Currently viewing the tag: "Liam"

Today marks eight months since the Class of 2015 graduation last May 22, and it’s time to start checking in with our newest graduates.  While I continue lining up First-Year Alumni updates, let’s hear from one of the student bloggers who completed the MALD last spring.  Unlike many of his classmates who are still settling into their new jobs,  Liam is in the U.S. Army, and his plans for this year were in place well before he graduated.

With everything going on in my life, it’s hard to believe that only a year ago I was in my last Fletcher semester, deep into my capstone.  Since then, I’ve spent the past eight months as a student at the Command and General Staff College (CGSS), the U.S. Army’s professional education program for mid-career officers.  Yet, despite being in the middle of Kansas, thousands of miles away from Medford, my Fletcher experience continues to shape my life daily.

First, the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute recently published my Fletcher capstone.  Focused on how the Army can improve at advising and assisting other nation’s militaries, the monograph was the culmination of work I did in Professor Shultz’s Internal Conflicts and War class and in an independent study I did with him.  Although I’m thrilled the paper was published, what I’m more excited about is that it’s making its rounds through the Security Force Assistance community.  I recently met with the Director of the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance to discuss the paper, and am in the process of consulting with the team that is re-writing Army doctrine on the topic.  For me, it’s a great reward, after putting so much work into my capstone at Fletcher, to have it be read by a wider audience, and I’d encourage current and prospective students to attempt to do the same.

Second, what I learned at Fletcher has a direct impact on my studies here at CGSS.  From the basis of national security strategy I gained in Professor Shultz’s classes to the ability think critically through history learned from Professor Khan, I find myself often going back over my Fletcher class notes and readings to gain a better understanding of topics we cover in class.  My ability to address complex issues, from humanitarian relief operations to the roots of instability in Europe and everything in between, has been greatly enhanced by the breadth and depth of my Fletcher education.  Additionally, last fall we had the pleasure of having Dean Stavridis come talk to all 1,300 officers in our CGSS class about how he sees the 21st century security environment, and it made me incredibly proud to be part of the Fletcher community when my classmates said they thought the Dean gave the best guest lecture we’ve heard.  And Fletcher alumni gained a very visible face when General Joe Dunford was named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last fall.

Liam and ChristineLast, and most importantly, I got married in December.  My wife Christine is an Air Force pilot and we currently live apart while she’s in Colorado and I’m here, but the wedding gave us an opportunity to catch up with several classmates.  Shockingly, Kansas is hardly the center of the Fletcher-sphere, so seeing friends after almost a year was great.

My Fletcher experience, from the education to the friendships made over my two years in Medford, sticks with me everyday.  As my classmates make their way out into the world and start in their careers, I feel secure knowing that some of the most intelligent, caring, compassionate, and capable people the world has to offer are tackling the tough issues at hand.  Also, as the Class Fund Agent for the class of 2015, it’s great to see donations back to the Fletcher Fund already coming from my peers and friends, helping the next generation of students succeed in their pursuit of making the world a better place.  Looking back, I have to say that being a student at Fletcher was truly the most incredible experience of my Army career to date.

 

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I’m really sorry that Liam’s two years as a student blogger (and at Fletcher in general) have come to an end.  He has been a great partner in this project.  He will soon return to his career with the Army, which supported his studies to develop him as an officer.  Today, he shares reflections from his grad school experience.

Liam, 2014-2One of the most valuable characteristics of my Fletcher experience has been discussion, both in and out of the classroom, especially when it builds on the diversity of the student body.  As I look back on my two years here, I can’t help but think that many of my most significant takeaways came from classroom exchanges with such an amazing collection of people.  From them, I’ve learned an immense amount about the world, and along the way, I also have made some life-long memories.

One classroom example I would highlight is Prof. Khan’s course, The Historian’s Art.  Regardless of your academic and professional background, if you take one course at Fletcher, this should be it.  The timeless skills I acquired to interpret history through the lens of contemporary affairs are amongst the most important I gained at Fletcher.  Moreover, Prof. Khan’s teaching style, forcing you to take a side on a historical issue, to not waver, and to use empathy, detachment, and relentless skepticism in looking at anything, will inevitably help you become a better thinker.  In addition, and the point of this post, is that the variety of students in this class, from journalists to MIBs to military officers to Peace Corps volunteers, made discussions vibrant, insightful, contentious, memorable, and effective.  The unique nature of my fellow students ensured that, while there was always something to be learned, there were also multiple occasions where Harry Potter or Jurassic Park entered the discussions.  That’s just Fletcher.

