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Wednesday’s survey yielded a bunch of useful questions and topics for the blog! Today, Ariel takes on the first of the questions I passed her way.
Dear Ariel: Now that I am admitted, and the more I read about Fletcher courses, I feel that I would like to take way more classes than I can fit into two years. Is it o.k. to use the first semester to look into several subjects and decide on Fields of Study in the second semester?
The number of interesting and intriguing classes at Fletcher can at times be overwhelming! In addition, it can be hard to narrow down Fletcher’s 23 Fields of Study into the two Fields needed to complete your depth requirement. There are just so many fascinating topics to pursue! Your options are really endless when you add in the option to self-design your own field of study. However, I would say it is definitely okay to use the first semester to narrow down your interests. Just make sure, if you are branching out into new areas you may not specialize in, that those courses also satisfy some of your breadth requirements.
It is definitely smart to start narrowing your options early, though, to make sure you are able to complete your course requirements within your two years at Fletcher. So start off your first semester with four possible Fields of Study, not nine. Because some courses are only offered in the spring and others are only offered in the fall, the earlier you make a plan for your two years, the better. Also, just because you don’t have room for a special topic in your course schedule doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it during your time at Fletcher. With all the speakers and events put on by student organizations, you’ll definitely have the opportunity to expand your knowledge and interests.
Fletcher students generally take four classes per semester, which means that Maliheh, whose progress through the second year of the MALD program we’re tracking in the blog, has now completed her twelfth class. She offered to provide comments on those classes that had a particularly strong impact on her intellectually. Here are her notes.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog post, I chose to apply to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in order to gain an international perspective on development and the socio-economic systems in which development takes place. As a means of complementing my quantitative background, at Fletcher I took classes in econometrics, econometric impact evaluation, development economics, development aid in practice, and agricultural and rural development. Compared to all the exposure that I had to different disciplines in physical science, I found economic analysis to be a hard and complex subject. In many cases, it seemed far more complex than analysis in the physical sciences, simply because we cannot usually run controlled laboratory experiments, and because people do not always behave predictably.
I ran my first regression in the summer of 2004, as a student at Sharif University in Iran. I was working as a research assistant, though I did not understood regression at the time. After taking Econometrics (EIB E213) with Prof. Jenny Aker, today I understand that the study aimed to use regression to uncover and quantify interesting causal relations. Prof. Aker equipped us with the facts, intuition, and experience necessary for independent econometric research and for critical reading of empirical research papers, which opened the door for me, creating many opportunities to work at international organizations.
I used the skills I had learned in Prof. Aker’s class last summer, working at the World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist for the MENA Region. The paper that resulted from my research will be presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum in Kuwait in March. I found econometrics to be a field in which many abuses are possible, and in which things can go wrong with every step, from the formulation of the original ideas for the problem, to the printing of the final report. Being statistically literate helps in recognizing when to be skeptical about statistical claims.
Born and raised in the Iranian countryside, I had the powerful experience of living in a rural area where my mother was our village’s only teacher. I was in close contact with acute poverty and famine in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, and I could see how being poor can affect the way people think, decide, spend, eat, and educate. Though, at that time, I could not foresee any solutions for these challenges, I have always been motivated by a desire to find solutions. Later in my studies, I learned that connecting the poor to the growth process is the unifying theme of many development agencies.
In development economics with Prof. Steven Block, we learned more about poverty and its relationship with inequality and growth, long-run economic growth, short-run recovery from economic shocks, and major public-policy challenges facing governments when they implement economic interventions. I also learned that a state’s natural resource wealth, including energy resources, can negatively influence its economic development, through currency appreciation, market volatility, political shortsightedness, and reactionary vested interests. Therefore I could answer my old question on why resource rich countries, such as Iran, perform poorly on improving economic outcomes.
Spending last summer working at the World Bank, I also became aware of the tremendous policies and programs initiated and implemented by international organizations, and I was always wondering how they measure whether a particular intervention, policy change, or program actually causes change in development outcomes. I found answers to my question back at Fletcher in the fall, when I took Prof. Aker’s course in econometric impact evaluation in which we were provided with a set of theoretical, econometric, and practical skills to estimate the causal impact of a policy or program.
Thus, not only did Fletcher’s curriculum help me to connect my past aspirations to my future goals, but my education at Fletcher was well matched with the need in industry. There was a neat back-and-forth between what I learned, how I was able to apply it, and new questions that emerged and would be answered in later classes. The relevance of my Fletcher curriculum so far has ensured there was never a gap between what I learned in the classroom and what I saw applied in the field.
University staff members are generally scheduled to work through December and January, though we can certainly arrange vacation time for these quiet weeks. Students, on the other hand, are thought to be on vacation. On today’s first day of classes for the spring semester, some students may be wondering what was meant when others referred to “the winter break.” For them, classes or activities may have run through the month since exams ended in December.
