From the monthly archives: November 2009

Thanksgiving weekend was lots of fun, but also tiring, making the return to work feel like a bit of a rest.  All the more so when someone else gives me two good ideas for the blog!  Both of the stories exist elsewhere on the Fletcher site, but I’m going to include them anyway, for those who may have missed them.

The first is Prof. Uvin’s op-ed comments on development studies at Fletcher.  As he notes, about a quarter of our graduates are going into development careers, which probably means that about a quarter of the blog readers are pointed in that direction, too.  Check out his thoughts on the topic.

The other is just a happy bit of news for those of us who have been hanging out at Fletcher for a long time.  It has been really interesting to see so many of our alumni taking new U.S. government p0sts.  The latest is Erin Conaton.  In my first Fletcher career, she worked with me as a student staffer.  I remember her well, including (as the article mentions), her gift for getting along with people.  She’s a real peach.

Time, now, for me to read some applications.  Most Early Notification applications will have been reviewed by the end of this week.  Then we’ll move into the final decision and processing phase.

 

I’m so happy that Thanksgiving is coming tomorrow.  It’s by far my favorite holiday, one that is celebrated by most Americans, regardless of their origins or how long they have been in the country.  I was talking about our holiday plans with Prof. Wachman as we came into the building one day last week.  We talked about the challenges of making Thanksgiving about anything but “the food.”  Let’s be honest — the food is a critical component, but to my family, the day is a cherished time when the usual activities are set aside in order to be together.  That, itself, is something to be thankful for.

We’ll be serving dinner for 13 on Thursday.  My cousin in nearby Watertown and I are partners in the endeavor, splitting the list of dishes to prepare.  My mother-in-law (who, being from England, will experience her first Thanksgiving) is in town, and another cousin from New York will join us with his family.  Add in a couple of friends, and that makes 13 people sitting cozily around my table for 12.  And we’ll reconvene on Friday — 11 of us gathering for leftovers.  I’ve already prepared a few things (cranberry relish and a chocolate nut candy that’s super indulgent), and some big-time baking will be happening in my kitchen later today.

We like to have a mix of activities and restful time during the long weekend.  While we’re all together, we’ll probably see a movie or take a walk in a setting that reminds us we’re in New England — somewhere woodsy or historic.  Of course, we’ll eat well throughout!

But on Saturday, it will start to feel like a normal November weekend and, for me, that will mean reading Early Notification applications.  I’ve already brought home a stack, and they’re stored in a bag in a safe spot under a desk.  I have to keep them in an obvious place, so I don’t forget to read them, but it needs to be a safe place, so I don’t risk dropping a casserole dish of sweet potatoes (with lemon glaze) on them.

To all the blog readers in, or from, the U.S., I wish you a very happy holiday!

(To all, a scheduling note:  the Office will be closed on Thursday and Friday.  We’ll be back to a regular schedule on Monday, November 30.)

 

Chris, another of our interviewers and a first-year MALD student, is reminded of his own application process a year ago, whenever he conducts an interview.

It seems surreal to be interviewing prospective students at Fletcher because, less than a year ago, I was in the same position as the applicants.  I remember studying for the GRE, writing my essays, collecting the recommendations, and then preparing for the interview.   It’s a trying experience when you’re making the decision to attend grad school!

I certainly enjoyed my interview last year, as I not only got to meet Fletcher students currently attending the school, but I also had the opportunity to get a feel for the School itself.  I’m a big believer that the atmosphere of a building says a lot about the organization, and Fletcher is no different.  My impression entering the Hall of Flags was a mixture of intelligence, fun, and a high dependency on coffee.  So far my initial reading has held up remarkably well.

As an interviewer this year, I have consistently interviewed talented people.  During Orientation I frequently asked myself why Admissions admitted me, and the question comes up again after each interview I complete.  (I haven’t asked the Admissions staff, though, because it may put me on their radar.)  But that is what Fletcher is: a community of great people who share a belief that the world can be a better place and who want to make it a reality.

Good luck with your applications!
-Chris

 

Ian Pilarczyk has been Associate Director of Fletcher’s LLM program since before the first students even arrived.  Sadly for us, he will be moving on to a new opportunity.  Here, Ian tells us about his departure, with his signature (in the Admissions blog, anyway) use of poetry.

“On Saying Goodbye To My Office in Mugar 250” (with apologies to F.R. Scott)

Several weeks ago, I accepted a new position at Boston University School of Law.  It will pose new opportunities and challenges and reunite me with my alma mater, but leaving Fletcher is also the definition of “bittersweet.”  In an ideal world, the new job would have come after the current LLM class graduated in May, so that I could have seen them through the end of the school year, travelled with them to Talloires for our Capstone and celebrated with them at commencement — but we rarely have control over timing, and I knew this was an opportunity I wanted to pursue.  This past Saturday, the LLM students held a dinner in my honor at one of my favorite restaurants, Elephant Walk in Cambridge.  It was such a nice gesture, so generous yet typical of them — and emblematic of why it’s hard to say goodbye.  I hope they know they will be missed.

