Currently viewing the tag: "Reading Days"

It’s my first day at home reading applications following the January 10 deadline.  Liz and Dan both spent yesterday with their own virtual piles of applications, but they’ve generously left me a few to tackle.

In a recent spare moment, I tagged all the posts I could find about reading days.  There are a lot!  Going back to 2007!  Many refer to the paper files we used to need to carry home.  Now our reading is all computer-based.  Staff members tend to structure their reading days around one of two elements: friendly dogs or warm drinks.  I’m definitely Team Tea/Coffee, but I can’t deny that a fluffy dog like Murray is a good companion for a reading day.

As I settle in with a cup of tea in this year’s new mug, I invite you to peruse the many reports written by my Admissions pals (current and past) and me about the days that we spend at home “meeting” the folks who may be students in September.

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We reckon that 65 person-meals were served at our house between Thursday dinner and Saturday lunch.  Since one of those meals (Saturday breakfast) was for only three of us, that leaves a lot of busy raucous events.  No wonder, then, that I’m happy to be quietly reading applications at home today.  Warmly (but presentably) attired in fleece and slippers, I’m settled into my kitchen work station with a steady flow of hot beverages.

It’s not only the tea/mint tea/coffee that keeps me going!  Some really wonderful applicants are passing my way: Lots of strong students with interesting experience (including an unusual confluence of applications indicating study abroad in Argentina!).

Most members of the Admissions staff will take a day to read Early Notification applications this week, but we still have a lot going on in the office.  In addition to a thank-you lunch for our volunteer interviewers, we’re offering several virtual information sessions this week and next.  And even as we’re plowing through the EN applications, we’re less than a month from the December 20 deadline for PhD and Map Your Future applications.

Back to work for me.  I still have hours of reading in front of me today, punctuated by occasional brisk walks around the house to stay focused.

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In contrast to my snow-day reading day, a mere two weeks ago, today is warm and I’m settled into a sunny spot in (of course) my kitchen.  No need to grip a tea cup while reading today.  Even my usually cold house is very comfortable.

The climatic conditions have made this a very enjoyable final reading day for this semester.  Also contributing is that I don’t really have a full day of reading.  Only about 20 applications, and I’ll round out the day with other tasks.  A little variety makes for a less tiring day.

So what should applicants take away from this?  We’re nearly done reviewing all the applications, aside from those still to come on March 1 (LLM and MIB only).  All of the admissions committees (MALD/MA, MIB, LLM, PhD) will be meeting in March.  And once all the discussion is complete, the last step is to finalize decisions and award scholarships.  We’re on track for an on-time mid-March decision date.

Back to my queue and the last of today’s applications.  I’m sure there will still be a few applications that come my way in the next few weeks, but I’ll be reading them at Fletcher and on a one-by-one basis.  For now, I’ll enjoy my sunny patch and my final reading day.

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Reading applications at home while a snowstorm builds outside is a good news/bad news thing.  On the one hand, it’s cozy inside with my cups of tea and extra layers of clothing, and I’m thankful I don’t need to think about going anywhere.  Plus, the day will be pretty much free from email distractions and interruptions.  Tufts University (and nearly every school and university in the area) will be closed for the day as the storm sweeps up the east coast, dumping about a foot of snow everywhere from New York on north.  I’ll need to create my own distractions — such as interrupting my reading to write this blog post, or simply staring out the window as the snow piles up.

On the bad news side is simply that, at some point, I’ll need to confront the snow outside and remove it from the sidewalk.  But there’s a good-news aspect to shoveling, too — the street scene is like a block party.  All the neighbors will be out and we’ll catch up on our news and share recollections of other storms when we met in the middle of the street.  It’s well known that it only snows here when my husband, Paul, travels, and that’s usually the conversation opener.  Attending to the snow will take some time from reading, but I still expect to get through a nice bundle of applications.

If you’re hoping to reach the Admissions Office, especially if you’re finishing a MALD or MA application before tomorrow’s deadline, please email us.  Staff members are working from home, and you should receive a timely answer.

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teapotYesterday was my weekly at-home application reading day.  Reviewing applications is both engaging and exhausting.  It’s not that the work is difficult exactly, but it does require close attention and consistent focus throughout the day.  My Admissions pals and I have all found our preferred reading arrangements — whatever it takes to keep us moving through a virtual pile of applications.  I nearly always read in my kitchen, and yesterday was no exception.  Here’s how my day went.

