Gary’s annotated curriculum

Our next annotated curriculum post comes from Gary. As a PhD student, Gary has a variety of curricular and program requirements that make his path distinct from a typical MALD, though he still also has to fulfill many of the core MALD requirements. As you’ll see, it makes for a very busy first couple of years at Fletcher!

Pre-Fletcher Experience

G-2 Operations Officer, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan (and 15 years of additional experience as a U.S. Marine in various locations and roles)
Public Policy and Nuclear Threats Workshop, Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California-San Diego (summer 2017)
Sasakawa Peace Foundation Non-Resident Fellow, Pacific Forum, Honolulu, HI (2013-2016)
Program for Emerging Leaders, Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, National Defense University, Ft. McNair, Washington, D.C. (2012-2016)
The Olmsted Scholar Program (2008-2011)

Fields of Study / Concentration Areas

International Security Studies
Pacific Asia

Dissertation Topic

Chinese influence over North Korea in the post-Cold War era

Post-Fletcher Professional Goals

Successfully return to duty as a Marine officer, seeking opportunities to get more involved in policy-related work, especially regarding China and East Asia.

Curriculum Overview

As an externally admitted Ph.D. student, I was required to take four courses in each of two concentration areas. My selections were International Security Studies and Pacific Asia. A progression of three methodology courses was also prescribed: a Ph.D. research methods course, a course in econometrics, and a third methods course of my choosing. External Ph.D. candidates are also subject to Fletcher breadth and depth requirements, meaning that we must take classes from all three academic divisions: two or more from two of the divisions (mine were DHP and EIB) and at least one from the third division (for me, ILO).

There are additional requirements to go along with these general guidelines. First was the Fletcher foreign language requirement, consisting of first a written and then an oral exam (for me, in Mandarin Chinese). There were also required equivalency exams in economics and statistics, taken at orientation. The former I passed, the latter I did not, which meant some tutoring on the side and sitting for the stats course final exam, which thankfully I passed. I took care of all these things during my first semester at Fletcher.

For externally admitted Ph.D. students, it is possible to get credit for up to five graduate-level courses taken previously. These can be in international relations theory, comparative politics, and a few other areas. Luckily, during my first master’s program, I had taken an international relations theory course, so I submitted the syllabus and final grade from that course to the Fletcher course instructor for evaluation. Thankfully, I was granted equivalency, providing a tad more breathing room in my schedule.

If that sounds like a lot to fit into two years, that’s because it is. Oh, and I didn’t yet mention preparing for comprehensive exams (both written and oral) in each of my concentration areas and preparing to defend a dissertation proposal. That’s what takes up most of my attention currently.

Semester One (Fall 2017)

The Role of Force in International Politics
National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice
Politics of the Korean Peninsula: Foreign and Inter-Korean Relations
Research Design and Methodology

It’s always a bit of a challenge, returning to academia after a break. You’re at a new school; you’re not sure what the expectations are for quality of writing, how much of the required readings you need to do, and so on. And so it was for me coming to Fletcher after having last been a full-time graduate student in 2011. Since I’d managed to keep dabbling in academics in the meantime, including completing a part-time master’s program in 2015, I felt reasonably confident.

Things ended up working out fine. I found that I enjoyed most of my classes during the first semester, and all were extremely useful for my further studies. Probably the most enlightening course for me during the fall 2017 semester was my first Pacific Asia class at Fletcher, on the politics of the Korean peninsula. Some people in the class shared an interest in security matters, like me, but others came at it from an entirely different angle, focusing on K-Pop and the Korean Wave, Korean food, and so on. It was a nice change—one unlikely to be seen at a military staff college. Moreover, I even managed to survive the Role of Force final exam, worth 100% of the course grade. (It’s a doozy, but good practice for the doctoral written comprehensive exams to come later.)

Outside the classroom, I served as a study group leader for the Role of Force course. (Military fellows in the class are assigned this role as a way to share the fruits of their time in uniform.) Coming to Fletcher I had been interested in taking a look behind the curtain, so to speak, in publishing, so I also served as a senior web editor with The Fletcher Forum on World Affairs during my first year. Finally, I also took on duties as the information technology coordinator for the Fletcher Ph.D. colloquium series, which I’ve written about previously. All told, it was a busy but fulfilling first semester back as a full-time graduate student.

