Currently viewing the tag: "Student Stories"

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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I still haven’t run into Roxanne, our student blogger, now in her second year, but just before classes began she was kind to send me a report on her summer in Colombia.  In a busy week, there’s nothing like being able to draw on unexpected blog contributions!  Here’s Roxanne’s report on a fascinating summer.

As I type these words, I sit surrounded by papers full of Fletcher information: 2013-2014 course offerings, capstone project submission forms, registration requirements for international students.  September has always been my favorite time of year because there is a sense of renewal and possibility in the air — not to mention that it is the start of fall!  Anyone who has spent time in New England, as I did as a college student in Boston, can appreciate the crisper air and the first signs of leaves turning red.

Roxanne ColombiaDespite my love of fall, I am not quite ready to part with the lingering memories of the summer.  As Jessica mentioned in an earlier blog post, the majority of my energy this summer was channeled towards a field research project in Colombia.  Under the guidance of Professor Dyan Mazurana, and in affiliation with local organizations, I designed and implemented a study on the gender dimensions of enforced disappearances.  Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity and defines it as:

Enforced disappearance of persons means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.

In Colombia, similarly to other countries with a high reported rate of enforced disappearances, the majority of the missing are men and the majority of the surviving family members who initiate and/or lead the search process for the missing are women.  As part of my research, I interviewed both surviving family members of the missing and “key informants” — government, NGO, and international organization officials who could discuss the topic in their professional capacity.  Through these interviews, I sought to shed more light on a number of questions: How does enforced disappearance impact the surviving family members of the missing person?  Where and how do surviving family members of the missing fit within the victims’ groups and their narratives?  How does the memory of the missing, and the experience of their family members, figure into the creation of collective memory?

The process of creating this summer project provided a glimpse into the rituals of the academic world.  First, I consulted with both Professor Mazurana and the local partners to set the parameters of the research and understand how the local context in Colombia would affect my research design and methods.  Then I sought the approval of the Institutional Review Board, the organization that ensures that all research involving human subjects is ethical.  This involved devising interview questions, drafting consent forms, and thinking of strategies to protect my interviewees’ privacy, confidentiality, and security without subjecting them to unnecessary risks or costs.  Once I arrived in Colombia, the focus shifted to identifying whom to interview, with an eye towards the inclusion of multiple, diverse voices and perspectives.  Journalists, government officials, NGO leaders, victims’ group advocates, academics, jurists, and community leaders are among the groups that helped me with my research.  The fall and winter will consist of processing the data I collected and identifying patterns that emerged from the research. I am looking forward to developing more robust qualitative research skills in order to complete this task.

A few other experiences round up my summer: speaking alongside Professor Mazurana at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Non-Violent Conflict on the topic of gender and non-violent movements, presenting my work on wartime sexual violence at the Women in International Security conference in Toronto, Canada, serving as an international consultant to an organization in Pakistan seeking to conduct a conflict assessment on access to education, and riding a tandem bike across Boston on every beautiful day this summer could muster.  I must admit to feeling fatigued, inspired, grateful, overwhelmed, and lucky all at once.  Free time during the next few days will hold catch-ups with Fletcher friends, sleep, and outdoor adventures, before the air gets too crisp.  Next time you hear from me, I will have fully entered my second year at Fletcher!

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Unlike most of my Fletcher classmates, I am doing my internship in Boston this summer.  It’s just across the river and a couple of subway stops away from Fletcher, so it has been quite an easy adjustment for me.  I am working at the State Department of Higher Education where I am exploring how new educational technology initiatives can help close achievement gaps in public higher education in Massachusetts.  I was lucky to find a paid internship, as part of the Rappaport Institute Public Policy Summer Fellowship Program.  (For the incoming students interested in Greater Boston and public policy, I would highly suggest visiting their website to learn more about the application process for the following summer.)

I discovered the fellowship by chance.  The Office of Career Services (OCS) organized an information session in the fall which I (randomly) decided to attend.  I really liked what I heard, so I followed up, kept in touch, went in for an informational interview, and submitted my application in mid-January (in fact, just before leaving for the Fletcher ski trip).  I took a bit of a risk by not exploring other internship opportunities (not recommended!), though I knew that if my application were not selected, I would still have time to research other opportunities.  By March 1, my application was accepted, and I could remove the “summer internship” item off my stress to-do list.

I started my internship a couple of weeks ago, and am still learning about the department’s work.  Unlike perhaps some other internship positions, I was given the freedom to choose the work I would do over the summer.  This has been both exciting and challenging.  It’s great because I can tailor my learning and focus on my specific interests; the challenge is to remain exceptionally disciplined with my time and persistently take initiative.  So far, so good — but I do admit that, occasionally, it is nice to simply be assigned a task with a deadline.