As I sit here and reflect, I am filled with a wave of emotions and memories from the past two years.  While the class discussions I described above are an important part of the Fletcher experience, so, too, are the projects and papers you turn in, the lessons you learn from readings and in class, and the advice you get from sitting down with professors during office hours.  Everything that comprises the academic side of the Fletcher experience makes you a stronger professional, capable of returning to your old line of work or starting in a new career field, and better equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century.  Learning at Fletcher embodies a remarkable combination of academic skills with real world perspective that is unmatched.

But I cannot overemphasize the importance of the Fletcher community.  The students and professors are what enable these meaningful classroom-based discussions.  Simply put, Fletcher attracts the most amazingly diverse cross-section of intelligent, caring, compassionate, and humorous people imaginable.  When I look back to when I was applying to Fletcher from Afghanistan in the fall of 2012, I remember reading through course catalogs and the CVs of professors whose interests matched mine, and I was hooked.  As important as that was to my enrollment choice, it wasn’t until I met my classmates at Orientation that I realized how glad I was that I made the decision to come to Fletcher.  Relationships are key to success in life, and after Fletcher, I am certain that I will go forward with a wide network of connections — throughout virtually any imaginable profession and region — that I could not have acquired in any other place.  If you’re reading this blog and thinking about applying to Fletcher, I can tell you that, if I had to make the choice one hundred times, I would make the same choice one hundred times.

And, so, as I look back on what has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life, what I will remember are the people.  The people are what makes Fletcher what it is, and I wouldn’t trade the experience of our shared discussions for anything in the world.

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With Commencement only about five weeks away, we’ll be reading only a few more posts from graduating bloggers Diane and Liam.  Today, Liam provides his “Annotated Curriculum,” in which he lays out his academic path through Fletcher.  (You might also want to read Mirza’s Annotated Curriculum from last spring.)  It’s worth noting here that Liam’s Fletcher experience is not typical for the majority of students, but it does represent that of a significant subset — officers who are sponsored by their branch of the U.S. military.  Their coursework looks much the same as that of any other student, but they rarely pursue a summer internship and they don’t need to find a post-Fletcher job.  Finally, Fletcher students must fulfill a Capstone Requirement, for which many students write a traditional academic thesis.  It’s not uncommon for the terms Capstone and thesis to be used interchangeably.

Liam, MALD 2015, United States

Pre-Fletcher Experience
U.S. Army Infantry Officer; deployments to Iraq (2007-2008) and Afghanistan (2010, 2012)

Fields of Study
International Security Studies
International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (INCR)

Capstone Topic
U.S. Army Security Force Assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan

Post-Fletcher Professional Goals
Return to the Army with a broader understanding of global affairs and the role the Army can play in them; selection as an Infantry Battalion Commander

Curriculum Overview

Semester One

  • Role of Force
  • International Organizations
  • Processes of International Negotiation
  • The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan

My first semester helped me lay the foundation for my coursework at Fletcher.  I met with my academic advisor, Prof. Shultz, very early in the semester, which set me on the right path for my course load, as he helped lay out a logical course progression.  Role of Force and Processes of International Negotiation were both mandatory courses in my Fields of Study — setting the stage for all my follow-on classes, and I wanted to knock out my ILO requirement early on with International Organizations.  I rounded the semester out with one regionally focused course, which balanced perfectly.  I found the semester to be an excellent mix of papers and final exams, which kept me from having a frantic end of the semester.

Semester Two

  • Policy and Strategy in War
  • Analytical Frameworks
  • Modern Terrorism and Counterterrorism
  • Peace Operations

Following what I had learned in the fall, I focused heavily on Security Studies this semester, although Peace Operations also counted towards my coursework in the INCR Field of Study.  I fulfilled my quantitative requirement with Analytical Frameworks, which taught me a lot of valuable skills.  Again, this semester was a good mix of papers and finals that enabled me to budget my time throughout the spring.  At this point I also started working with Professor Shultz on my capstone ideas so I could spend time over the summer doing research.

