From the monthly archives: November 2008

For me, the kitchen is “command central.”  I spend many of my waking hours there, doing the things that can only be done in a kitchen, as well as those that could be done elsewhere.  So this past weekend, there I was, alternating between reading Early Notification applications, and baking for Thanksgiving.

If the blog’s current readership is similar to last year’s, many of you are outside the U.S., and I’d like to tell you that Thanksgiving is the best.  Here’s why:  It doesn’t matter who you are — visitor to the U.S., new citizen, descendant of a Mayflower passenger, or Native American — if you want to make Thanksgiving your holiday, it’s yours!  Unlike many major holidays, religion plays no role in deciding who participates.  It’s a holiday to share — so invite some friends, cook a meal, and you’re in business!  What could be more wonderful than a holiday that has, at its heart, the giving of thanks?

And, here’s something that may surprise you:  Despite the tendency in the U.S. to find business opportunities in every occasion, Thanksgiving is largely uncommercialized.  Sure, you can pick up paper plates in seasonal designs, but there’s no gift giving.  Just family, friends, and food.

Americans are, as a nation, home bakers.  Many people will bake only once a year, and this is it.  Pies, cakes, cookies.  Yum!  I know that my mother baked now and then, but all I can remember are her delicious Thanksgiving confections.  I bake all year round, but on Thanksgiving, I take the ingredients out of the cabinets, pile everything on the counters, and keep going until I can’t justify another cookie.

So this past weekend was mostly devoted to holiday preparation.  On Friday, I chose my recipes and did my shopping.  On Saturday, I started up:  two apple pies, one pecan-apple tart, some chocolate with dried fruits, and a bit of applesauce to use up extra apples.  Also some cranberry relish.  (This isn’t exactly the recipe I used, but it’s close enough.)  On Wednesday, I’ll bake some more, and make the sweet potatoes.  (Which reminds me — Thanksgiving is a holiday of entrenched traditions.  Tell a sweet-potato family that you’re going to make squash or white potatoes, and watch the shocked expressions.  You just don’t mess around with stuff like that.)  On Thursday, Paul (my husband) will make stuffing, I’ll make a salad, and Josh (my son, home from college) and Kayla (my daughter) will bake cookies.  My cousin will prepare the rest of the meal, including the turkey and “spoon bread” (a staple in our meal thanks to my aunt from Arkansas), and will bring everything over at about 4:00. We’ll have 16 for dinner on Thursday, and we’ll have 14 the next night for leftovers.

When the dinner and leftovers are done, it will be time to turn back to Fletcher’s Early Notification applications.  They’ll be there with me in the kitchen — hiding out under a counter while the meal is prepared and consumed.  But the end of the weekend will certainly find me at the kitchen table, reading away, and enjoying the lingering scent of the Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

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If you’re planning to contact or visit the Admissions Office, you’ll want to note:

Next Thursday (November 27) is the Thanksgiving holiday, and the University will be closed on both the 27th and 28th.

Fletcher classes end on Wednesday, December 10.  The Admissions Office remains open throughout December and January, except on University holidays.

The University will be closed on December 24, 25, 26, and January 1 and 2.

PhD applications are due January 1.


What I am doing, of course, is writing a blog post.  If I weren’t writing, I could be accomplishing any of a number of admissions tasks, especially reading Early Notification applications.  But what’s more interesting is what I’m not doing elsewhere in the School.  Right now, I’m missing a luncheon with a talk on “Designing Homeland Security Systems,” sponsored by Fletcher’s International Security Studies Program.  Since I brought my lunch with me, I could also be attending a brown-bag lunch talk with former Congressman Jim Leach on “The Role of Congress in Foreign Policy.”  The lunch is one in a series organized by Ambassador John Shattuck, who, this year, is a Senior Fellow at the Tisch College. And if I were up for a talk over pizza, the Feinstein International Center is sponsoring “Livelihoods, Power and Choice:  The Vulnerability of the Northern Rizaygat, Darfur Sudan.”

Tonight I’m going to a meeting of a community group with which I’m involved, but if I weren’t, here’s what I could be doing at Fletcher instead:  I could attend a Charles Francis Adams Lecture (Fletcher’s “premier” School-wide lecture series) by Richard Schmierer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, speaking on “U.S. Policy on Iraq:  The Challenges Ahead.”  I’ll also miss a talk that’s part of the Fares Lecture Series — “Islamism in the Shadow of al-Qaeda.” And, finally, I’ll be missing a screening and discussion of “Collateral Damage,” one of the episodes from the series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? (I feel especially sorry to miss the screening, because the producer is Christine Sommers, wife of Fletcher Professor Marc Sommers.  Christine, Marc, and I have known each other since our sons were wee tots in elementary school.)