For starters, there was last week’s Office of Career Services-organized trip to New York. Activities on day one (Thursday) were actually arranged by the International Business Club, with a focus on private sector employers that met the interests of club members.
Day two (Friday) was loaded with activities for everyone, starting with Alumni Career Panels, featuring expert Fletcher grads in international development, the UN Secretariat, humanitarian assistance and refugee affairs, and public international law. The panels were followed by luncheons for students and alumni, and then employer site visits for the purposes of gathering information on careers and for networking.
Two days of career searching is nothing compared to the “vacation” work done by students taking January classes. At Fletcher, two modular (half credit) courses gave participating students a chance to lighten their spring load, while picking up key knowledge. The two courses, Design and Monitoring of Peacebuilding and Development; and Evaluation of Peacebuilding and Development for Practitioners and Donors, met on most days (including weekends) for two weeks. Beyond Fletcher, other Tufts and Harvard programs also offer January term courses that are open to Fletcher students.
All-in-all, while most students were vacationing (and providing photographic evidence for the Admissions facebook page), some will start their spring semester classes a little less refreshed, but presumably more knowledgeable.
Tagged with: Classes
Today is Shopping Day, when students can sample new course offerings. The regular class schedule will kick off tomorrow and, before it does, Roxanne shares her observations on her first Fletcher semester.
Selecting courses for a new semester has always been one of my favorite times in the academic life cycle. Before I dive into the Spring 2013 course offerings at Fletcher, I would like to reflect on some of my favorite moments from my first semester.
As part of a group project to present on the conflict in Rwanda in the 1990s, I read Scott Straus’s The Order of Genocide. Through interviews with convicted prisoners who confessed to their involvement in the Rwandan genocide, Straus sought to understand why individuals participate in acts of mass violence. In an excerpt from the book, he articulated the question that guides his research in a way that deeply resonated with my own interests:
“I never expected to be in Zaire or Rwanda or to cover raw violence, but once I witnessed such events, I could not let go of them easily. Eventually my trauma formulated itself as an intellectual question: Why does violence of this magnitude happen?”
The causes of violence, as well as responses and strategies for prevention, were a recurrent motif in my studies this semester. Another highlight, however, emerged out of my participation in a luncheon series on non-violent, rather than violent, conflict. The International Security Studies Program (ISSP), in partnership with the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, offered a series of luncheon lectures on civil resistance and non-violent movement formation. The backgrounds of fellow participants in this series range from journalism and community organization, to veterans and PhD students. As Jessica has written in the Admissions Blog many times, there are more events and luncheon series at Fletcher than one could possibly attend, and this program on Nonviolent Civil Resistance has been among my favorites.
Another series of events that created many cherished memories for me is Fletcher’s Cultural Nights. These events showcase the many regions of the world from which students hail, through singing, dancing, musical performances — or even videos inspired by the various regions we are celebrating! Along with nine of my friends, I performed in a Balkan dance medley on Mediterranean Night, showcasing a Greek, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and Turkish traditional dance. Fiesta Latina was also full of warmth and laughter, and I am already looking forward to more of these cultural events next semester.
Student collaboration is not only a theme of how we celebrate and dance, but also how we learn and study. My study group for Peace Operations met every Tuesday to discuss the assigned reading for the class. The group consisted of five first-year students who had met during orientation, decided to help one another navigate the extensive reading load, developed a template for taking notes, and organized review sessions for themselves before the midterm. This was a perfect complement to learning inside the classroom, and was always something to look forward to in my calendar. Admittedly, it is initially challenging to adapt to the coordination and compromise required to co-write group papers or divide the workload and responsibilities of group presentations — but I am beginning to enjoy this process, and I’m grateful for the many life lessons along the way.
When I reflect on the moment I first felt at home at Fletcher, I think of Professor Dyan Mazurana’s lecture during a Fletcher Global Women lunch event. Professor Mazurana spoke about her work on gender and mass atrocities, retraced her path to her current endeavors, and shared the personal and professional challenges and rewards of being in this field. I felt similarly exhilarated attending an event by the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, which featured Nadine Puechguirbal, the Senior Gender Adviser for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Cynthia Enloe, one of the leading thinkers on gender and international politics. It is refreshing to leave the campus and experience Boston’s thriving academic and professional community. Finally, no mention of my cherished memories of the semester would be complete without acknowledging the Fletcher Storytelling Forum, the project Katherine Conway-Gaffney and I co-created earlier this year. Listening to my classmates’ experiences of home and away has made me grateful to belong in the Fletcher community.
All the books I borrowed from the various Boston libraries have now been returned to their shelves, and I am getting ready to browse the 2013 course offerings. In the next two months, we can look forward to the legendary Fletcher Ski Trip, a concert by our favorite school band, Los Fletcheros, and the NYC and DC Career Trips. Stay tuned for updates, and Happy New Year!
