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Fletcher wrapped up fall semester classes on Monday, and today finds students tucked in quiet spaces studying for exams. As the semester ended, student blogger Diane said she was thinking about how her classes fit together. Here are her reflections.
In choosing my classes for my first semester at The Fletcher School, I decided to go with a mixture of fulfilling as many of my depth and breadth requirements as possible; choosing classes that I was most excited about; and taking the class I was most afraid of. The end result was a diverse range of classes, which fit nicely together like a jigsaw puzzle.
For my first semester, I enrolled in Econometrics, Agricultural and Rural Development, Law and Development, Humanitarian Action in Complex Emergencies and Quantitative Methods (which was a module). As I explained in my previous post, I am interested in food security issues, particularly in Africa. Each of these classes has allowed me to view food security issues through a different lens, and has exposed me to new analytical frameworks I could never have imagined before starting at Fletcher.
In my Agricultural and Rural Development class, we learned about agriculture and food policy in developing countries from an economic perspective. In Law and Development, we examined the role of law and legal systems in the economic and social development of developing countries. This course has opened my eyes to a new perspective on food security issues; particularly highlighting how complicated legal systems that often exist around land can affect food security and resilience. Humanitarian Action in Complex Emergencies specifically focused on conflict situations, providing a contextual understanding of the political dimensions involved in responding to humanitarian needs in such situations.
Econometrics, on the other hand, has shown me the importance of statistical analysis in development and humanitarian programming. The professor combines her own research from Niger with the theory to provide context for the practical applications of econometrics. I now grasp the importance of research-based programming, as a means of not only being cost effective, but also better targeting communities’ needs. Quantitative methods was a six-week module that took place in the first half of the semester and that covered the basic quantitative foundation required for classes such as econometrics, microeconomics, and finance. It was a great class to take in my first semester, boosting both my quantitative skills and my confidence.
The biggest problem that I have discovered at Fletcher is that there are so many different courses on offer, and I am constantly hearing about courses that others have taken that I would like to enroll in next semester or next year. With only four semesters at Fletcher, I have learned that I need to be strategic in choosing classes, focusing on my goals and the skill sets I hope to gain during my graduate degree. I am excited to see what my final selection of Fletcher courses will end up looking like!
My second-year student bloggers are busy people. We last heard from Mirza in the summer, when he reported on his internship. Today’s post will give readers a very good sense of why this is the first time we’re hearing from him since classes began this semester.
After some months of silence, I am happy to be writing again for the Admissions Blog. My silence has been rooted in several factors: 1) Dealing with a busy academic schedule (nothing new at Fletcher); 2) Balancing a couple of paid job positions with my academic schedule; and 3) Attempting to be a responsible second-year student and remain fully engaged in the Fletcher community. The first two months of my second year indeed proved to be quite chaotic, but I would describe this as controlled and happy chaos. For me at least, the self-awareness that I am successfully managing my own Fletcher chaos seems to be the biggest difference between the two years thus far.
One striking change that I’m noticing as a second-year student is that I feel significantly more grounded as a member of the Fletcher community than I did last year. I have come to understand more clearly who I am at Fletcher; what Fletcher and the people here can offer me and what I can offer them; when to say yes and when to say no to various events and social activities; how to assess my personal opportunity costs (chatting with a friend in the Hall of Flags for 15 minutes or spending those 15 minutes answering emails — the former increasingly taking precedence over the latter); and how to take advantage of this special time in my life to the fullest extent possible. Having spent the summer back in the working world, this last point has been especially resonant.
This is not to say that the first year at Fletcher is less meaningful, but simply that by the time the second year rolls around, one is likely to have gained a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of this rich community. One will also have figured out how to perform most effectively and efficiently in the general chaos that is graduate school. For me, this meant becoming more strategic with my time. While I have four paid jobs this semester, they each play an important role in enhancing my résumé with relevant skills. A good amount of my work responsibilities have also directly complemented my academic coursework, thus bringing my overall learning into a cohesive whole. For example, as an Academic Technology Fellow at Tufts University’s Educational and Scholarly Technology Services, I have been exposed to numerous web-based learning platforms and tools that have nicely complemented my coursework in a Harvard Education School course on education and technology. My role as Business Director for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, on the other hand, has provided me with an opportunity to put into practice some of the skills acquired in my marketing and entrepreneurship courses at Fletcher. Together, these connected experiences will allow me to tell a rounded story in my cover letter and résumé when it is time to jump into the post-Fletcher job hunt.
I have also really embraced what most Fletcher students would identify as the essential component of the Fletcher experience: our lively and passionate community. So, besides academic and work obligations, I have tried to stay very active in Fletcher’s social life. Whether supporting the Los Fletcheros on Thursday nights at Johnny D’s in Davis Square, attending events organized by the many Fletcher student groups (recent highlight: a lecture titled “Do Human Rights Matter?”), driving to Cape Cod with my classmates for Prof. Hess’s annual barbeque picnic, engaging in (somewhat) heated debates on the Social List, group-biking from Fletcher to Harvard, or offering to be a second-year buddy to a first-year student, I have become truly connected to and inspired by the multifaceted world of Fletcher. Many of the people I have met here over the last year will undoubtedly play an important role in my post-graduation life, and these tight-knit social networks — strengthened through shared experiences in and outside of classroom — are what make Fletcher such a unique place. Understanding how to balance this cornerstone of the Fletcher experience with my academic, work, and personal responsibilities has been an important accomplishment for me in my second year of graduate school, and has accordingly led to the aforementioned comfort of a “controlled and happy chaos.”
