Tag: What I Wish I’d Known

Back to School Planning with Doug

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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!

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

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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!

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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!

Letter to My Past Self with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time here at Heller comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what kind of advice I’d give to the version of myself who first came to Brandeis in 2019. I’d have quite a lot to tell her about classes, projects, friends, and new experiences, so I decided to write a letter to my former self.

Dear 2019 Sami,

Congratulations! You just began your time at the Heller School. You’re about to have a very meaningful experience. This experience will also be challenging, rewarding, stress-inducing, and so inspiring. Sometimes, the experience you’re about to begin will be difficult and overwhelming, but please remember to hang in there! Difficult experiences are often the most rewarding, and they will lead you to feel such immense pride in yourself and in the work that you’re going to accomplish. Remember never to give up, and that it is ok to be exhausted because it means you’re working your hardest!

Remember, Sami, that everyone here is in the same boat as you. Sometimes it’ll be tempting to think that everybody except you knows exactly what they’re doing. But don’t be fooled! All of your fellow classmates are learning and growing alongside you. You’ll receive so much support from them, too, and you’ll be able to happily support them back. As a group, you and your fellow Heller students will evolve and expand, personally, professionally, and academically. Remember that they don’t know more, or less than you do. Instead, you are all offering your very own unique contributions to your cohort’s experiences.

Please keep in mind how important it is to take care of yourself and make ample time for self-care. Rely on the emotional support offered by your friends at Heller. Meet with classmates outside of the classroom and give them space to tell you all about their perspectives. If cultural differences feel out of your comfort zone, allow yourself to handle the discomfort and learn from it. Your classmates are the best resource you’ll find here at Brandeis!

Lastly, 2019 Sami, never lose sight of your goals and ambitions. They’ll change, of course, during your time at the Heller School. Your perspectives will broaden, and your ideas will grow, and your capacity to learn will evolve. You’re about to have one of the most amazing experiences of your life! So get ready, you’re about to transform in all sorts of ways you can’t even imagine yet.

Yours truly,

2021 Sami

My First Semester: A Look Back with Andrea Tyree

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Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

With finals season officially at a close, it feels as though I’ve just awoken from an enlightening, yet hectic, dream. My first thought was: “Wow, my apartment is a mess.” But after a thorough spring cleaning (in the middle of a literal snowstorm), I was able to genuinely reflect on my first semester at Heller and remember some key lessons learned.

Like most students, I was worried about starting graduate school in the midst of a pandemic. Because classes were completely online, I chose not to move to the Waltham area and instead, remained in West Virginia for the semester (and if you’ve ever looked at the rent in the greater Waltham area, you’d get why). Yet I worried how connected I would be to everyone.

I also worried about the workload. The idea of taking four classes didn’t seem too overwhelming, but I had been out of school for about three years—just enough time to forget what it felt like to write a 10- to 20-page paper. Other graduate students warned me that I’d need the extra hours available during the week to keep up with the workload. Was I up to the challenge?

Three and half months later I can confidently say (pending final grades) that I was, thanks to some incredible support from my classmates and professors!

Whether you find a place right in the center of Waltham or 500 miles away, you’ll find that your classmates are there for you. My MPP cohort is spread out from one coast to the other and yet we communicate nearly every day. I mean, being in a classroom is nice, but have you ever shared real-time reactions and memes with your 20-40 classmates about what’s happening in class? It can truly turn some of the slowest guest speaker lecture days into one of your favorite classes.

Pro tip: Download Slack before graduate school and use the Newly Admitted Heller Facebook page to build your cohort’s Slack channel! You’ll thank me later, trust me.

On a serious note, being able to communicate with my classmates outside of monitored spaces was a godsend when I was lost in a lecture or missed a class. The kind of people who attend Heller are the kind who are willing to go above and beyond to help their classmates. We’re truly all in this together (cue HSM earworm) and I’m constantly amazed by the things that I learn from my classmates.

The workload wasn’t the easiest adjustment, yet it didn’t take long to find a study routine that worked for me. Remember: If it works for you, stick with, don’t compare it to others. Imposter syndrome is real and will have you feeling like you’re not doing enough real quick. Don’t let it get you!

But if you feel like you’re struggling more than you should, be honest with yourself and others. Talk to your classmates to check if you’re doing too much. Are you skimming most of the five 30-page reading assignments, or are you deep reading all of them? Are you finding 50 sources for a 10 page paper or a reasonable 20? We’ve all been there! I definitely have…but being honest and speaking about it with my classmates and professors prevented endless future headaches. Heller professors want to build you up, not break you down. Don’t be afraid to meet with a professor one-on-one to talk about where you’re at. I promise they (at least MPP professors) won’t bite.

Looking back, this semester wasn’t too bad (though I may be wearing some rose-colored glasses). But I know I couldn’t have gotten through it without my cohort. To the applicants and newly-admitted students, find the people who will have your back during this experience. Trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Advice

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The “Heller experience” varies from student to student. There is so much to do, and for me, not having been in school since I graduated from undergrad in 2011, I wanted to do it all! Your time at Heller allows you to try new things, meet new people, and sign up to be a part of many exciting Heller and Brandeis wide events. As we approach the new school year, I want to pass along three pieces of advice I would give any incoming or prospective student:

1.  Prioritize career development, such as having an internship or Career Development Services workshops. While I chose to be very involved on the Heller campus through my on-campus work  and extracurriculars activities, I wish I had made it a priority to do more career development along the way, such as internships with organizations, especially because for the MBA, it can count as credit. There are a number of incredible organizations, including health, public policy, international development all within the Boston area. Having graduated, I think that if I had put an effort into connecting with local organizations while in school, I would have at an advantage in the job market. If internships can’t fit into your schedule, Career Development Services has a number of great workshops and informational packets as well. I would advise that students reach out sooner than later for help with interview prep or resume reviews, because graduation creeps up on you quickly!