Semester Two (Spring 2018)

International Relations of the United States and East Asia: 1945 to the Present
North Korean State and Society
Informal and Underground Finance
Comparative Politics

Of my time at Fletcher, this was the semester where I most enjoyed my coursework. The combination of the two Asia-Pacific-focused courses was a real treat. Professor Lee continued to astound students with his incredible command of facts and seamless integration of a broad corpus of knowledge not just about Korea but the Pacific Asia region in general. I’ve benefitted greatly from taking all the courses I could with him during my time at Fletcher. He is now a member of my dissertation committee. In Informal and Underground Finance, I took the opportunity to examine some of the illicit means by which the North Korean regime generates cash flow and thought about how an ill-timed interdiction of transactions like these could upset the delicate balance of unfolding diplomacy between the United States and North Korea.

I continued in my responsibilities with The Fletcher Forum and providing IT support for the Ph.D. colloquium events, and added some direct support to Admissions, helping conduct interviews for prospective Ph.D. students. Also, to keep things challenging, I broke a finger on my right hand on the first day of the semester (yes, of course, my writing hand), requiring surgical repair.

Summer 2018: I’ve already written an entire post about my Fletcher summer, but I’d like to add some context by explaining what I didn’t do over the summer. In this age of social media saturation, sometimes from the outside looking in on a given person’s life, it can appear to be win after win after win. I want to share something that didn’t end up panning out for me. In considering what might constitute a productive and further broadening summer experience, I decided that seeking a summer internship would be my primary plan. I applied for many: the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Tisch Summer Fellows Program for a position at the National Defense University, the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence Analysis, the Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations. Then the rejection notices started coming, one after another. In the end, none came through. I was shocked. In retrospect, I think I wasn’t exactly in the primary demographic for a lot of these opportunities. Most internship providers are looking for potential future employees. As an active-duty Marine, I already have a job lined up. The other lesson is that the competition for terrific experiential opportunities like these is stiff—bring your “A” game.

Semester Three (Fall 2018)

Foreign Relations of Modern China
Almost Midnight: U.S. Strategic Choices in a Time of Nuclear Disorder
International Humanitarian Law
Networks, Analytics, and Organizations I
Networks, Analytics, and Organizations II

I was pleasantly surprised by my coursework this semester. I took International Humanitarian Law to satisfy the Fletcher breadth requirement (it was my sole ILO course). It was also my first law course of any kind, ever. And boy were there tons of readings! Professor Dannenbaum is an incredible teacher and fount of knowledge, so going to class every week was dynamo followed by tour de force, on and on, throughout the semester. For military officers attending Fletcher, especially those who are not lawyers (like me), this an even more critical course. I believe it will help me be a more informed consumer of military operational legal advice, and it indeed increased my appreciation for the complexities involved in the many areas that fall under the purview of military lawyers.

During this semester I began interviewing for post-Fletcher assignments.

Semester Four (Spring 2019)


Due to schedule conflicts with courses during my third semester, I wasn’t able to fit in my last required class, Econometrics, meaning I would have to take it during my fourth semester. Typically, an externally admitted Ph.D. student completes their coursework during their third semester, and thus are not required to take courses during the fourth semester. Instead, they are free to focus their energy on preparing for comprehensive exams and defending his or her dissertation proposal. Doing all three things at once has been a lot to keep ahead of, to be honest. I’d recommend the standard way of doing things (no classes during the fourth semester) if you can pull it off. Econometrics takes me a bit outside my comfort zone (as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a stats expert by any means), but it is also essential to understanding the methods used in a large percentage of contemporary international relations research, making it clear why Econometrics is required for all doctoral students at Fletcher.

One thing that happened this semester outside of the classroom that I was especially pleased about was selection as a member of the sixth cohort of the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. It is a great honor to be one of the twenty “leading China experts” to enter this program, although I feel I still have a long ways to go to actualize this sobriquet fully. Studying at Fletcher is undoubtedly a great path to be on to help reach my goals in this area! I also received military orders for my next assignment…but you’ll have to tune in for my final post on the Admissions Blog to find out what comes next. 😊

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