If I tried to attend every lecture, film screening, luncheon, meeting, reception, or party on the Fletcher calendar, I would never get anything done, either at home or at work.  But it’s nice to know what I’m missing, and what Fletcher students are doing.


Who better than our current students to offer advice to this year’s applicants!  I have asked our Admissions volunteers to write for the blog, specifically about their experience in the application process.  Today, first-year MALD student, Jessica Smith, weighs in.

I just realized that today marks exactly one year since I took the GRE. It’s tough to believe that it’s been a full 366 days since that test, because while I was in the midst of studying for it, the process — of GRE prep and of applying to grad school in general — seemed like it truly would never end.

I won’t lie to you; from the time I started researching schools in September 2007, until I finished my last essay in January 2008, I was one thoroughly frazzled person. My friends got really tired of hearing I wouldn’t be able to hang out with them on the weekends because I was studying for the GRE. The people at my neighborhood coffee shop knew me well — I was that girl who would order a small latte and then take up a whole table with my big laptop for roughly five hours while rewriting my essays yet again. I lost sleep worrying about whether my recommenders would have their letters written in time, or whether I had ordered enough copies of my undergrad transcript, or whether I was applying to the right places, or whether I would get in anywhere at all.  Sitting in that coffee shop in November, I felt as if January 15th may as easily have been a decade away.

But it doesn’t have to be like that! Some of you may be well underway on your applications, and some of you (ahem, you know who you are) are just getting started on the process. However far along you are, there’s no doubt that it is a pretty significant undertaking, but there is no reason it should be such a stressful one. I’d like to offer you a few tips to make the process more manageable:

-Make a checklist of all the items that you need for each school to which you’re applying. It helps to keep tabs on when each deadline is, and which parts you’re still missing.

-Have a friend who’s a good writer/editor look over your essays. After endless writing and re-writing, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae — I agonized endlessly over things like semicolons versus colons, or where to use “passionate” versus “dedicated,” until a friend helped me step back and re-focus on the bigger picture. It’s good to have another person read through and tell you if what you intend to say is coming across clearly.

-Stay on top of your recommenders! If they’ve already agreed to give you a letter, then you’re not nagging. You may fear that sending yet another reminder e-mail is annoying, but they will be far more annoyed if you wait until January 14th to ask sheepishly if they’ve started writing because, “Well, uh, it’s kinda due tomorrow.”

Above all, stay cool. I promise you, this process will eventually be over — your essays WILL get done, those letters of recommendation WILL come in, and your transcripts WILL be received. And then, on January 15th, think of something nice to reward yourself with!

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On Saturday, my husband and I went downtown to the Huntington Theater to see Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard.  The play, which follows the lives of several Czech and English characters from the Prague Spring in 1968 to the Vaclav Havel years, started me thinking about what it means to watch history roll out in real time.  Whether it’s through theater or a history book, having the bird’s-eye view enables us to see how all the pieces snap together.  Living through events day-by-day often leaves me wondering, “Where did this come from?”

It could be a statement about the way news is reported in the U.S.  First a few details trickle out, but can be found only in the dark corners of a major newspaper.  Then the news migrates to television coverage.  Next thing you know, we’re hearing full-time about a major issue.  I think of the situation in Darfur that way, but that’s hardly the only example.  And I generally consider myself to be someone who pays attention.

I suppose the difficulty in sifting through details as we roll through history isn’t limited to international news.  The sense that we won’t know where we’re going until we’re there is true on the domestic scene now as well.  With the soon-to-begin Obama presidency playing out in real time, we may not be able to see where the country is headed.  The Boston Globe asked several analysts to predict how President Obama will be viewed by history.  We know the election has major significance, but we won’t know how significant until time has gone by.


The first of the fall’s admissions processes, to choose our future Januarians, is now complete.  Decisions have been posted and mailed, and our new students can jump into the task of leaving jobs, studying spring course offerings, finding apartments, etc., etc.  All those things that need to be done before starting grad study, but will be compressed into a period of less than two months.

At the other end of the spectrum, in terms of planning time, are successful Early Notification applicants.  EN applications for September 2009 entry are due this Saturday, November 15, and applicants who are admitted will have nearly nine months to transform themselves into graduate students.  Plenty of time to systematically rent out a house, sell a car, buy a student backpack, etc., etc.

For the Admissions staff, the EN process is a whirlwind.  We receive far more applications than for January enrollment, but can still take only about a month to wrap everything up.  Thankfully, we’re able to rely on much more help!  Student members of the Admissions Committee hover around the office, ready to pounce on (and read) applications as soon as they are complete.

