Akshobh’s annotated curriculum

In the coming days I’ll be sharing the annotated curriculum posts of our second-year bloggers, starting here with Akshobh.

Pre-Fletcher Experience

• Business News Reporter & Producer, Channel NewsAsia, Singapore.
• Sports Reporter, ESPN STAR Sports, Singapore.

Fields of Study

• International Security Studies
• Strategic Management & Consultancy

Capstone

TEDx talk at TEDxTUFTS on the Idea of A Nation State: What Makes A Country?

Curriculum Overview

My analogy for a Fletcher degree, more accurately a MALD degree, is that it is like clay – in that you can mold it any way, into any shape, size, or form as you see fit.

From students obsessed with security in the Balkans, to human rights in Latin America, to mobile payments in Africa, to climate change in the Arctic…at times, I facetiously say that at Fletcher you could even find someone focusing on esoteric areas such as oppression of Martians by the Jupitarians in front of the Saturnian Law Council.

Each semester presents a quandary of what classes to take. How to balance your breadth requirements with your field requirements? How to handle the workload? I am not sure I did a good balancing act, but this is how my Fletcher semesters stacked up.

Semester 1

Arts & Sciences of Statecraft with Professor Drezner
National Security Decision Making with Professor Malvesti
Processes of International Negotiation with Professor Babbitt
Starting New Ventures with Professor Bhide

My two-line spiel to introduce myself was that I am interested in the intersection of a country’s tale and how companies scale. That is, foreign policy, history, and business. Hence my first semester at Fletcher was about mixing my interests in foreign policy-related courses with a dose of non-quantitative business courses.

After coming back to school after years of working, I wanted to focus on classes that would help me gently dip my toe back into the deluge of academia. Hence, I was less strategic about fields of study or breadth requirements (not the most advisable, but it works out).

I was determined to take a class by Professor Drezner, even if it was something as arcane as Russian philosophers. I had religiously followed his tweets and devoured his articles long before I came to Fletcher. Hence, I took Statecraft as a priority irrespective of what fields and requirements it fulfilled.

My first semester saw me take a mix of classes, including National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice, traditionally for the security junkies and foreign policy wonks, as well as Starting New Ventures (where I was one of only three first-year students in a predominantly second-year MIB class) dealing with cases about entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.

By far, my favorite class in the first semester was Negotiations with Professor Babbitt. It is a fun class where you deal with all types of simulations negotiating with your classmates. However, the skill sets you learn are something you can parlay to all aspects of negotiations (diplomacy, private sector, and even with your own family members).

Semester 2

The Historian’s Art with Sulmaan Khan
International Trade and Investment with Carsten Kowalczyk
Analytic Frameworks for Decision Making with Carolyn Gideon
Field Studies in Global Consulting with Rusty Tunnard
US Policy in South Asia with Thomas Cavanna (Certified Audit)

My second semester was hard, given that I had eschewed taking my breadth requirements in the first semester, I found myself playing catch up.

Analytic Frameworks fulfilled my quant requirements. It’s an interesting class with decision trees and game theory, however, it is a class I wish I put more effort into. It is definitely time-consuming with problem sets and group projects.

I always joked that I liked numbers only on a paycheck, and this attitude would take me to ‘Indian purgatory’ for not being a doctor, scientist, or engineer. Hence, I didn’t make a beeline to take econometrics. Despite being a very highly rated class and a useful skill, I didn’t feel like forcing myself into something I wouldn’t be able to excel at.

Hence to fulfill my EIB requirements, I took International Trade & Investment with professor Kowalczyk, who is the nicest, sweetest professor. However, the class was challenging with very tough concepts in trade such as tariffs and trade barriers spoken only through graphs, charts, and numbers (so much for no numbers).

The consulting class is unique, in the sense there are no midterms or finals, but it is the most time-consuming class at Fletcher. You work in a group of 4-5 on real-world clients helping them tackle a real-world problem. Our client was Invest Lithuania, the investment arm of the Lithuanian government.

By far, my favorite class that semester was Historian’s Art by Sulmaan Khan. To quote from my previous post, Professor Sulmaan Khan is the eternal polymath – he knows everything about everything. Hyperbole aside, all of Professor Khan’s students agree that he is the ultimate historian with domain knowledge second to none.