For the past few weeks, I have been slowly vacating my office, packing box after box of books, removing the trappings and trophies of professional life off of shelves and walls.  As Canadian poet F.R. Scott wrote about emptying his law school office, his “sanctuary” for many years:

They are carting away all my books and papers.
My pictures are stacked in an ugly pile in the corner.
There is murder in my cathedral.

As I pack up, I come across a clay figurine given to me by one of our students from Uzbekistan, myriad knick-knacks that coincidentally are replete with elephant motifs, and files full of notes  from when I first started here.  I realize that my filing system, as organized as I think it is, has an internal “logic” that will doubtlessly confound my successor:  it’s a special challenge to leave things in a way will allow someone else to seamlessly start where you left off.

Miserable vandals, stuffing me into your cartons,
This is a functioning office, all things are in order,
Or in that better disorder born of long usage.
I alone can command it.

My successor arrived this week, which allowed us a few pleasant days to work together before I leave today.  I am delighted that she is already a member of the Fletcher community:  Susan Simone ’09, is a graduate of last year’s LLM class. She is a gifted lawyer and enthusiastic alumnus, and I am happy to call her a friend.  In her capable hands, the program will doubtlessly continue to flourish and grow, and knowing I am passing the office keys along to her makes leaving a little easier.

… I stand again on new frontiers.
Forgive this moment of weakness, this backward perspective.
Old baggage, I wish you goodbye and good housing.
I strip for more climbing.

Goodbye, Fletcher.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family these past two years.

 

For the last week or so, whenever I’m passing through the back of the office where our student staffers sit, someone’s busy date stamping, or envelope opening, or label sticking, or doing any of the other little tasks that are critical to producing application files that are ready to be reviewed.  I’m going to be honest here — much of the work doesn’t take advantage of our students’ brain power.  In fact, looked at in isolation, the tasks are menial.  It’s important for the students to maintain a sense of perspective — that without the completion of these tasks, the office’s work would never get done.

Beyond broad perspective, there are two main traits that fuel efficiency in the office.  The first is that students are already operating at max brain power every day.  Coming into the office and perfecting their date stamping can be just the ticket for relieving stress.

The second helpful trait is a sense of humor.  I just received an email from the student worker I referred to in this post, who was accused of working in a call center.  Of course, Sudila has gone off to a fabulous job, but he is still nostalgic for his Admissions days.  Here’s what he wrote.  Note that he’s referencing one task of packing a DVD about Fletcher for mailing.

Sorry I missed this email earlier, but reading the blog post made me laugh.  The days in the Admissions Office were so great.  I always talk about it whenever I meet past Fletcher students.  I hope the new crew is as fiercely competitive as we were.  And I do hope my coveted DVD Stuffing Record still stands:  97 DVDs stuffed in five minutes.  Daisuke came in a close second with 95.  It was so competitive  that we had to bring an international referee (Carol Murphy, Fletcher’s International Student Advisor).  Even Laurie stopped her work and came out to see the competition.  It just goes to show that the Admissions Office staff really appreciates the work of the student workers.  I am sure that every student who works there will have very fond memories of the Admissions Office.

And, as I assume you can tell, we have fond memories of them, too!  A photo of Sudila and Daisuke (and their DVD Stuffing Awards) still adorns our wall.

 

There’s a core of activities that is shared by all Fletcher students regardless of degree program, but the precise features of daily life do differ a bit.  Here, first-year MIB student, Vincent, tells us about his early months in the program.

I can’t believe it’s only been three months since I started at the Fletcher School.  I began the MIB program in mid-August with a Strategy pre-session, and it already feels like a lifetime ago.  So much has happened since then — I’ve met so many amazing people, and I’ve learned so much.  For the purposes of the blog, I’ll tell you about my experiences to date and my expectations for what lies ahead.

My experiences at Fletcher up to now have all been extremely positive.  As an MIB student, I have to take three core courses this semester, and each one of those classes has opened a door for me on the world of business.  I have a background in the private sector, and my first few months of learning have complemented and built upon my experience. In two of our business classes, “Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance” and “Financial Statement Analysis,” we are really learning the practical side of how a business works.  Theory is always there, but it’s more about making decisions and understanding what is going on.

My other core course is called “Global Political Economy,” and it’s excellent.  What I didn’t know about the interactions and history of state players and external forces in trade negotiations could fill a book.  I thoroughly enjoy this class and the perspective it’s giving me on international affairs and business.  This is exactly the kind of course that separated Fletcher from the other schools I considered.