Summer
Army ROTC, MIT

The Army required that I be “gainfully employed” over the summer, so I spent my days helping out at MIT’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program.  The cadets were all gone at training for the summer, so I worked on information-sharing platforms for the unit to use in the fall, but also found myself with plenty of time to do baseline research on U.S. National Security Strategy, as well as where the Army fits in a changing environment, to help frame the “big picture” for my capstone.  I also had a fair amount of time over the summer to work on my Spanish skills on my own, as well as publish several military-related blog posts.

Semester Three

  • Internal Conflicts and War
  • Gender, Culture, and Conflict
  • Foundations of International Cybersecurity
  • Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies

This semester proved to be very challenging, as I had five group presentations with group papers due, but then had no finals.  Needless to say, the second half of the semester was a blur.  It was a very Security Studies heavy semester, but the gender course with Prof. Mazurana and Prof. Stites really stood out for me, and helped me understand an aspect of conflict that I’d never put much thought towards during my time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Lastly, I used the Internal Conflicts class as the incubator for my thesis and was able to finish the majority of the Iraq portion of it.

Semester Four

  • The Strategic Dimensions of China’s Rise
  • Introduction to Economic Theory
  • The Historian’s Art and Current Affairs
  • Capstone Independent Study

I made the mistake of putting off my economics requirement until my final semester, so I had to use a class credit for it during the spring.  I decided to go with an Independent Study with Professor Shultz to finish my thesis and ensure I had the time necessary to put effort towards it.  I was a history major as an undergraduate, so Prof. Khan’s new class really interested me.  Last, with U.S. National Security Strategy “pivoting” to the Asia-Pacific, I wanted to get at least one course in that region into my coursework.

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Returning to the students writing about their Fletcher experience, today Liam describes his progress on developing his Capstone Project, which is both a graduation requirement and an opportunity for students to build a curriculum that meets their individual needs.  New students arrive at Fletcher with the full range of thinking on their capstones — from no idea whatsoever what they’ll write, to perfect clarity on their topic and planned field research.  All have the option of selecting an “incubator” course, which is designed to help them develop their ideas and research.  Liam has opted to write a traditional academic thesis, but other project formats are also options.

As I begin to wind down my time at Fletcher — and thus have to start ramping up my capstone efforts — I thought a post about lessons I’ve learned regarding the capstone process could be useful.

First, it’s perfectly fine if you have no idea what you want to do for your capstone when you come to Fletcher, or really even through the first semester.  I spent my entire first year thinking about a topic for my thesis that, at year’s end, I ultimately decided just wasn’t where I wanted to go.  That’s okay.  I found that meeting about twice a semester with Professor Shultz, my advisor, was a lifesaver, because as we began a dialogue about what I was planning and where I had trouble, he asked good questions that prompted me to think about what it was I really wanted to get out of the experience.  Shifting gears at the end of my second semester meant that I had more of a focus over the summer to do research.

One thing I wish I had done better throughout my first three semesters was to tie term papers to my thesis topic.  I’m writing about the U.S. Army’s security force assistance efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to compile best practices on what works going forward, but the only course for which I’ve written a paper relevant to that topic was for Internal Conflicts and War, my capstone “incubator” class.

Obviously, not every class is going to be a good option for writing a paper that pertains to your thesis.  But instead of writing papers on the Iran Hostage Crisis (Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies), the U.S. mission in Somalia in the 1990s (Peace Operations), or right wing terror groups in the U.S. (Modern Terrorism and Counterterrorism), I probably could have chosen topics for those classes that, while not fitting perfectly into my thesis, were at least relevant to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I certainly learned a lot in the research and writing of those papers, but I probably could have been more strategic in picking topics that would support the research for my thesis.

Another thing that is important to note is that if you want to do any type of interviews, you need to put in for an institutional review board.  It’s not that big of a deal, but even if you’re requesting a waiver, it’s still a process through Tufts that takes some time, so I would recommend doing it as soon as you have an idea what you want to research.

Your capstone really is what you make of it.  In my experience, I feel I missed a chance to tie more papers to my thesis, especially since I knew my topic by my second semester.  However, the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is to sit down with your capstone advisor early, and then at least once or so a semester, to just spitball ideas on what you are thinking and where you want the process to go.  I’ve gotten a hold of some great resources that way, and it has kept me on track as I try to finish up one of the last remaining milestones of my Fletcher experience.