Returning to the second-year student bloggers, we pick up Scott’s story as he considers the post-Fletcher future that awaits him after graduation next May. As you’ll read, to Scott’s surprise, the learning and exposure he gained at Fletcher have caused him to reconsider his planned career path.
It’s interesting being a graduate student (and the ripe age of 32) and confused about the type of work I want to do after Fletcher. I came in with a very set plan: to use the Master of International Business (MIB) program to transition from the global health sector to the field of international economic development, by filling gaps resulting from my lack of work in the private sector. I was focused on international organizations, such as the World Bank, or consulting firms that would value my non-profit work and mindset but would also (thanks to the MIB program) be confident in my abilities to understand financial markets.
Fletcher offered me the chance to meet and listen to many individuals who worked at the organizations I had originally targeted. Unfortunately, around February of last year, after multiple career panels, information sessions, and my own research, I started to question whether this career track would be the right fit for me. At the same time, I was enjoying all my business courses and dissecting cases — especially within the areas of strategy and business development.
Coming to this realization in February/March was a problem because I had to completely switch my internship search, and by the time I did, most of the internships I had pinpointed were already filled. I made the best of this situation by taking a position in May that was similar to my previous work (but was salary based — always a good thing) and then took the remainder of the summer to do something very exciting. I used the time to cycle across the US — from the west coast of Oregon to New York City — raising funds for the charity run by one of my best friends from college, the Ace in the Hole Foundation. (If interested in that journey, you can read about it here.) It was the experience of a lifetime, but it didn’t boost my future job search the way a summer internship could have.
Which leads me to where I am in the first semester of my second year at Fletcher. I have decided to cast a wide net and to try to meet with as many people as possible this fall, to help focus my job search, which should start this winter. I have learned a lot already, namely that I’d love to focus on technology, health/wellness, and, if possible, to work at a start up or even start a venture of my own. My current classes — Starting New Ventures, at Fletcher, and Strategy and Technology, at Harvard Business School — definitely have had an influence on my current thinking, but I’m also continuing to speak with individuals outside of that realm. Making up for lost time last summer, I also have an internship in downtown Boston at a hybrid venture capital and creative agency, which has given me exposure to multiple industries that could interest me.
With these commitments, and a couple more classes, I have found myself busy. It’s a different kind of busy than my first year, when most of my time went into tough, but great, classes. As a second-year MIB student, I have completed the program’s core courses and I have the flexibility to choose classes that allow me explore new avenues. I’m actually excited for the whole process, even if it will be a challenge.
Allow me to introduce Diane, the next of our new student bloggers, who joins Liam, Scott, Roxanne, and Mirza on the team. Today Diane will tell us how she made the decision to pursue graduate studies at Fletcher, where her Fields of Study are Development Economics and Humanitarian Affairs.
I thought I would introduce myself by telling you about my experiences prior to Fletcher, as well as how I ended up here, at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
After graduating with my undergraduate degree, I worked for a time in the East Asia unit of the Oxfam Australia Head Office in Melbourne. In 2012 I left Oxfam and moved to New York to intern in the policy section of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), working on food security research and resilience policy. I had previously interned with the United Nations World Food Programme in Nepal, during the 2008 food crisis, and was keen to gain more varied experience.
It was at my first job that I realized the importance of technical, management, and leadership skills in the workplace. While I had spent my undergraduate degree learning about the theory of the development field, once in the workplace I recognized the difference between great managers and leaders and mediocre ones, and realized that if I wanted a long career where I would be able to make an impact and add value to the organization I work for, I needed to go back to school and learn these skills. I started researching the type of programs that would satisfy both my interests and my aims for further study, and began to look out of Australia for this.
In truth, my journey to Fletcher began just over a year ago. While I was based in New York with the UN, I took the opportunity to explore different schools and programs in the U.S. A colleague at OCHA noticed the GRE books on my desk and offered to discuss various professional international relations programs with me. Being a Fletcher graduate, the colleague encouraged me to look at the Fletcher School. I remember looking online and the excitement inspired by the course offerings, which would allow me to develop management and leadership skills while I pursued my interest in humanitarian affairs and food security. I was soon on my way from New York to visit Fletcher for an evaluative interview. It’s fair to say that my visit and interview went very well, as I find myself now a member of the 2015 class.
In the year following that interview, I returned to Melbourne to work with a small not-for-profit, running a women’s group and homework club for Sudanese refugees. I also spent time completing the necessary requirements for graduate school applications, and preparing for my arrival (once I was accepted into The Fletcher School). In late August, which is towards the end of the Australian winter, I spent 28 hours flying through four cities to finally arrive in Boston and begin my new and exciting journey as a MALD student at The Fletcher School.
After Fletcher (a topic that I feel we spend a lot of time discussing here — mainly due to the programs offered by the Office of Career Services), I plan on utilizing all the skills and networks I will have gained at Fletcher to find a research or policy role in the Food Security field. My ultimate goal is to work for the United Nations in the field of Humanitarian Affairs. Fletcher’s amazing staff and professors, and the accomplishments of the alumni, have put me at ease at my ability to achieve my goals.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Despite 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!
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.
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.
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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