Now, what do I expect for the coming months?  Well, it’s exam time soon enough, so there will be a lot of studying.  But the strangest aspect of all is that, two months from now, I’ll be doing four totally new courses.  I know I’ll be taking a region-specific course in French, and probably a course on international negotiation.  Thankfully, I’m now well adjusted to the world of academia so I no longer have a “deer in the headlights” look about me as I walk the Hall of Flags.  It’s certainly been quite a change to go from the working world into school.  There’s no hiding out in meetings here.  The more you put into Fletcher — pre-work and team projects — the more you get out of it.

Lastly, it sounds cliché, but there is a real community here.  There isn’t a day that goes by when my 30 MIB classmates aren’t cracking jokes or talking about their many incredible adventures in far-flung reaches of the globe — the range of their experiences is immense.  The things I’m learning from my MIB and MALD classmates could fill a couple of courses!  This has been the biggest and best surprise of all.

 

One of the tasks that has fallen to me over the last few years is to lead the way in preparing selected students to be valuable members of the Committee on Admissions.  The Committee is made up of professors, Admissions staff, and a group of students large enough to manage however many applications we expect to see.

The process starts when we hire the students, having lured them with an email that makes the job sound like an insurmountable mountain of work.  (Only the rugged need apply.)  Then two of us conduct interviews (Kristen and Peter each joined me this year), and we put together a group that reflects, as well as possible, the scope of applicants that we’ll see:  men/women, U.S./international, private sector/public and nonprofit sectors, etc., etc.  Plus, they need to have the ability to present an argument, even if they’re on the opposite side of the discussion from one of their professors.  To be honest, it also helps if they understand that they shouldn’t cling tenaciously to a lost cause.

Once the students have been selected, we offer about an hour of training — completely inadequate, so we construct a big safety net around them.  They work with us in a mentor-type arrangement, each of the staffers reading the files previously reviewed by our mentees, so that we can learn their style (and tweak it as necessary).  And then there’s the Committee discussion process for ironing out any last wrinkles.

We keep our expectations reasonable for the Early Notification process.  Not only are the students heading into exams, but the Admissions work is new to them.  An application that takes 30 minutes to read now would, by February, take half that amount of time.  So we try to go easy on the readers and give them a chance to really learn the ropes.

The Early Notification deadline was Sunday, but we had a small group of files ready last Thursday afternoon.  Minutes after I emailed the crew that they could pick up files, in they marched!  Some of the files were back again an hour later.  Fabulous!!

I’m super psyched about this year’s Committee, and I love this part of the process.  Current students know the community and are in a perfect place to reflect whether Fletcher seems like a good match for each applicant.  The Admissions Staff is there to provide the broad context, and the professors represent the faculty view.

I have five files from my mentees here, and I’m going to read them now.  We’ll be meeting on Thursday to discuss their early work.  The first full Committee meeting takes place in December.  I can’t wait!

 

As you may know, most of our evaluative interviews are conducted by current Fletcher students, providing the students with a special opportunity to help shape a future class and the applicants with a forum for learning about the Fletcher student experience.  Here, Jessie, an interviewer and office student staffer, shares her perspective:

Hello applicants and Fletcher fans!  As a second-year student who has worked closely with the Admissions Office over the past 14 months as an interviewer, info-session leader, and student worker (and who was an applicant myself not so long ago!), I want to address a question we hear often:  Why should I come for an evaluative interview?

The purpose of the interview is two-fold:  it’s one more way for us to get to know you as a person who aspires to study at Fletcher, and it’s also your chance to ask questions of a current student.  Each of these aspects are important, so I’ll discuss them both.

Fletcher really does take a holistic approach to admissions – it’s about evaluating a person as a whole, with all of the academic and professional and personal qualifications factored in.  Some of the Admissions Committee’s metrics are quantifiable, while others are more subjective.  Coming in for an evaluative interview allows you to tell us exactly why you want to go to grad school – and, more specifically, why Fletcher – which I have always felt were the most important questions of the interview.  You also can tell us about all of the dynamic and unique traits that make you special.  Granted, you should address this in your application essays, but let’s be honest – 700 words is not much!  We want you to tell us why you want to be here, why you feel it’s the right time for you to be here, and how you can make this school academically and socially a great place.

The second purpose to the interview is, of course, to give you a chance to ask questions of a current student and try to ascertain whether Fletcher is the right place for you.  To a certain extent, the application process is a mutual audition of sorts.  You are trying to show grad schools why you should be there, but you’re also auditioning the schools themselves.  While I often joke that I’m afraid I love Fletcher more than I will love my first-born child, I recognize that not everyone will feel this way.  You need to find the school that will be the best fit for you, not only academically but based upon social, financial, and whatever other criteria are important to you.  Grad school is expensive, no doubt about it – you want to be sure of your decision before you make the investment.  So when you come for an interview, please ask whatever questions you may have, no matter how off-the-wall they may be!