This is the start of the heart of the admissions cycle for us.  All the travel, preparation of marketing materials, answering email, interviewing, tweaking processes…it’s all backdrop for what’s in front of us, reviewing and deciding on applications.  Lots of fun, soon to come!


I’ve been badgering Kristen to report on her trip to Asia.  Here’s the first (and, I hope, not the last) of her posts.

As I wait here in Narita airport in Tokyo with some time on my hands, it’s a good time to reflect on my current recruiting trip and fulfill a promise to Jessica to write a post at the same time.

Every year, Fletcher admissions representatives make a few trips outside the U.S. to speak with applicants. As you can imagine, it is difficult to decide how to allocate our time and resources, given that Fletcher students come from so many different countries. This year’s entering class alone includes represents of 57 countries.  Peter spent some time in South America in September, Laurie will be traveling in Europe, and I’m in the midst of two weeks in Asia, including stops in Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

This is my first trip to this part of Asia, but I feel very well prepared. Between our current students and alumni who come from or are familiar with these cities, I arrived armed with everything from restaurant suggestions to etiquette tips to thoughts on what unique questions applicants in each city might ask. As to that last point, it’s been interesting to see that the questions, in fact, haven’t differed significantly according to region. Students everywhere are interested to know what makes our curriculum unique, who is eligible for scholarships, and what our average GRE scores are.  It’s the ultimate Fletcher “realization”: that our applicants worldwide, while unique in their professional, academic and cultural experiences, bring to the process the same sets of concerns and questions. Hopefully our travels (and this blog!) help clear up some of that.

I won’t bore everyone with details about how impressed I was by the bustle of Hong Kong’s harbor or sheer array of options in Tokyo’s department store food halls … for many of our Fletcher applicants, you have already experienced these for yourselves!  But I’ve been enjoying my experience and the chance to see a new part of the world.

I hope to meet some of you on my next stops: Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing!


It’s a beautiful day in the Medford/Somerville metro area!  Temperatures are mild, and the trees are still covered with leaves in shades of orange and red, making the air seem to glow.  A record number of Massachusetts residents are expected to head to the polls:  3.1 million voters is what I heard this morning.  And that is despite the fact that, as the “bluest of blue states,” no presidential candidate bothers to campaign here!  Whether you’re in the U.S. or not, you may have seen pictures of McCain or Obama in front of huge adoring crowds.  Trust me — none of those pictures were taken anywhere near us!  But we’re excited about this election anyway.

Within the office, Roxana, Kate, Liz, and Laurie all arrived at work with their “I voted” stickers. In addition to the presidential vote, Massachusetts residents will decide on three interesting ballot initiatives, so there are lots of reasons to get out there.

As for me, I’m going to vote later this afternoon.  First I’ll meet up with my son, who has his first chance to vote today.  My daughter, who will be a first-time voter for the next presidential election in 2012, will join us.  My husband, who became a citizen in 2000, was voting for president for the first time at our local polling place.  He left the house before the polls opened at 7:00, and until he was back home, I didn’t realize he was wearing a red and white striped shirt, along with a blue tie with white stars.  Quite the picture of patriotism, he was.

We hear often from our U.K. relatives that they’re following the election closely, and some of you blog readers in other countries may be doing so, too.  It’s an interesting time here in the U.S.  We’ll find out late tonight who will be leading the country for the next four years.


Most blog readers are probably considering applications for September 2009 enrollment, which makes it a little too easy for me to forget the smaller (but still significant) group who have already submitted applications for January 2009.  Although every aspect of our work, office, lives(!) in March is tied up with the September process, the January work is much more mellow.

As you prospective Januarians know, applications were submitted by October 15.  We’ve been grabbing small batches of files and reading them in brief bits of time around travel and all the other activities that occupy us in the fall.  At this point, every file that is complete has been read once, and nearly every file has been read twice.  From here, we start the final review process.  We check our own work and make sure we can count on the right number of students in chairs in January.  (Like Goldilocks — we don’t want too many students and we don’t want too few.)  And then we start the notification process.

On the one hand, we have a very manageable number of applications to review for January enrollment.  On the other hand, we also admit a very small class.  We bring the same standards to review of January applicants as we do to the September applicants, but the piles of files are much shorter.  And here’s our special challenge:  We need some time to get the work done right, but we also know that international students need time to obtain their U.S. student visas.  So we feel the pressure to wrap up the process in a very tight time frame!  Applicants can count on hearing from us by the week of November 17.  I may be able to refine and update that prediction as the week goes on.

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