Currently viewing the tag: "Advice"

Like Tatsuo’s post from last week, this one, from Adnan, has been awaiting action from me for a little while.  But at the same time as Adnan describes wrapping up his own first year, his focus in the post is to offer suggestions for incoming students, and I decided to hold it until closer to the arrival of the newest members of our community.  With that said, I’ll let Adnan take us back two months to Commencement at the end of May.

One of the great things about sticking around in Somerville after finals ended was getting to attend Commencement weekend.  It was wonderful to celebrate with members of the Class of 2016, many of whom I’m not just good friends with, but had also learned to rely on for all sorts of advice as I navigated my way through my first year.  Saying goodbye is never fun, and thinking about how quickly time had flown bummed me out a little.  Listening to Commencement speeches by Dean Stavridis, Arianna Huffington, Fletcher alumna Susan Livingston, Professor Schaffner and the graduates themselves, however, was quite uplifting.  It reminded me of everything that makes Fletcher amazing, and left me feeling grateful that I have one whole year to go.  Officially “half a master of law and diplomacy” now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far, and hope it helps new students make the most of your limited time here.

First, prepare to be swamped.  Between readings, assignments, papers, extra-curricular activities, events, part-time jobs, and trying to build a social life, you’ll wonder how to juggle time.  It’ll often feel overwhelming, sometimes even unmanageable.  And you know what will make it worse?  Stressing about it.  The sooner you learn to take it easy, the happier and more productive you’ll be.  That does not mean sitting back and letting Fletcher pass you by.  Rather, remind yourself that you’ve got what it takes, and you’re not here only to do as much as you can, but also to have fun while doing it.

Adnan at graduationPerhaps the single most important thing you can do in preparation for Fletcher — and life — is to know yourself.  You’ll have a dizzying number of options.  Picking what’s best for you will require having a clear idea of your interests and goals, one you should revisit and refresh frequently.  Furthermore, the more clarity you have about what you want, the easier it will be for your professors and peers to guide you.  For every class you enroll in, think about what you’ll take from it and how it will help you reach your goal.  Be strategic about complementing fields of study with the right extra curricular activities.  Think about the professional and personal narrative you are building.  Have a roadmap — a sense of your bigger picture — and know that what works for someone else may not be the best for you.  Every Fletcher student is unique.  That being said, it’s equally important to be flexible and open to trying new things.  If you’ve discovered a new interest, which you probably will, dare to pursue it.  It’s all about finding the right balance, and that’s always easier said than done.

When you get caught up with Fletcher life, you may not always remember all the resources available to you, but it’s important to use them!  One that I’ve found to be particularly helpful is Fletcher’s alumni network.  Fletcher graduates are doing great things, and as a student, you have access to them.  Look up alums working in areas you wish to join and reach out to them.  In my experience, they’re always happy to provide guidance and help.  Don’t miss the chance to meet them during the New York and Washington DC career trips, and other alumni networking events.  Also, visit the Office of Career Services frequently.  Make an appointment to review your resume, or practice your interview skills.  The OCS also arranges events and workshops that you want to keep an eye out for.  And don’t forget that you have the option to cross-register at Harvard and can also access classes at MIT.  Use this opportunity to experience what they have to offer and tap into their networks.

Lastly, always stay on top of your game.  Manage your time well, and hustle.  Don’t let things pile up, and keep clearing your plate as you go.  So take those equivalency exams before classes start, get your second language proficiency requirement out of the way as soon as you can, and go to PDP.  Plan ahead to the best of your ability.  Try to get a head start on your capstone project so you can use your summer to travel and do field work for it, if necessary.  Start applying for summer internships as early as you can.  The more effectively you manage your time, the more of it you’ll have to spend with your friends and have fun.  And you’ll want a lot of that, because, in my experience, those moments are the ones you’ll cherish the most.

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On Monday, I noted that most of the students’ advice fell neatly into several categories, but there are some odds and ends that are still worth passing along.  For example, on financial readiness:

Save money because funds get depleted faster than you can imagine as a student.

Save a bit more more money for unexpected expenses.

