because we are in New England, it is already dark here at 4:42, as I finish writing this blog post. I’ve watched the sunlight fade through the tall windows in the Zinner forum, directly in front of me, but the building is still illuminated, and a few conversations are still audible even as most people have gone home for the day. My walk to my car tonight will feel bittersweet, but I only have so much time for sentimentality as I still have several assignments to complete! I have a feeling that when those have been turned in, and I’m able to chill at home with a holiday movie and relax, that’s when the nostalgia will really hit me!

A Self-Care Weekend Away

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

It’s now officially December and we’re getting close to the end of my first semester at Heller. It has been such a whirlwind, and honestly, I can’t believe that I’m so close to the end. It simultaneously feels like it’s been a really long time, and also no time at all. However, the deeper into the semester you get, the easier it can be to feel some major burnout. I personally am working two jobs and have been taking 5 classes each module, which is a lot mentally and emotionally. So, it’s important not to forget to take care of yourself and give yourself some time away from school.

When I’m experiencing burnout, I like to have a change of scenery to clear my head. The great thing about living in a place like New England is there are so many beautiful and fun-filled places to visit that are only a short drive or train ride away. Luckily, my friends had already planned a trip up to Vermont to celebrate one of our birthdays. It ended up being at the perfect time because that was right when I was feeling some peak burnout and definitely needing some self-care time. We rented a mountain cabin up in Vermont, specifically on Okemo Mountain. It is gorgeous in New England in the fall, and Vermont was especially beautiful. All the trees were covered in deep red, yellow, and orange leaves.

We drove up to the mountains on Friday and got to the house around midday. As soon as we got out of the car, I felt like I was at peace. Being in nature, seeing the beauty of the trees and the mountains around me, and feeling the mountain air… it all made me feel relaxed. For me specifically, I really feel like being in nature is essential for me to reset after being stressed out. There’s something about being in the mountains during autumn that just feels right. 

And it was a fun-filled weekend! We got the opportunity to go hiking in the nearby mountains and see the beautiful lake. We also made some delicious meals like tortellini soup and pork tacos. We also got the opportunity to play some board games, like Uno and codenames. Also, one of the main highlights of the cabin is that it had a gaming console from the 80s that let you play older games like Pacman, Donkey Kong and Frogger on it. Needless to say, I got very into Frogger very easily, and now am a world-class champ (just kidding, haha).

All in all, it was a great, relaxing weekend getting to celebrate one of the first friends I made at Heller. I came back feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and incredibly thankful. Graduate school is an amazing experience, but it can easily feel overwhelming and stressful sometimes. Taking some time to take care of yourself is essential. Make sure to take some time to relax and get a change of scenery even amidst all the projects and events going on. I personally would recommend doing it in the mountains, but that part is up to you.

Applying to Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Applying to graduate school as a first generation graduate student is not always as easy as it may seem.  When I started my senior year at Boston University, I was on the pathway to become a law student. I spent all summer and most of fall prepping for the LSAT, deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, endless amount of GroupMe messages… it was all super draining.  Yet when it came time to write my personal statement I could not find the words to say why I wanted to be an attorney. Was it because I wanted to help my community? Was it because I will be financially stable? What was it? I spent the last  two years prepping for my journey into law school and now I can’t even say why I want to be there. I think I was turned off by the law school process. I did not understand the purpose of the LSAT when all the 1L and 2L says the LSAT has barely anything to do with your classes. I did not understand why I would choose to sit in a class discussing outdated laws. I did not understand the process for the bar exam. It all just seemed like a rigged system to me and I no longer wanted any part.

Once I officially decided that law school was not for me, I was right back to the drawing board. Well, what am I supposed to do now? I was set to graduate from BU in less than 5 months and I just shut the door on what I thought was my dream career. I remember speaking with a old supervisor of mine about my concerns: I told her I knew I wanted to help people but I wanted to make a everlasting impact, I wanted to be within the community making the changes they want to see, and that I was thinking of applying for a MPP or MPA degree. She told me it sounded like a great idea and if she could had gotten her MPP or MPA instead of law school she would have 1000% done it. She said to me, “I did not want to study law I wanted to learn the legal and government system to make it better.” From that statement alone I began thinking some more about my personal goals and the field I saw myself in. Once that became clear, I began my search for masters programs.  I had few goals for this new journey: find a master’s program that did not require the GRE (hey, what can I say I was burnt out from standardized testing), only apply for 5 schools, and secure a scholarship offer.

One thing I forgot about once I narrowed down my choices and began my application process was that in undergrad I had way more assistance. I had more time to polish my personal statement, I had more time to search for schools, I had more time to submit scholarship applications, and on top of that, I was chosen as a Posse Scholar, and they pretty much do all the work for you– all I did was show up to an interview and a few meetings. I was on a time crunch submitting grad school apps, finding recommenders, and submitting scholarship essays. Not only did I have to deal with being on a time crunch, I had to deal with the most hated question of college students, “What are you doing after you graduate?” I would answer, “Grad school” only to receive responses such as, “Why would you want to go to grad school right after undergrad?”, “What do you plan to do with a second degree?”, questions I honestly did not have the answer to and probably still don’t have the answer to.  However, my mentor, my posse, my friends, and my family where all very supportive of my decision to get my masters. They always wanted me to do what made me happy and I can not thank them enough for the support. Friends offered to read my statement of purposes, people always asked for updates and when acceptances letters came in I was showered with words of wisdom and encouragement. Most of my family never went to college and sometimes its hard for them to understand the challenges I have to face, but they never doubted my ability to finish strong. One piece of advice I want to give a first generation graduate student is that breaking generational curses starts with you and even when the road looks foggy, trust the light is always at the end.

Succeeding in a Class out of my Comfort Zone

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

When I made the decision to come to Brandeis, one of the things I loved about Heller was the variety of classes available. There’s quantitative classes, qualitative classes, policy classes, and theoretical classes on ethics and more! One thing I promised myself when I started here was that I would make an effort to take some classes outside of my comfort zone. My background being in communications, I wanted to get some more experience with the research and data side of things.

With that in mind, I signed up for Professor Godoy’s Survey Design class in module 1. I was really worried about this class and doing well, but I decided to sign up for it anyways to learn a new skill. It was an online class, which was definitely something I had to get used to. I had to employ specific strategies to make sure I continued paying attention throughout the entire class, such as taking breaks to walk around, eat something and drink something.

In this class, you learn about how to create an ideal survey for a project. You learn about different biases that can occur both when selecting survey participants and interviewing them. You also learn about measurement errors when creating your hypothesis and designing your equation.  All of these were things I did not have experience in, so I was coming into the class completely blind.

However, now having finished the class, I can say I’m really glad that I took it. I really enjoyed the experience of getting to design my very own survey with a group and getting to apply all that I learned and put it into practice. While it was challenging, I was still able to succeed. Whenever I was confused, I made sure to ask the professor or the TA to clear up my confusion. Being able to see all the concepts at work in real life really helped to depend my understanding and it made the class less challenging in my opinion. I also feel that by the end of the class, I really gained a deeper understanding of what makes a good survey and of more mathematical terms in general.

In conclusion, take that class you’re nervous about! It can expand your skillset and even unleash a greater passion for the subject than you thought was possible.

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