Nevertheless, what I have discovered with my summer internship is that this opportunity gives me and my classmates an additional network, on top of the expansive and tight-knit Fletcher network.  I have already met many wonderful individuals, and am predicting some lasting professional relationships and friendships.  As at Fletcher and elsewhere, the key is to get involved and be proactive, and take full advantage of the experience.  While this has been great, I do miss my Fletcher classmates.  Soon after the academic year’s end, you realize just how meaningful the Fletcher friendships really are.  Luckily, there are a good number of us still in the Boston area, so it does not feel as secluded as it must feel for those interning in places such as Liberia or Nepal.

Another thing that I learned is that taking some time off between the academic year and a summer internship is helpful for sanity.  Many of my Fletcher friends have done this: visiting family, going on short vacations and road trips, or simply staying put in the Boston area and reading fiction.  (Fiction gains a whole new meaning in the life of a Fletcher student after two semesters of case studies).  I personally was fortunate enough to visit Europe for two weeks, which was a welcome change of scenery.  I would highly recommend taking your mind off anything school or work-related for at least a couple of weeks — your body and brain will be eternally grateful.

Finding a summer internship is a stressful activity for many Fletcher students, balanced as it is against a demanding academic schedule and a vibrant social environment filled with extracurricular activities — as well as many work and personal responsibilities.  In the end, however, almost everyone finds exactly what s/he is looking for, and literally everyone finds something meaningful to do over the summer months.  A couple of tips from my experience are to start the internship hunt early on (mid-fall semester), connect with Fletcher alums, use OCS resources, talk to your classmates, be persistent, and don’t stress too much.

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This past weekend, I made a quick trip to visit friends in San Francisco.  On my way home, I was watching the flight progress map on the seat-back TV and realized I might have been flying over Scott Snyder during his cross-country bike trip.  The plane’s path later veered to the north, but the map nonetheless reminded me to update you on his progress.  Scott’s recent blog posts describe their days in Wisconsin, and his fundraising page indicates he has passed the halfway mark on his goal to raise $12,000 for the Ace in the Hole Foundation.

The other aspect of this update is that (being a little slow to connect the dots), I only realized last week that Scott’s travel companion is a fellow Fletcher MIB student, Joel Paula, who is also blogging.  Same trip, different perspective!

I have one more cross-country adventure to describe, this time an alum’s trip, but I’ll hold that for now so that you can catch up with Scott and Joel’s progress.

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When she’s not offering valuable advice to incoming students, Roxanne is still keeping plenty busy.  Last week, along with Prof. Dyan Mazurana, she presented a session at the Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict.  Interested?  You can get the details from the storify intro, (I love the way Roxanne is described as “a do-gooder of international proportions”), from the storify write-up, or from the video below.  Watch the whole thing, or fast forward to Roxanne’s presentation, at about 1:07:30.

Roxanne is off to Colombia for the next phase of her summer.  I’ll try to catch up with her a little later, once she has settled in there.

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My little survey from a few weeks back yielded some very specific questions from incoming students.  While I work on the answers, Roxanne is here to give you a big-picture view of what you should be doing and thinking about in the summer before you start your graduate studies.  

I am writing these words at 1369 Coffee House, which was one of my favorite spaces when I was a college student in Boston.  One of the indulgences of the early days of summer lies in exactly this moment: savoring a drink at a coffee shop, reading for pleasure, and watching the to-do lists temporarily shrink to include only leisurely items.

Therein lies my first piece of advice for the summer before you enroll at Fletcher: Embrace leisure.  Allow your mind to rest for a while, and engage in the activities that make you happy.  If it is possible, build in a few weeks of relaxation between the time your work commitments end and the time Fletcher obligations kick in.  Arriving at Fletcher with a rested mind can make all the difference.  While I am soon leaving for my summer work and research, the past two weeks have been full of picnics, tandem bike rides, a trip to Walden Pond, and other favorite Boston-area activities.

Use the summer to reflect on the experience you want to have at Fletcher: What do you wish to learn that you had not previously explored?  Which types of skills do you want to build?  Are there particular professors whom you would like to get to know?  What other opportunities in the Boston area appeal to you?  The answers to these questions shift constantly for most of us at Fletcher, and we welcome the evolution of our interests, but arriving here with a sense of goals and learning objectives — however vague and ever-changing — can be helpful in making the most of the experience.  The summer is also a good time to talk to past mentors, whether professional or academic ones, and to solicit their advice about how to make the most of your upcoming graduate school experience.