7:30 — The house is mine.  I already have Slate opened up and waiting for me.  There’s a mishmash of applications in my queue (some put there by student readers, one MATA application (my second) that Laurie passed to me, some PhD applications that I need to check over for the basics), so I decide to start by reading everything in my queue before I grab more applications.  I’m fueled by a nice cup of tea.  A friend brought us tea from Sri Lanka and I’m enjoying drinking it from my new favorite tea mug that we picked up in London last month.

lapdesk8:30 — I need a quick bit of movement, so I sprint upstairs to shift some clothes from the washer to the dryer.  Then back to work.  I’ve been sitting with my legs up and my computer propped on my lap desk (bought specifically for this purpose).

9:45 — I’m making pretty good progress, but I need to move.  Time to put the computer on the kitchen table.  I’ve been selecting the application I read by opening my queue, closing my eyes, swirling my mouse over the list, and clicking a name.  Ultimately, it’s not too different from working through the list alphabetically, but it’s a more entertaining method.

11:00 — I’m steadily whittling down the queue but I need to get up and move again.  coffeeI put the kettle on, race upstairs to move the last of the washing to the dryer, sprint back down to make a pot of coffee while also eating a banana to refuel.  I chose a thematic mug to boost my focus.  Back to the queue.

12:23 — My queue is empty, and it’s time for lunch!  I’ve read the 20 files I started with, made these notes on the blog, answered a few emails.  Not a terrible pace, but not great either.  Maybe lunch will invigorate me.  Lentils and greens — not too photogenic, so I’ll spare you.

12:48 — Back to work.  Loaded up my queue and ready to go.  I also brewed a little more tea.  The coffee was decaf, so there’s no danger that I’ll become overly perky as I read your applications!

2:38 — I motored through a batch of applications, but then I hit a wall.  To reset, I washed all those dishes I had used earlier and changed venues — moved from the kitchen table to the counter.  I often think it would be nice to read in a coffee shop or in our local library, but taking time to “commute” steals from reading.

4:38 — Exactly two hours since I made my last note.  I’ve read about as much as I’m going to get to today, and I’ve had a nice “journey” through your stories.  In just these few hours, I’ve read about applicants with roots or experience in South Sudan, Japan, Korea, India, Somalia, Israel, Kuwait, Indonesia, and many locations in the U.S.  My applicants have been focused on education, security, humanitarian studies, the environment, negotiations, and just about every topic Fletcher offers.  In other words, a typical reading day!  And that’s why the work is energizing.  At the same time as I’m tired of staring at my screen, I’m excited to connect with all these folks who could be walking in the Hall of Flags in September!

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This week started with frosty cold temperatures that preserved last weekend’s snow. In the office, answering questions and processing applications was the primary activity.  Only a few days later, the outdoor temperatures have risen, rain has washed away the snow, and I’m throwing myself into a pile of applications (virtual pile, that is — we read online) for the first time in this round of the process.  Reading applications at home is a weekly adventure for the Admissions staff.

Warm weather outside makes me a happy reader inside. On an ordinary January reading day, way too much mental space is consumed by keeping myself warm.  Today, it’s comfortable inside and I can focus only on the applications.  That, and a cup of coffee, which is now ready.  Back to reading!

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Murray 2Technically, Murray is not a member of the Admissions staff.  But he is the good friend (and dog) of Dan, who is.  Murray has had many opportunities to observe Dan reading applications.  Last year and once before, Dan wrote about spending a day with both applications and a dog who might want to be out and about.  Today, Murray shares his perspective on a day reading applications.

Murray's kissesOn a normal day the man lets me out into the backyard when I wake up.  He says it’s “to help the grass grow,” but that’s not what I do out there.  Then he leaves.  I go back to sleep.  I usually have a full schedule with a lot of sleeping to take care of, so it’s good for me to get to it early.  Today isn’t a normal day.  The man is still here.  He looks like he has sleep he needs to take care of, too, but he sits at a table with a computer instead.  I think it’s probably another way of sleeping because he doesn’t say very much.  He hasn’t even licked his hand yet, but I can take care of that.  Teamwork.

Murray in coatThe man thinks I’m stupid because my brain is the size of a walnut, but I know he’s “reading applications.”  I don’t know what that is, though.  I DO know that he gets an hour, at most, before he’s taking me outside, whether he likes it or not.  Take me outside!

Here’s the thing – I have to wear this embarrassing jacket.  If the man is going to make me wear it, we should stay outside for at least six hours, which I think is fair.  Look how totally sunny it is!  The man can easily “read applications” outside while I smell things, and look at things.  And smell things.