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Liam, 2014-2Student blogger, Liam, is a current member of the military.  For his first blog of his second year in the MALD program, he describes Fletcher life for veterans and active duty officers — the perfect topic for today’s Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans at Fletcher, while always a portion of the student body (Dean Stavridis, after all, is both a Fletcher MALD/PhD and a retired Navy admiral), are a small community within the school that has nonetheless grown steadily in recent years.  While the incoming class of 2013 was relatively light on active duty officers, it included many veterans, some remaining in the reserves and others completely transitioned from military service.  The incoming class of 2014 had an even larger veteran (and active duty) contingent, and the presence of veterans — both U.S. and international — at Fletcher helps add to the diversity of an already incredible student body.

From real-world experience and operational background in both training and combat, to advanced leadership and organizational skills, to past experience traveling the world and working with many cultures, the contributions that veterans make at Fletcher are invaluable, especially when combined with all the other incredible members of the Fletcher student body.

When I first arrived at Fletcher, I personally felt that nothing I had done in the military was all that special; all of my peers in the Army had effectively the same experiences and I did not feel I was unique.  Coming to Fletcher, I was amazed by how interested other students were in my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I was even more amazed to hear other students’ stories of their pre-Fletcher lives in various places and jobs around the world.  I have been blown away by the breadth of conversations and class discussions that will naturally flow when you combine veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace Corps Volunteers who worked in South Sudan, lawyers who worked for the UN, and medical doctors who worked in IDP camps.

Fletcher has a student veterans group, Fletcher Veterans.  The group meets regularly for both social events and also community service projects.  In recent years the group has gotten together for activities ranging from an annual trip to a polo match outside of Boston, to volunteering at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, to hosting student panels on the state of veterans in America.  This year, in conjunction with other groups at school, the group is looking to expand its presence at Fletcher into the realm of leadership development.  And Fletcher Vets also gets together from time to time for simple social gatherings to tell old war and sea stories over a few drinks.

For veterans or active duty members considering Fletcher, I think it’s important to note that you don’t have to focus on security studies; I would say the majority of veterans at Fletcher focus on other areas, including a very high concentration of MIB candidates.  The openness and diversity of Fletcher’s curriculum make it easy to combine your experience with an amazing breath of academic subjects on a variety of topics.  For those who are interested in security studies, the International Security Studies Program, chaired by Professor Shultz, is a great program and consistently brings in world-class speakers from around the world, as I described in a post last year.  The ISSP fellows — senior military officers attending Fletcher on a one-year fellowship, in lieu of the Army War College or their services’ respective professional military education — add a great deal to both the classroom and student body.  As senior field grade officers who have led operational units, they bring a wealth of knowledge to Fletcher and also serve as exceptional mentors for active duty officers and veterans alike.

Veterans contribute a great deal to the Fletcher community.  If you are a veteran interested in Fletcher and have questions regarding VA benefits, academics, student life, or pretty much anything, please contact me (Liam Walsh) or the co-leaders of Fletcher Veterans, Pat Devane and Joel Tolbirt.

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At the end of the spring semester, Liam, one of our student bloggers, offered an end-of-year post.  I eagerly grabbed it, but I’ve held it until now because it reflects both Liam’s first year at Fletcher and also his suggestions for incoming students.  I’ll just note that Liam wrote his post when the Red Sox season was looking a little brighter than it is now!

Sitting here, finally having some time to reflect on the blur that is the spring semester, I’m at a loss to describe what an incredible experience my first year at Fletcher has been.  A few words come to mind — demanding, challenging, (extremely) busy — but what it really boils down to is one of the most remarkable and rewarding years I’ve had.  From making new friends, to learning an incredible amount about the world in which we live, to taking the time to really comprehend my life’s journey to this point, this year at Fletcher was incredible.  Taking all that into consideration, I thought about the experiences I’m glad I’ve had both in and out of school, and I wanted to share a few “musts” for students at Fletcher.

1.  Go to Fletcher events.  From culture nights, to the Blakeley Halloween party, to The Los Fletcheros concerts, to simple gatherings of friends on a Friday, some of the best times to be had at Fletcher are outside the classroom.  Taking the time to relax and get to know my classmates has been so incredibly rewarding.  Time goes by pretty fast here and it will be over before you know it, so enjoy it while you can.