Historian’s Art is as esoteric as the name sounds. It’s certainly a class for history connoisseurs, but with a twist. The key element of the class lies in being able to transport yourself into the shoes of decision-makers at various times in history, forgetting what you know and trying to rationalize why they did what they did at that point in time. The class ensures you don’t fall into the hindsight fallacy, and that you understand the extenuating circumstances that existed then, and that as a result shaped key world events. Professor Khan will be the first to tell you that he is a hard grader, but I would still highly recommend taking this class.

This was a hard semester, accentuated by the internship search. Ergo, I needed some comfort food by auditing US Policy in South Asia (my domain strength).

Semester 3

Role of Force with Professor Shultz
Leadership with Alnoor Ebrahim
What’s Wrong with US Foreign Policy (HKS) with Stephen Walt
Business-Government Relations in the US (HKS) with Roger Porter
Wars & Conflict in Contemporary South Asia with Arjun Subramaniam (Certified Audit)

I am not a morning person and waking up at 7 a.m. is a drudgery for me. Let’s say my alarm clock and I get into heated battles about waking up (too bad my alarm clock didn’t take negotiations class and hence I always win).

Role of Force starts at the crack of dawn – 7:45 a.m. (dawn in my world) but it is a legacy class at Fletcher and Professor Shultz is an institution. It is a requirement for the International Security Studies field and hence the auditorium at ASEAN (where the class is held) is always packed.

Leadership with Professor Ebrahim was my favorite class this semester. He’s a former HBS professor himself, so we deal with HBS cases on leadership in the Socratic method and try to unravel various layers of complexity. Class participation is highly important.

I was determined to cross-register. Very few schools have access to other schools in the Boston area, and the chance to take classes at any of the Harvard schools is an enriching experience. Apart from Fletcher students, only MIT students are allowed to formally enroll into Harvard classes.

I decided to take two classes at HKS, both with stalwart professors – Stephen Walt and Roger Porter. I highly recommend both their classes, especially Professor Porter’s, whose class lectures are like story time with grandpa when he speaks about his time in government working with three Presidents.

One of my mentors, former Indian Air Vice Marshall Arjun Subramanian, was teaching a class in the fall, and hence I doubled up as an informal TA and got a certified audit.

Unfortunately, I had to drop Professor Jacque’s Corporate Finance class due to a schedule clash and the mounting workload that semester.

Semester 4

International Investment Law with Professor Salacuse
Global Private Equity with Professor Schena (half credit)
US-EU Relations with Professor Scharioth (half credit)
Convergence & Divergence (HKS) with Professor Subramanian
The Moral Leader (HBS) with Professor Sucher

In your last semester it is a quandary between scrambling to finish your field requirements, your breath requirements, tackling capstones, job searching, and reminding yourself that this is the last chance to take that class that you love. I write this as I am going through this phase.

Do not leave your breadth requirements till the end! Sadly that is what I did and hence found myself needing to take an ILO course. That is one of my many regrets, that I didn’t take enough ILO courses during my time at Fletcher.

Despite my aversion to quant, I am taking Private Equity with Professor Schena, who is absolutely the most amiable professor around. I always joke that if a student were to give Professor Schena the “my dog ate my homework” story, his consideration would make him ask you “how is your dog?” Professor Schena is a great resource and mentor, and I highly recommend taking a class with him.

Despite being the only non-American and non-European student in the class, I had heard and now have seen why the US-EU relations class at Fletcher is one of the best. Professor Scharioth is a veteran German diplomat and Fletcher alum, and enthralls you with riveting anecdotes of what he was doing when 9/11 took place or who he met at the State Department to get this treaty passed. You learn to write short memos and give oral advice, useful practical skills in a non-quant class.

Lastly, don’t miss the chance to cross-register. My favorite class is Convergence and Divergence at HKS, taught by the former Chief Economic Advisor to the government of India. He is simply one of the most brilliant economists in the field.

I didn’t want to leave without taking one HBS class, and I found myself lucky to get into The Moral Leader, where instead of HBS cases we read literary classics such as Remains of the Day and A Man For All Seasons and assess leadership traits and challenges.

On a final note, my unsolicited advice is not to worry too much about depth requirements, as I simply took classes that I liked, and I automatically fulfilled two fields of study. The plethora of classes, and permutations and combinations, mean that you can easily fulfill two fields.

Diversity is underrated, so I recommend diversifying your curriculum by taking an eclectic mix of classes at Fletcher and by cross-registering. There are few places and few programs that offer such an eclectic mix and I am glad I got to tinker with my curriculum at Fletcher.

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