Murray and toyBut like I said, I have a busy work day.  This toy won’t kill itself, so I have to take care of that, which means I probably won’t get all the sleep done I’m supposed to.  Sleeping is a core part of my job description, so I have to make time.  Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

The man has stayed at home like this a few times before, and I’ve heard him say what he looks for on these days are “strong academics,” “international exposure,” “professional experience,” and “a clear sense of interest and goals.”  I don’t know what those words mean, but my guess is they’re food.  I have to think about the most important foods a lot, too, so it makes sense that the man does the same thing.  The things I look for in a day are beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey.  And meat.  If a day has those things, there’s a good chance I’ll eat them!

Like I said, not enough hours in the day. It makes me tired just thinking about it.Murray napping

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First, a note.  I’ve received emails from quite a few people in the last two weeks wondering when they’ll hear from us with the decision on their applications.  The answer is: not for a while!  We’re still mid-process — seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, for sure, but far from done.  Hang tight!

Liz and I are both at home reading today.  More accurately, Liz is reading, and I’m reading when I’m not writing a blog post.  Dan and I have already told you about our reading days.  Today the rest of the staff chimes in, survey style.  (Thank you to Kristen for providing the survey questions!)

Do you listen to music while reading?

Christine: Yes, something that is not distracting, though. Taylor Swift’s “1989” has been great background noise!  I’m also a fan of the iPod Genius mixes for anything moody and 90s (Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, etc.).

Kristen: On and off.  I find that some well-timed lively Latin American pop can help get me through a long afternoon.

Laurie: I find music very distracting when I am reading applications (or reading anything for that matter).  However, I do like the steady hum of my space heater.  The extra heat is a real plus as well.

Liz: I actually don’t.  I like silence, though sometimes a little background noise is nice.  More recently I’ve been reading during “snow days,” when Tufts has closed due to inclement weather, which normally is a rare occasion.  Given the weather, lately I’ve had the news on in the background while reading to keep up with the storm!  But usually, I don’t have any music, etc.

Favorite beverage to accompany your reading?

Kristen: Coffee, followed by some more coffee and perhaps a cup of coffee after that.

Laurie: I alternate between hot and cold beverages all day long.  Coffee in the morning (of course), cold water throughout the day, and then tea in the afternoon.

Liz: This depends a bit on the time of day! I’m a big fan of hydration, so I tend to have a large water bottle that I refill throughout the day.  In the morning I also will have a nice hot cup of coffee, and in the afternoon, I sometimes will make a fruit smoothie.  It breaks up the day and is a nice treat to look forward to!

Christine: Water, always water.  Sometimes a nice hot tea when the mood strikes.

Pet peeve while reading applications?

Laurie: My biggest pet peeve is when I misspell or mistype words when I am writing my notes.  Our new system does not have an auto correct and I always need to go back and edit my work.

Liz: My biggest pet peeve when reading is when an applicant doesn’t follow directions or pay attention to details within the essays.  We’ve seen it all as readers — including applicants whose essays are written for other schools.  A word to the wise: stick to the word limit, answer the questions we have asked and read through your essays to ensure you’ve uploaded the essay for the right school!  Attention to detail is important, and is something we keep our eye on.

Christine: Applicants not filling out their academic information completely.

Kristen: A cold room and a shoddy application.

What incentive do you give yourself to help make it through a pile of applications?

Liz: For me, my incentive is always food!  I won’t let myself eat breakfast until I’ve read at least a few files on a long read day.  The same thing is true for eating lunch or a snack.  I always make a “hot” lunch on read days as well, since I don’t normally do that during the week.  I usually will give myself a goal and when I meet that goal, my reward is a tasty treat.

Christine: If I get through five applications, I can take a stretch break.  If I get through 10, I can have a snack break!

Kristen: Coffee. Is the coffee thing coming through?

Laurie: Reading days are all about incentives!  Throughout the day I set reading goals to meet before getting a drink, eating lunch, moving to a new reading location, taking a shower, etc.

Your reading “mascot”?

Christine: Not really a mascot, but reading means I can cuddle up in my favorite blanket on the couch, and have the fire on when it is chilly.  It is especially idyllic when the snow is falling, which has happened a lot this reading season!

Kristen:  I’ve got two little kiddos, so seeing them (or even a picture of them) livens up the day.

Laurie: I do not have any mascots, but I do need my reading space organized to maximize comfort and efficiency before I can start.  I need pillows, a blanket, a place for my water, a stool for my feet and a surface for my mouse.  I rarely read at a desk or on a table because it is uncomfortable and slows me down.

Liz: I unfortunately don’t have a reading mascot; I do however have a favorite chair I sit in with my lap top.  The key to a great reading day is yummy food, a good lap desk, a warm blanket and cozy socks.  Reading days are one of my favorite things about my job!  We get to learn all about amazing applicants and help build, what we hope will be, a truly remarkable Fletcher class!