2.  Go to the Boston Marathon.  I was blessed with the opportunity to run this year through the Tufts Marathon Team, but if running for four(-ish) hours is not your cup of tea, experiencing the event is still an absolute must.  Over a million fans lining the street for over 26 miles, coming together in support of the city and the runners, was just an indescribable thing to see.  The Boston Marathon is, in my eyes, the most egalitarian sporting event in the world and it is not to be missed.

3.  Go watch the Red Sox.  I might be a bit biased as a life-long Sox fan, but anyone who spends time in Boston should experience Fenway Park.  Especially after the Sox won the 2013 World Series, taking in an afternoon or evening at “America’s Favorite Ballpark” is a great distraction from school, and singing “Sweet Caroline” with 36,000 friends is pretty great, too.

4.  Get to know Boston.  Boston is so full of history and culture — it’s critical to get out and see it.  Running along the Esplanade on the Charles River, exploring the Freedom Trail, relaxing at Boston Common, going to concerts — there is so much to do year-round in the city, so putting down the books and getting out is something you just have to do.

5.  Get out of Boston.  New England offers a ton of things to do.  Whale watching off Cape Cod, skiing in Maine, hiking in New Hampshire, seeing the foliage in the fall, these are just a few of the awesome things this area of the country offers.  Taking a backpacking trip out in the Berkshires during spring break was probably the most relaxing thing I’ve done in the past year, and it was vital to helping me reset to finish the semester strong.

In summary, it’s been an incredible year — one I wouldn’t trade for the world — and I’m looking forward to a 2014-15 academic year that is just as incredible and memorable.

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It’s a rare Fletcher student who pursues only one out-of-class activity, and our student bloggers are no exception.  First-year MALD student, Liam, is training with the Tufts Marathon Team to run in Monday’s Boston Marathon.  As many readers know, this year’s Marathon will be different from the norm, coming one year after the tragic events of 2013, and giving many runners a sense of mission that goes beyond their personal best times.  Here’s Liam’s report.

Marathon training

One of the incredible opportunities available to Fletcher students is the chance to join the Tufts Marathon Team and train for and run the Boston Marathon.  Each year, the Tufts Marathon Team gets 100 bib numbers for students, faculty, staff, and alumni from throughout the Tufts community to run the race.  With participants ranging from first-time runners to seasoned veterans of multiple marathons, Coach Don Megerle does an amazing job training and selecting the team, and he provides unmatched motivation and advice to ensure that all runners finish.  The team supports two long runs each week, as well as a weekly speed workout, and in the winter the team takes part in five long runs that cover the entire Marathon course.  By participating in these runs, Fletcher students can meet other graduate students from throughout Tufts, as well as undergrads and some great alumni and staff, helping us make connections to those we may not otherwise meet, outside the walls of Ginn library.  All runners raise money towards nutrition, medical, and fitness programs at Tufts University, including research on childhood obesity at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.  Since the Team’s inception in 2003, runners have raised over $4 million.

This year, obviously, the Marathon takes on even more significance than it normally does in the fabric of Boston.  The tragic events of April 15, 2013 united the Boston community, and each runner on the Tufts team is strongly committed to the event.  The stories of a few of this year’s 13 Fletcher runners speak to how incredible this year’s race will be.  Second-year Fletcher student Alex Nisetich sums up his Marathon story as follows:

I’m a Boston native, and the Marathon has always been a part of my life here.  I decided to run after last year’s attack, as a demonstration of solidarity with the runners and with my home city.  My own family narrowly missed being caught in the attack, and in a different year we could all have been there at the finish line.  I’m running because it feels like the best way I can support my community and commemorate the events of last year.

Training has become an end in itself as well.  Getting out on the road, especially first thing in the morning, is a great way to overcome any fears you might have of a New England winter.  The Fletcher community and Tufts are both very supportive of the runners, which makes it a pleasure to train.  The team runs really build camaraderie and make it fun.

Another second-year MALD student, Stéfane Laroche, shares a similar tale:

I have always enjoyed running and flirted with the idea of running a marathon for many years, however I never had the courage and the motivation to train.  Last year’s events at the Marathon changed my perspective.  The devastation happened so close to home that it touched me, and I decided to run in order to support the Boston Strong campaign.  When life knocks you down, you’ve got to be strong, pick yourself up, and continue to live.  It’s an honor for me to run with all those other marathoners who will pay tribute to last year’s victims and who will make a statement against intolerance and misunderstandings that fuel hatred and anger around the world.