If you are planning on taking the language exams early in the semester, or the economics and quantitative reasoning placement tests, it may be helpful to brush up on some of those skills — but do not let the process stress you.  When I look back on my own summer before Fletcher, I wish I had worried less.  Yes, it is important to fill out the paperwork Fletcher requires in a timely manner, to set up your email accounts, and to prepare logistically for the semester.  Completing these steps will make your arrival here far less stressful, and it will enable you to delve into the community smoothly in August.  At the same time, the Fletcher staff is incredibly supportive, these processes are fairly easy, and they need not intimidate or worry you.

Some of you will go through the new course catalog as soon as it becomes available to make a list of courses you would like to take; yet others will arrive in Medford without ever having looked at the course catalog.  Let me reassure you that most of us change our minds about our preferred course choices multiple times before the semester begins, so do not feel pressure to make rigid choices.  If you are inspired by browsing the offerings, by all means, go ahead!  If, on the other hand, you’d rather wait until you get here and can solicit the opinions of your classmates or attend the so-called “Shopping Day” to watch the professors in action, know that many Fletcher students will be joining you.

Finally, I’d like to make some room for the pieces of pre-Fletcher advice that do not fit in the above categories, but reflect how I wish I had spent the summer before Fletcher:

  • Read for pleasure. This is what a now-graduated member of the Class of 2013 had advised me, and it was the best piece of advice I received.  It was a treat to spend the summer steeped in the literature of my choice without the pressure to highlight or take notes.
  • Make some time to say goodbye to the place you have called home.  Some of you will be leaving a place far away from your birthplace, while others will be leaving your homeland.  Transitions are easier once you have carved out room for goodbyes and nostalgia.
  • Relatedly, carve out some time to make Boston a home when you arrive.  If you arrive a couple of days before Orientation, take the time to explore your new neighborhood or take the subway to Boston.  Give yourself some time to discover what may soon be your new favorite restaurant or café, develop a new running or cycling route, a new morning routine.  You will be part of this community before you know it, and there are many of us eagerly waiting to welcome you to the Fletcher family!  Until then, have a wonderful summer!
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Scott and the PacificLast week I received an email from student blogger Scott, who wrote about the cross-country trip from Oregon to New York, a distance of more than 3,000 miles, that he is undertaking accompanied by a friend.  By the time I received the email, Scott had crossed through Oregon and into Idaho.  (The photo shows him at his first stop, the Pacific Ocean coast of Oregon.)  His message detailed the motivation for the trip:

On May 11th, 2006 tragedy struck one of my best friends and his family.  Greg LiCalzi was my roommate freshman year at Union College, and although I was probably not the easiest person to live with at the time, we became great friends.  Greg’s twin brother, Michael, was serving our country in the Marines when he died in a tragic tank accident in Iraq.

Two years later, with the support of his family, Greg founded the Ace in the Hole Foundation to remember and honor his brother’s sacrifice.  The Foundation provides financial aid and material assistance to charitable organizations and causes.  The Foundation’s support is administered directly to deserving recipients or through contributions to charitable organizations with which the Foundation has working partnerships.  Through numerous events, fundraisers and corporate partnerships, Ace in the Hole has raised and donated over $300,000.

I have been unable to participate in many of the events for Ace in the Hole Foundation.  Because of my previous job I was always out of the country or on assignment.  I have been looking for a way to contribute with more than just a donation, and this summer I will have that chance.

Scott is using the trip to raise awareness and funds for the Ace in the Hole Foundation.  His goal is to raise $12,000 by the end of his ride.

You can read more about the trip directly from Scott.  He’s chronicling it through various media, most notably a Tumblr page and via Twitter.  I’ll try to provide occasional updates on his progress throughout the coming weeks, or you can check out his Tumblr and spread the word about his trek for a cause.

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Time for another round of thanks and farewell to a graduating student.  Maliheh contributed several posts to the blog this year, despite a heavy in-class and out-of-class workload, and a PhD admissions process that involved twenty schools and one lucky program that she has chosen to attend.  I first “met” Maliheh more than a year before she enrolled in the MALD program, when she first corresponded with our office.  Once I met her, I became a huge fan.  As much as I’ll miss her at Fletcher, I wish her the very best in her coming years of academic toil.  But before Maliheh leaves Fletcher, she offers this last post.

malihehIt is just that time of the year when everyone at Fletcher is finishing exams and preparing for their upcoming internship or new job.  I was preparing for my own internship last year at this time.  Everyone would tell me about Fletcher’s incredibly rich alumni network, but before experiencing it myself, I had no clear idea what a valuable resource this network can be.

