Category: Student Perspectives (page 4 of 12)

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!

Yes to Summer Reading

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate School and APA Citations… They Have More in Common Than You’d Think!

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

While trying to think of a good topic for this blog post, I got a text asking if I could begin doing citations for a group paper that is due sooner than I’d care to think about. While it’s possible that I audibly groaned, only moments later a lightbulb appeared above my head just like in a cartoon. Could something as seemingly mundane as finalizing references for a paper be a good blog post topic? – I thought. Upon reflection, I think it actually is! The grad school experience is a bit like doing citations (though perhaps just slightly more fun!) Here’s why:

It’s not so bad once you start: I’ve found that every time I’ve had to do citations, or a grad school assignment in general, the task feels so colossal I’m unsure how to begin. However, as soon as I start the task at hand, I fall into a bit of a rhythm, or at the very least gain a better sense of where gaps in knowledge and understanding exist and how to go about finding the answers. This helps the project feel more digestible.

For that reason, it’s oddly satisfying, even if frustrating while you’re doing it. Most papers I’ve written at Heller have caused some amount of stress and consternation, but I’ve learned something from doing every one, and sometimes grew fond or even proud of the finished product. Even the process of finishing a list of references brings a real sense of accomplishment – where once I had no idea how to cite Senate testimony or corporate 10-K statements, now I do (or, I at least know where to quickly look it up!)

Organizing your thoughts is a great antidote for confusion and imposter syndrome! I often find that I feel much less confident about my knowledge in a topic area until I begin writing down what I know and what questions I have. The same goes for citations – having 50 tabs open is stress-inducing, but having 50 sources listed in a word document or downloaded into Zotero (more on that in a moment) creates a sense that the structure of the paper is emerging.

Technology helps! I shudder at the thought of completing a Master’s degree in the pre-internet age. I rely on technology to organize sources and to begin taking notes and sketching out arguments. Two great tools are Zotero, in which sources can be organized into folders, notes can be attached, and bibliographies can be automatically generated; and Atlas.TI, in which PDFs of scholarly sources or interview transcripts can be loaded and annotated, with common codes used across documents to organize themes. Both are available for free through Brandeis.

Share the love: One of my professors described a bibliography as “a love letter to yourself,” meaning, if you plan to continue studying the same topics and building expertise in a given area, bibliographies from earlier assignments will be an invaluable resource. I’d also say that keeping track of sources is an important part of collaboration – even if your paper is never published, it might be shared amongst peers or even by a professor, with your permission, and as important as your original work and arguments may be, the citations themselves will provide a roadmap for future readers. This spirit of sharing and collaboration is a key part of the graduate school experience.

See? It’s not so bad. Even the seemingly dry parts of an assignment can be useful later on. Plus, volunteering to do citations on a group paper immediately endears you to your classmates. It’s the little things!

Wondering What Courses to Take? Sami Has Suggestions!

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

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

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

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

Why Study Gender Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

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

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

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

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

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

Building Community around the World

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s for Lunch? Doug Nevins’ Brandeis Culinary Tour  

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Of the many things I am looking forward to this fall, when Brandeis reopens for in-person courses, revisiting some of my favorite culinary destinations ranks… not as high as seeing friends and professors in person, or attending class without opening Zoom – but still pretty high! I miss the many dining options available on and near the Brandeis campus, as well as the opportunities for hanging out and studying with classmates which they provide. For incoming and prospective students (and anyone who has been remote this past year and happens to read this blog), I’ll share a few recommendations of my favorite spots on campus.

Einstein’s Bagels

New Yorkers may quibble with bagels made outside their home state, but for me, walking towards Heller from the commuter rail at 8 AM in a decidedly un-caffeinated state, Einstein’s, located in the Shapiro Campus Center, beckons like an oasis before the long uphill walk to Heller. With ample seating, it’s a great place to have meetings, study, or pause before or after a train commute to campus.

My go to order: everything bagel, double toasted, with veggie cream cheese, and a large iced coffee (in all seasons, because I am from New England).

Louie’s Deli

Housed within the Usdan Dining Hall near Heller, Louie’s is a great, quick option for grabbing a kosher sandwich in between classes. There are plenty of other options in Usdan as well.

Go to order: chipotle chicken salad sandwich on challah (+ chips and a pickle)

International Business School deli

I must admit I have never been 100% clear on the name of this place, but it’s a satellite of one of the best sandwich shops in Waltham, Dominic’s (the primary location is also walking distance from campus). This is a great spot to meet people and study, with ceiling height windows facing the pleasant Sachar Woods.

Go to: meatball sandwich with provolone

Heller Starbucks

The one, the only – the place to see and be seen. A central convening point in Heller’s Zinner Forum, this spot is a great go-to for quick coffee refills and snacks during breaks from class. I tried to avoid going more than twice in one day, but during long study sessions, it can be unavoidable.

Go to: coffee, tea, pastries, chips (I believe they also have fruit)

Off-campus honorable mention: South Street Market

Less well-known to Brandeis students than the neighboring Prime Deli (also a great option), South Street is my go-to for sandwiches on the days I am willing to walk a further distance from Heller (also conveniently located by the train station). A great place to take a break from campus, though running into friends is not uncommon!

Go to: pesto chicken panini, Italian wedding soup

As I’ve learned from watching innumerable cooking competition and travel shows during the pandemic, dining out is about more than food – it’s a way to connect with your community. Frugal-minded grad students should absolutely take advantage of the fridge and microwaves in Heller to avoid dining out too often (this is among my top resolutions for this fall). Still, it’s also worth taking advantage of opportunities to grab lunch with friends and use your lunch breaks as an opportunity to explore campus. Let’s eat!

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