For me, personally, I had recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan when the bombing happened.  Growing up in Central Massachusetts, the attack hit home.  Although I had always run in the past due to my job as an Army officer, I never contemplated running another marathon after an ill-advised and untrained undergrad endeavor in 2005.  Running the 2014 Boston Marathon became an obsession for me, a way to show the world that we would not let this attack change who we are.  I trained for months and ran a marathon in October in nearby Lowell and felt ready to take on the world come the Boston race in April.  Then I began dealing with lingering knee and hip injuries, so my training has taken on its own personal journey, as I’ve worked to find ways to balance recovery with running and the ever-demanding life as a Fletcher student.  For me, the process has been an incredible voyage of learning about myself, what I value, how hard I will work for it, and what it means to stand as one for a community.

Although every runner’s story is different, one commonality is certain — all 37,000 runners who make that 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street on April 21 will do so with some pain in their legs and sweat on their foreheads, but most importantly, with pride in their hearts.  With tens of thousands of supporters cheering us along the course, we will show the world what being Boston Strong is about.  Being able to be a part of this has truly been one of the more remarkable aspects of my time thus far at Fletcher.

Fletcher runners

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Just before classes ended, Liam and I discussed possible topics for his next blog post.  He mentioned how much he has enjoyed the talks he has attended throughout the semester.  Since I never manage to join these special events during the busy fall, this seemed like the perfect subject for him.  Here are Liam’s observations.

As my first semester came to a close and I feverishly studied for finals and finish term papers, I took some time to think about my Fletcher experience to date and about the aspects that stood out for me.  What has really impressed me is the access I’ve been privileged to have to senior-level leaders from throughout the world and the remarkably candid remarks they’ve made in guest lectures at Fletcher.

Early in the year, I was privileged to sit in ASEAN auditorium and listen to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia give a remarkable talk about cyber security and his country’s experience when faced with a massive cyber attack in 2007.  President Ilves was incredibly engaging and straightforward, discussing what he sees as future security challenges for Europe, and I couldn’t help but be amazed that I was listening to a standing head of state give his incredibly honest opinions.  You can get a sense of his perspective from his interview with Dean Stavridis.

As someone focusing on security at Fletcher, another incredible opportunity has been the International Security Studies Program’s luncheon series.  I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to General Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, discuss the challenges facing the Army over the next several decades and how he sees the Army adapting to that uncertain future.  I heard Dr. David Chu, President of the Institute for Defense Analyses and former Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, discuss his ideas for a responsible drawdown within the Department of Defense, based on history.  I’ve listened to General John Kelly, Commander of Southern Command, discuss the sphere and scope of his organization’s responsibility in Central and South America.  And I’ve been able to hear Major General Bennet Sacolick, Director of Force Management and Development for the Special Operations Command, discuss the Global Special Operations Forces Network and the role Special Operations units can play in the ambiguous security environment we face.  I might add that all of these events include an excellent free lunch (a must for busy graduate students) and truly invigorating discussions.

In addition to Fletcher events, I’ve attended some outstanding guest lectures within the greater Tufts community.  From former Congressman Robert Wexler discussing his vision for a two-state solution in the Middle East, to Colonel Steve Banach explaining the use of design methodology to manage complexity and change, to Colonel Bill Ostlund calling in on videoteleconference from Afghanistan to discuss his brigade’s actions in Zabul Province, I’ve been exposed to an amazing breadth and depth of speakers.

Last, due to the reputation and variety of the amazing faculty here at Fletcher, my classes have included some incredible guest lectures.  In one of the last weeks of the semester, we had a marvelous impromptu Skype session in my International Organizations class with Ambassador Simona-Mirela Miculescu, permanent representative of Romania to the UN.  And I would be remiss if I left out the multiple opportunities that Dean Stavridis provides Fletcher students to hear him speak on a wide range of subjects, ranging from security threats to the strategic plan for the future of Fletcher and Tufts.

Simply put, it’s been an incredible experience to date, both in and out of the classroom, and I consider myself truly fortunate to have had this exposure to policy makers in all walks of life.