From the first day I started my work at the World Bank, I tried to expand my professional connections by networking with people in other departments at the bank.  To my surprise, in almost every department I could find a Fletcher alum with whom I could meet and talk.  Even non-Fletcher people knew very well about Fletcher and would remind me that two current World Bank vice presidents are Fletcher alumni.

Working in the MENA region at the bank, it was not uncommon to hear people speaking in Arabic or Farsi, which I also used in speaking with my supervisor most of the time.  You can imagine that it is not easy to pick out English words exchanged in the middle of a conversation that is not in English, but “Fletcher” is a different kind of English word!  One day, in the midst of a long conversation in Farsi with my supervisor, and in a quite crowded venue, I said “Fletcher” to refer to a specific theory I had learned in one of my classes, and then returned to Farsi for the remainder of the conversation.  The woman sitting next to us picked out that one word and turned to me.  She asked, “I heard you say Fletcher.  Are you a Fletcher alum or student?”  And a very nice conversation followed from there!  Later I thought again about what I had heard before coming to the World Bank about Fletcher’s network, and felt very proud to be part of this extensive and supportive community!

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Returning to the questions blog readers asked me to cover this spring, Mirza is going to describe options for cross-registration.  The opportunity to cross-register for up to a quarter of the classes a student takes toward a Fletcher degree is one of the factors that makes us say that no two students graduate with exactly the same curriculum.

One of the many great options at Fletcher is cross-registering at other graduate units of Tufts or Harvard University, or even beyond.  (Keep in mind that MALD or MIB students are allowed to cross-register for four classes total during the two years at Fletcher.)  With so many great higher education institutions in Boston, such cooperation and sharing of resources among different schools makes sense and you should by all means take full advantage.

Currently, in my second semester at Fletcher, I am taking two classes at Harvard — one at Harvard Kennedy School (Values, Interests and the Crafting of U.S. Foreign Policy) and one at Harvard Law School (Political Economy After the Crisis).  They have both been challenging but intellectually rewarding, and have offered a slightly different perspective and learning environment from Fletcher.  Combining such outside academic experience with the Fletcher experience has been, at least for me, extremely valuable.

Not everyone, however, will find cross-registering beneficial to their academic and professional path.  For some, Fletcher offers exactly what they need, and this is perfectly fine.  It can also be overwhelming to browse through hundreds of captivating courses at other schools, in addition to over a hundred amazing courses at Fletcher.  Still, it is an option well worth keeping in mind as you think about the courses and fields that you’d like to pursue while in graduate school.  One piece of advice is that you should not cross-register during your first semester at Fletcher.  The incipient relationships that you form with your classmates are quite important, and you don’t want to hinder that vital component of the graduate school experience.  As you settle in, however, venturing outside of Fletcher and Tufts will not be a problem, and will likely add considerable value to your academic growth.

Like almost everything in life, there are pros and cons to cross-registering.  Here are a few tips, based on my experience, to keep in mind should you wish to cross-register:

  • A different perspective (Always a good thing.)
  • A new network (Also always a good thing.)
  • A better awareness of the many free events, lectures, and seminars in the area.  (These are the activities from which you will learn a whole lot — really worth exploring, and Harvard offers a great deal of them, all throughout the academic year.)
  • Harvard Square (It’s quite lovely, but bring waterproof boots in the winter.)
  • Access to the beautiful Harvard libraries (They are, indeed, quite nice.)
  • Time spent traveling to Harvard Square (Not so bad, but in the rain and during midterms/finals… it can become a drag.)
  • Group work taking place outside of Fletcher (So even more time spent traveling.)
  • Conflicting class schedules between Fletcher and Harvard (Not usually a problem, but HBS especially can be tricky.)
  • Nostalgia for Fletcher (It’s true — we’re all at Fletcher because we love it for one reason or another, so it’s possible to start missing your “real” home even if you’re away for just a short while.)

Overall, cross-registration is not a biggie, and there are so many great courses that it’s worth at least a quick look to see if something strikes you.  The rest is just logistics — a bit annoying, but not enough to prevent you from taking a great class.  A quick note regarding MIT, Boston University, and other Boston-area schools: they do not participate in the official cross-registration process with Fletcher, but it’s possible to take classes there with the instructor’s permission and a couple of logistical “tricks.”  Feel free to talk to me about it if you wish to find out more — I’ll be taking classes at both MIT and BU next year.

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