Here we are — January 8. Already a full week into 2013! And though the blog has been busy for the past two-plus weeks, I have been out of the office for that time, mostly on a lovely family trip to London, with a short add-on chocolate/waffle-fest in Brussels. Yesterday, I hosted the Admissions staff in my living room/conference center for our office retreat, but today I finally return to a more typical work day.
Though our focus is on the applications that are currently keeping the printer humming, I thought I’d kick off the new semester by closing out the last one. During exams (i.e. at an unreasonably inconvenient time), I asked students to answer two questions for me. Though I only received about a dozen responses, I still want to share them with you. Even a small sample of Fletcher students can demonstrate the breadth of interests in the community.
My first question: Did you have a favorite class this semester? If so, what was it, and what made it a favorite? The answers:
- “Politics of Violent Conflict in Africa” was a fantastic class. It was taught by Alex de Waal, one of the world’s foremost experts on East Africa, and the blend between theory and case studies was very powerful. I could feel my mind being stretched while sitting in it.
- Professor Klein’s “International Economic Policy Analysis.” Who knew writing policy memos based on econometric analysis could be so much fun?
- Prof. Basanez’s “Cultural, Human Values and Development,” was thought provoking and enlightening. The elements of culture and human values are often forgotten by policymakers in the process of drafting developmental policies. Even when implementing the same policy in two different countries, the differences in culture will lead to different outcomes.
- “Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance.” It was a great learning experience to study corporate finance at a school like Fletcher, where people bring in different perspectives to the classroom and study groups, leading to rich discussion on financial transactions compared to a typical finance class at an MBA program.
- Prof. Martel’s “Foundations of Policy Analysis.” This class was high energy, covered an important area for future policy makers, and taught me how to write a memo.
- Prof. Gideon’s, “International Communication” class. I loved the dynamics between the students, and how comfortable everyone was to throw out witty, sometimes provocative remarks. Prof. Gideon clearly tries to make the class experience enjoyable without being fluffy.
- “International Negotiations.” We took part in several simulation exercises that were not only fun, but also intellectually challenging and great learning experiences. During a day-long simulation, we negotiated the terms of a civil war peace agreement, and my group came up with a Peace Accord that incorporated the interests and positions of both sides. It was a great way to put in practice what we had learned and to understand from a real-world perspective how I will use these critical skills in my future career.
- “Peace Operations” with Prof. Johnstone. I love him! and his classes….he is enthusiastic and a great professor.
- It was a tie between “Role of Force” and “Maritime History and Globalization.” Both classes were great because of the professors (Shultz and Perry). They have different styles, but are equally engaging and passionate.
- I loved Professor Martel’s “Foundations of Policy Analysis.” He made the class so engaging and interactive, using real life examples and experiences. Every day I learned something I could directly apply to my career.
If you’d like to read descriptions of each of the courses, you can find them (as well as all the other classes not captured by my limited survey) listed on the pages for each division: Diplomacy, History and Politics; Economics and International Business; and International Law and Organizations. My second question to the students was: Did you learn something special this semester? Something surprising, or that will be particularly valuable in your future career? Their answers:
- The framing of a problem is critical to how you think about it and how you solve it!
- To ensure sustainability, it is important to seek a balance between the cultures of joy and performance. Although the World Values Survey is very subjective, its contribution to social sciences is far greater than I would have expected.
- I learned invaluable quantitative skills in my “Statistical Methods” class with Prof. Nakosteen. I was anxious about taking the class, since I had no prior academic experience in statistics, but Prof. Nakosteen was a phenomenal teacher, and he made the subject matter engaging and fun. I’ve gained a whole new set of useful tools that will be of great use in my future career, and I know how to apply them in the real world.
- I learned to always have an opinion in class and that I need to be able to defend my opinion.
- I will definitely go back to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations time and again. Our discussion of it in Prof. Henrikson’s course made me realize just how important it is.
- I learned that International Law is precarious at best. I had always assumed that some sort of enforcement bound the law of nations, but found that goodwill is the glue that holds the International Court of Justice together.
- I feel even more grateful about being at Fletcher this semester — the fact that I am surrounded by these incredibly smart and talented classmates makes my life here really special. (Sorry if I’m not answering the question…)
Tagged with: Classes
Here’s a nifty page for those of you still thinking about how Fletcher will help you achieve your career objectives. The screen shot below shows what the page looks like. As you’ll see, the list on the left includes “Banking & Finance” and “Capitol Hill/Campaigning” and all sorts of other career directions in which Fletcher graduates have gone, and current students will go. If you go to the page, and click on “Banking & Finance” you’ll see a list of classes that can support your future career. Try it! Click around and check out this practice-oriented presentation of the Fletcher curriculum.
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