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As I wrote yesterday, this year the Admissions Blog will be sharing the stories of three second-year students (Mirza, Roxanne, and Scott) and two (possibly more, still TBD) first-year students (Liam and Diane).  Today, Liam describes his transition to student life. 

LiamI think one of the greatest challenges in coming to a professional school like Fletcher is that many of the students were just that — professionals — and being removed from the academic life for the “real world” for several years can make the return challenging.

For me, I was used to working 14 to 16 hours a day in a setting where I literally did not have a minute to myself.  As I prepared to go to Fletcher, many people told me how much of a “break” it would be, compared to my last job.  That’s partly true, insomuch as I make the decisions about what I do in the day, but the demands of the Fletcher curriculum are extremely rigorous, and when you couple that with our many extracurricular options both at Fletcher and throughout the greater Boson area, it can easily become overwhelming.  Grad school is demanding; it’s also fun.  My intent in this post is to highlight some of the adjustments that I found critical to making that transition a successful one.

1.  First, I decided to treat grad school like a job.  A second-year student gave me this tip early on, and it’s the soundest advice I’ve gotten here.  I make myself set up a realistic daily schedule and hold myself to it.  Regardless of when I have class, I start the day at a reasonable hour (like 9:00 a.m.) and get after my reading, research, papers, etc.  To maximize time, I pack a lunch and keep going until 5:00 p.m. or so.  The benefit of this approach is that, if I stick to the plan, I get a TON done, and I find myself with actual free time at night to have something of a social life or to do the other things that matter to me.

2.  I found a place where I could focus.  For many, this is the library, and there are so many great nooks and crannies in Ginn where you can hide away and get things done.  For others, it may be their apartment or a coffee shop.  I live in a quiet apartment close to school, so my living room is a good space for basic reading on topics I have an understanding of, but for tougher stuff I go to the library to really focus.  The key goes back to my first point — I plan out my day and hold myself to it.

3.  I make time to do the things I enjoy.  For me, running is important, so I make a point of going to bed at a decent hour so I can get up early to run and still start schoolwork around 9:00.  The course load will take all of your time if you let it, so I make a point of setting aside time for myself.  It helps me blow off stress, and I find myself more relaxed and able to focus on my work.  If I were to approach it as trying to “find” time for myself, rather than “making” time, I would simply never find that time.

4.  I found it very important to join study groups, especially in the classes I have less background in.  For me, my International Organizations class is tough — I have no law background, so it’s a whole new way of looking at things.  At first, I would bang my head against the book trying to complete the readings, but early on I got together with a few other students in the class, and now we meet every week to go over the last week’s lectures and reading.  It’s a great check to ensure I’m taking away the right lessons and tie them into the bigger picture of the syllabus.

5.  Last, and the most important aspect of adjusting, has been getting to know my classmates and going out to do things.  This means I don’t spend all my time studying.  I’m going to be at Fletcher for a short time, so being social — hence not spending ALL my time studying — is important.  Yes, this contradicts most of my previous points about being organized and focusing, but I want to spend time engaging with this amazing community.  For me, I find it amazing to talk to other students about what they did before Fletcher and the impact they’ve already had on so many regions of the world.  Conversely, things I’ve done that I really don’t think are all that special or important amaze a lot of other students I talk to.  The number of guest lectures and extracurricular activities, groups, and opportunities here is staggering, and not taking the time away from studying to really get the full “Fletcher experience” would be missing most of the fun.

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After a month of settling into the new academic year, it’s time to turn back to the stories of our student bloggers.  Second-year students Scott, Mirza, and Roxanne have promised me updates in the next few weeks, and we’ll also be introducing two first-year students, Liam and Diane.  Diane’s first post is still in the works, so we’ll let Liam kick off the series this year.

Liam is a MALD student focusing on International Security Studies and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. In a self-intro, he notes, “I am a Captain in the U.S. Army attending Fletcher to broaden my professional and educational experiences as an infantry officer.  Since 2006, I deployed once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan, leading organizations ranging from 18 to 230 soldiers.  I am originally from central Massachusetts, so Fletcher provides me with an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends after having moved nine times in the last eight years.  Outside of school, I am an avid runner and enjoy backpacking and the Pacific Northwest.”

I asked Liam to join the student blogger team after I enjoyed working with him last spring as he put together all the pieces to make attending Fletcher a reality.  In tomorrow’s post, Liam will talk about how he has managed his transition to life at Fletcher.

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