From the monthly archives: June 2012

The next batch of advice from current students to incoming students is a little inconsistent.  No…it’s very inconsistent.  So before you start reading, let me give you a framework for viewing it.  My guess is that the differences in perspective are rooted in the natural diversity of backgrounds (academic and professional) as well as personalities of the advisors.  All of the comments are practical tips for getting ready for classes.  Note that Shopping Day refers to the first day of the semester (this year, Tuesday, September 4) when short introductory sessions are offered for many classes.)  With that said, I’ll let the comments fight it out among themselves.  Again, these are the things that students did, or wish they had done, to prepare for their Fletcher studies.

Start looking at classes before you get here!  I began picking my classes a few days before lessons started and was overwhelmed by the choice.  Fletcher is so flexible and has such a diverse curriculum that you’re going to find hundreds of classes you’re interested in.  It’s tough narrowing it down to four classes in two days.

Identify some of the courses you want to take.  Some great courses have prerequisites that must be completed first.  Start looking at courses that might be of interest at other area universities.

I planned out which classes I wanted to take in the fall.  I knew exactly which classes I wanted to take, but after Shopping Day and talking to people, I only took two of those four classes.  Still, it was helpful.

Start earlier deciding which four courses to take the first semester.  Giving it thought in advance can lessen the stress during Shopping Day and the first week of classes.  Really pay attention to students’ evaluations (accessed through the Fletcher internal website) of the courses in previous years.  They really give a good sense of the quality and characteristic of the course.

On the “relax” side of the spectrum:

I spent so much time thinking about coursework and what my schedule should be for the first semester.  In actuality, I didn’t need to do all of this prep work.  It certainly helped that I had some idea of the courses offered, but things start to change once you arrive at school.  Shopping Day changes everything for most people.  So don’t worry too much about your courses until you get here!

I wish I hadn’t stressed so much about things that were not that crucial, like picking my classes and meeting the requirements.  Things just fall into place if you do what you’re supposed to do.  Don’t stress too much.

I tried to think about what I might want to write a thesis about.  Seriously!  I did that the summer before starting.  Don’t bother.  Your classmates and professors, and the ideas you’ll be exposed to, will be much more stimulating than even the most creative ideas you could come up with on your own.  I don’t remember much of what I came up with, but it definitely had nothing to do with what I ended up writing about.

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Just before students flew off the campus last month, I asked for their ideas to help prepare their incoming peers.  I posed three questions:

◊  What did you do to prepare for Fletcher that you would recommend for September’s incoming students?
◊  What did you do to prepare for Fletcher that you now consider unnecessary?
◊  What do you wish you had done before starting your graduate studies?

The suggestions fall pretty neatly into several large buckets, with some people satisfied with how they prepared and others wishing they had done things differently.  I could start anywhere but, rather than stress you out with suggestions regarding your academic futures, I’m going to plant the idea that will take the longest to implement.  Relaxing, and arriving early in the area.  Here’s what students had to say on these topics:

I wish that I would have arrived in the area a bit earlier than I did.  I was extremely envious of the students who came in August, got to know the area, and were comfortable by the time Orientation started.  They generally sublet a room for a month and took the time to find good housing.  Most ended up with cheaper places that I did — I arranged from afar in late spring — and were comfortable with the decisions they made.  Those who needed to work in the fall also had time to find a suitable job and make arrangements before the flood of students arrived back on campus.  I wish I had come August 1st.

Arrive in the area a few weeks before the start of Orientation, especially if coming from abroad.  It’s great to have time to get set up, get a phone, pick up an ID (critical for going out to bars without taking your passport!) and become familiar with the area.

I took days off from my previous work, enough to let myself prepare  — mentally — for my new life.  I spent time with my family and friends, and I suggest the same for incoming students.  You will miss it and will not have much time in the next two years!!

I wish that I had looked more into what was available in Boston.  I arrived the day before Orientation and still haven’t managed to see most of the city (two semesters later…ooops…).

I was working intensely up until 1.5 months before school started.  In those last free weeks I made a point of relaxing, reading as much as I could (for leisure as well as catching up on all news and current events), and exploring Fletcher’s courses and biographies of professors. Things pick up very quickly once you arrive, and Orientation is exhausting (albeit an incredible week).  Make sure you are well rested and caught up on all of the other “life” things that you have to do.  Once you start here, you’re in it, and those things become more of a luxury!

That’s the first round of common sense advice from current students.  One point I would add for international students is that arriving early gives you a chance to improve your English language skills.  The start of the semester is very busy, and the more adjusting you can do before Orientation, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Another round of suggestions is coming up tomorrow.

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Many Fletcher students plan to launch an initiative after they have graduated, but recently there has been a trend toward students starting an NGO or similar organization before enrolling or while pursuing their degrees.  New graduate Gaurav Tiwari is one of those, and I checked in with him to ask what his organization, EmpowerID, is all about.

Gaurav told me that he started EmpowerID along with fellow students at MIT, all of whom have some international development experience.  (The ID in EmpowerID stands for International Development.)  Gaurav has worked in the field over the last several years in various capacities — as a field researcher in the slums of Delhi, as a policy analyst in Washington D.C., and as a practitioner for a Nairobi-based startup called Sanergy.  He wrote that he found that “the practice of development lacked information-sharing and sustainability, which are crucial to success in any project.”

(I should note that Gaurav was a member of a Sanergy team that won the Tufts $100K Business Plan Competition and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2011.)

EmpowerID was born when Gaurav and his colleagues decided that providing the medium for sharing information would help development practitioners.  They created an online portal, through which practitioners could share information about their projects and maximize the impact and efficiency of development initiatives.  The list of projects shared through is already quite impressive!

As further background, Gaurav gave me a few bullet-points on the project.

• is a knowledge sharing platform which links communities, development practitioners and all other stakeholders in order to maximize impact and efficiency of development initiatives.
• blends the virtues of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Devex, and seeks to build an online community for practitioners, volunteers, and organizations in the field of international development.
•    EmpowerID aims to revolutionize the way international development is practiced across the world.

And Gaurav has been seeking to draw Fletcher students into the operation.  In a end-of-semester email to the community, he wrote:

We are working on an online platform to publicize successful international development projects and the lessons learned, with the goal of increasing their impact and helping future volunteers to build off previous successful work!  We would like to feature YOUR projects on our online platform, and share lessons that you all have learned in your time in the field with the rest of the global international development community!

Blog readers, if you have experience in international development to share, why not connect to EmpowerID by signing up and describing your project!

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