2. Take a look outside of Heller.  It’s already overwhelming to see the options of exciting classes to take at Heller. But don’t forget, there are options to take classes or attend conferences and events at universities in the Boston area! Students often take courses for credit or for audit at the Brandeis International Business School or through the Consortium (which includes local universities such as Babson, MIT, or Harvard). During my time at Heller, I attended events and conferences that were hosted at Harvard or Boston University and appreciated the networking opportunities. I also had the chance to attend a conference in Detroit with Net Impact. Even better, you can apply for a Heller conference grant which will help offset your conference fees.

3. Challenge yourself with the social entrepreneurship events at Heller. I may be biased as someone who was known at Heller for loving everything related to social entrepreneurship, but I highly recommend that students, regardless of their degree program, sign up to take part in Heller Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize Challenge, which are two social entrepreneurship events at Heller. During my two years at Heller, I was actively involved in this event, first as a participant and then as a Director. It allowed me to plan, lead, and organize events with layers of complexity, which I have been able to reference in many of my interviews! Participants I have worked with have enjoyed this event and have found that it helps hone their leadership, presentation, and teamwork skills.

There are many opportunities for you at Heller, Brandeis, and in the Boston area. Remember that although you may be going to graduate school to further your professional goals, it’s not just the degree that matters: the connections you build and the skills you acquire can be a major asset in your future. Keep an eye out for the different events and enjoy being in school!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

For me, starting grad school was simultaneously an overwhelming, exciting, confusing, and invigorating experience. I certainly had no clue what to expect. So, what advice would I give to someone just beginning their Heller journey?

First, I want to remind incoming Heller students to stay calm: you are here for a reason, and you should be confident in your ability to do important and impactful work here. At times, you may slip into comparing yourself to other students, measuring their professional backgrounds and experiences against yours. But here at Heller, we are all in the same boat. No one is doing “better” or “worse” work than anyone else, and Heller is certainly not a competition. Essentially, everybody has the same goal of being a benefit to their communities, their nations, and the world.

Another piece of advice I can give is: the cold weather isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be! Granted, I am from the Northeast and therefore used to the cold. Be sure to buy good, sturdy snow boots, especially if you intend on walking to Brandeis, or around Waltham and Boston. Get waterproof gloves, wool socks, a warm hat that covers your ears, and a waterproof coat— these items are definitely necessary to get through winter in Waltham comfortably.   But remember, winter will always come to an end and Massachusetts summers are beautiful.

I would also recommend that you explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as possible! I sometimes get stuck in “campus mode” and spend all day tucked away in Heller. It will make a huge difference to your mental health if you find time to explore outside of Brandeis. The historic Walden Pond is only a 20-minute drive from Waltham, Cambridge has wonderful bookstores, and Salem offers everything from cute vintage shops to museums about witches. Leaving campus helped me to clear my head, and ultimately allowed me to perform better as a student. Exploring is also a great way to gain ownership over your new home and a way to feel more present and “at home” in Massachusetts overall.

The last piece of advice I want to emphasize is about cultivating relationships at Heller. I am prone to shyness, and in my first few weeks at Heller, I felt reticent to begin fostering significant relationships with professors and with my cohort. My advice to you is: Don’t hold back! Again, everyone is in the same boat and we are here at Heller for the same reasons. Share your interests and experiences with your classmates and with Heller faculty. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, attend on-campus events, and make weekend plans to unwind with your cohort. The opportunity to foster and cultivate relationships is one of the most valuable things Heller offers to its students. Ask your professors questions, even if you think it might sound silly. Listen to the members of your cohort as they describe their unique experiences. I am so very thankful for the people I have met during my first year at Heller. I have met faculty who sparked new interests within me, and friendships I am certain I will maintain throughout my life. Studying at Heller is a significant experience that we all share – cultivate those relationships and let them flourish!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Beginning classes at Heller this past fall after several years out of school, I was excited to get back into an academic mindset. While focusing on class is key to grad school success, it’s important not to overlook the amazing opportunities Heller has for research, career advising, and just generally connecting with people who are engaged in important and interesting work. My biggest piece of advice for new Heller students is to hit the ground running and identify folks on campus whom you want to meet. This might be a Heller faculty researcher whose work fascinates you, a peer whose interest areas are similar to yours, or a staff member who can connect you with helpful resources.

In my case, I was fortunate to get involved in the Heller Admissions office, through which I’ve met students in other degree programs and many staff members, and to be connected with Heller researchers through an assignment in my first semester research methods class. I also took advantage of career treks to Washington, D.C. and New York City this semester and connected with alumni working in public policy. I’ve gained a lot from these experiences, and I’m glad that there’s more at Heller still to discover. At the same time, it’s never too early to reach out and make connections.

Graduate school is really what you make of it. Everyone at Heller has a totally unique experience, and there’s no reason not to branch out and pursue opportunities outside of the core courses in your degree program. Research, working groups, campus jobs, volunteer activities – all can be a great way to get more value out of your Heller experience. One of my goals for the remainder of my time at Heller is to either get involved in a research institute or pursue an independent study. It’s great to know that faculty and advisers here will support me in this goal. When you first arrive at Heller, don’t wait to find the opportunities that will make your time here great!

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