Since none of us have mascots that can top Murray for cuteness, here he is again:

Murray sunbathing

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Ordinarily, Admissions staffers each dedicate one day a week to reading applications, and then fit in additional reading whenever they can.  Our schedule this winter has been hijacked by Mother Nature, and we’ve all found ourselves at home on snow days, grateful for the ease of grabbing files from our new online reader system.  Yesterday was one of those days, and Dan kindly sent me a report late in the afternoon.  As the only staffer with a resident dog or cat, Dan has the most photogenic reading companion.

It’s application reading season once again!  Regular blog readers know that we all have our routines to help us give quality reads to as many files as possible in a day.  The biggest change in those routines this year is physical.  In the past, a read day has involved an unwieldy stack of paper files, stretching ominously toward the heavens like Isengard (for those of you whose nerd alerts just went off, I swear I had to look up the proper spelling of “Isengard”).  Now the entire mountain of files is reflected conveniently on my computer screen.

Having our application system entirely online is, in most ways, totally sweet.  No carting around boxes of files!  No paper cuts (believe me, you do NOT want a manila folder paper cut)!  But with great power comes great responsibility, which in this case is that nagging realization that you always COULD read one more file.  The e-pile is always there taunting us.

breakfastMurray!Otherwise, though, a read day follows the familiar dynamics.  Breakfast: check.  And yes, I am lame enough that I end up eating the exact same thing I bring in to the office every morning.  Music: check.  For some reason I find Sigur Ros to be among the ideal soundtracks for reading.  Maybe I’m just hoping for a few apps from Iceland.  Murray: check.  Sure, he looks harmless now, but just wait until he starts making demands.  It’s important to read as much as I can early, before this monster takes over completely.

As always, I’m amazed by the quality of our applicant pool.  Balancing out the total feeling of inadequacy that reading Fletcher applications gives me is the knowledge that I’ll be getting to know many of these folks personally in the next year.  A full day of reading is intense, and ultimately tiring, but also very enlightening and inspiring.  It certainly beats a sharp stick in the eye.

Murray weather readyMurray usually gives me 15-20 files before putting forth his agenda items. Item #1: go outside:

With all the snow we’ve had recently, he needs to seriously suit up to go on a real walk.  The only other option is to quickly pop out into the trough we’ve dug in the snow in our backyard for him.  Poor guy looks like Moses crossing the Red Sea out there, so a full-on walk it is.  It’s a good head-clearing break for me, too.

I always imagine I’ll dive right back into reading once we get back into the house. Murray has other ideas, though:

Murray ready to play
You’ve submitted some fantastic reading material, Applicants, and I promise I’ll get back to it soon.  But first, I have an urgent plush-donut-toy-related matter to attend to.

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On Sunday I made a last-minute decision to jump-start my application reading on Monday.  We’ve often written about our “reading days” at home.  Past posts have always involved piles of green files (and, occasionally, cute dogs).  These days, no paper files!  Here’s how my day went.

7:30:  Move a laptop to a kitchen counter, grab a cup of mint tea in favorite frog mug, and kick off the day, starting with a quick review of email but soon moving on to the applications that were waiting for me in my queue.


9:30:  The pain in my shoulder from being perched over a keyboard tells me it’s time for a break.  Switch to coffee (half caf/half decaf — I want to be alert but you wouldn’t want me too jumpy) in a theme-appropriate mug.  Do shoulder rolls while switching to another location — a desktop with a more comfortable chair.


12:00:  I’ve now cleared out my queue, which means I can start plucking applications at random.  But first, lunch — a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  So far as I’m concerned, peanut butter is always #1, and being at home means I can toast the bread for the sandwich.

1:00:  After lunch, I read another couple of files, but at 1:00 it’s time to park myself somewhere warm and comfortable for a conference call.  After the call, I switch back to the laptop, but on a different counter — changing chairs throughout the day is part of my reading strategy.  More tea in yet another world-map mug.


3:30:  Emails distract me for a while.  Once I regain focus, I return to my application queue and try to finish whatever I’ve loaded in there.

4:45:  That’s it for the day.  Time to put together a quick dinner and then head out to a meeting of a community board I’m on.  A little human interaction (and a chance to be outside) won’t be a bad thing.

There are so many great things about our new online application reader system, but I’m still working on strategies for pain-free reading.  More changes of chair?  More cups of tea?  By the end of this year’s application cycle, I’ll have it all worked out.  Meanwhile, I’ve already read some inspiring essays and I know there’s more to come!

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