My own interview two years ago (wow, has it been that long?!) was a great experience, because I felt well-prepared for both of the interview’s purposes.  I knew I could do more than recite my own resume; I had clear reasons for wanting to come to Fletcher and was prepared to articulate them.  I also had my own questions, about financial aid, the students’ social life, the workload, the utility of the alumni network.  I came out of the interview surer than ever that this was where I wanted to be, and I was able to translate that conviction to my application essays.

Despite everything I have said about the usefulness of interviews, please remember that, if you can’t come to campus for an interview, you should not fret!  While a helpful component of the admissions process, it is OPTIONAL and if you don’t do one, you will not be penalized in any way.

I wish you all the best of luck in the admissions process and hope that, for each of you, your next step (whether school, more work, or something else) proves to be the right one.

 

What I’m learning lately is that, while I can more-or-less effectively multitask with various activities, I can’t write for the blog unless I have a little uninterrupted time and a little spare brain power.  Yesterday’s post was started early in the morning, but wasn’t finished until toward the end of the day.  I was hoping for some creativity today, but I don’t think I’m going to find it.  And yet, with Early Notification applications due on Sunday the 15th, and the majority of our applicants cranking up the effort on the applications for January 15, I should be sharing info as much as possible.  I’ll try to do better!

Yesterday was a crazy day around here.  We had the second of our three experimental MIB Visit Days.  There were about nine MIBers, plus the same number of visitors for the other programs, and a small delegation from a university in Korea.  At 12:30, the visitors headed off for info sessions, but we also had a lunch meeting with our one-year MA students.  All the relevant staff and participants for the three 12:30 activities were lurking around the Admissions Office at the same time — a smallish crowd, but in a very small space.  We could barely get in and out of the door.

And I think we set our own office record for number of interviews completed in a day.  Even with two cancellations, students and staff completed 11 interviews.  Given that only five or so years ago we only offered 20 interviews in a week, 11 in a day felt like an accomplishment.

And, speaking of interviews, there are still appointments open, but the number shrinks by the day.  If you plan to participate in an evaluative interview, the time to book it is now.  Some applicants have already been disappointed to learn there are no times open on the day they hoped to visit, so don’t wait any longer.

One last admin note:  The Office will be closed tomorrow, November 11, for the Veteran’s Day public holiday.

 

Back in the 80s and 90s, a TV character named Jessica Fletcher solved the many mysteries that plagued the tiny town in which she lived.  Having a resident detective clearly worked well for Cabot Cove, Maine (and I’ve always liked the way that Jessica Fletcher borrows both my first name and the name of my workplace).  Maybe we should bring her in to solve the mysteries that we encounter in the admissions process in the Cabot Intercultural Center (the main building in the Fletcher complex).

Yes, dear blog readers, it’s true.  Sometimes we could use a detective to help us ferret out all the information we hope to find in an application.  This week, as our Early Notification applicants put the final flourishes on their applications, I want to encourage you beg you to ensure your application is clear.  Start with rereading all the questions.  Did you answer them?  (Hint:  “Refer to résumé” is not an appropriate answer to our questions.)

Next, put yourself in the shoes of our U.S.-based Admissions Committee.  We’re certainly accustomed to the evaluation systems at many, many universities in many countries, but maybe you shouldn’t assume we’ll know about yours.  Does your transcript provide an explanation of the grading system?  Or will we see a mix of 7s and 9s, with no information on whether the highest grade is 1 or 10 or 20?  If your college/university doesn’t use grades of ABCD&F, and a 4-point GPA scale where 4.0 is highest, and the transcript doesn’t include a guide (many of them do), please explain the system.  Without that information, we can’t evaluate your background fairly.

On an even more basic level, as you may have read here before, please ensure that all your documents have the same name on them.  If they don’t, please send us an email to tell us what to look for.  Whether the multiple names reflect a name change or a spelling error on the part of ETS, it’s your job to fill us in.

Another job for Jessica Fletcher:  figuring out choppy backgrounds.  Did you spend two years in a succession of six-month internships or contracts?  Did you transfer colleges more than once?  Did you spend a year after graduation working at a Target store so that you could pay your bills while waiting for a more relevant job?  Please don’t leave it to us to figure out what’s going on in your background.  You wouldn’t want us to assume the worst, would you?

Given that Angela Lansbury has moved on to other roles and Jessica Fletcher may be unavailable, we leave it to our applicants to keep their applications clear and easy to understand.  Putting in the time to consider how your background and credentials will be interpreted by an outsider will serve you well.

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