I invested some of my money, so I could “earn” some returns….I bought a new lighter computer, as I would have to carry it all around campus.  I financed it by selling my old laptop.

On a few practical matters:

I looked at moving options. Because there were many of us coming from D.C., we were able to split the moving fees.

In general, any time-consuming task that can be done in advance, I recommend it doing it and getting it out of the way. You’ll need all the time you can get at Fletcher.

On pre-Fletcher reading:

I wish I had spent more time reading fiction.

I recommend reading many books that do not seem to relate our field of study.  You might not have much time to read books out of the IR field after the fall semester starts.

Enjoy reading a good novel since you won’t be reading much besides journal articles, assigned books and texts for the next nine months!  Although all those readings will be very interesting, I wish I had more time to read fun books :).

On not preparing (and an appropriate final suggestion):

Don’t do anything.  Just relax and have a good summer.  You’ll be fine.

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One area of advice I didn’t anticipate from students, but which makes total sense, was that incoming students should step back and evaluate their goals for Fletcher.  Those who focused their advice in this area said:

I wrote down a list of personal goals for the two years.  Academic and professional goals are pretty easy to come by, and you’ll get a lot of structured support at Fletcher in those areas.  But I definitely recommend thinking about what you personally want to get out of the experience.  I refer back to that list I wrote two years ago all the time as I try to prioritize, or just to get some perspective.

Set goals that you want to accomplish during your Fletcher education (specific skills to be gained, etc.).  Identify the skills you will need to pursue the career you want after graduation.  Talk to current Fletcher students, Fletcher alumni, AND alumni of the other APSIA schools (so that you know who you will be competing against when you graduate!).

I wish that I had taken the time to sit down and bullet-point my goals for grad school. What skills do I want to get out of this?  What do I want to improve/work on?  What do I want to learn that is completely new to me?  Yes, all of these things change and evolve, but once you’re in it, you’re so caught up in the excitement that it is hard to extract yourself back to that initial bird’s-eye view.

There were also a few students who wished they had done a little more internship/job/career planning in the summer before they enrolled:

I wish I had made a greater effort to connect with Fletcher grads in the D.C. area (where I was based prior to Fletcher). Having connections helps a lot with internship leads.

If you have a sense of what kind of internship you want to do in the summer between the first and second years, start gathering information early.  The more you wait, the more stressful it will get, as you’ll have to deal with many other obligations: papers, exams, etc…

It would be a great use of time to get in touch with people in the fields that you might be interested in working in, and do informational interviews by phone or in person. This would help guide your studies at Fletcher (very helpful given that the flexible curriculum offers options that can be hard to choose between), and the networking you do now would probably set you up well for getting back in touch regarding an internship or a job later on.

Tomorrow…the rest of the advice.

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Continuing with the theme of this week, today’s post includes the advice that current students offered incoming students regarding improving specific skills.  Here’s what they said:

If you need to, consider doing some language immersion to prepare for the foreign language exam, and take the test as soon as possible.

Bone up on your language and get the oral and written exams out of the way. This is especially true if you do not feel confident in your language skills.

I brushed up on foreign language skills using “TellMeMore,” which I think is better than Rosetta Stone if you already have some knowledge of the language.  I also reviewed economics as well.

To prepare for my language exam, I read the news in my language every day.  The content of a high quality newspaper is similar to what you’ll see on the written part of the exam, so I found that hugely helpful.

I took an intensive language course — it was a great experience (in Guatemala) and helped me to pass both written & oral exams the first time.

During Orientation week, the workshop on the citation software RefWorks was interesting, but also overwhelming. Using RefWorks is not absolutely necessary at Fletcher, though it can be helpful. However, it requires an initial investment in learning how to use it.  I would recommend either getting familiar with it before Orientation at Fletcher, or disregarding it.

For non-native English speakers, or those unfamiliar with the education system in the U.S.:

I looked more into what it means to write research papers, attend large classes, and aspects of the system of grading such as “grading on a curve” — in a word, facets of student life in the United States with which I was not so familiar.

1. I suggest English preparation, especially writing.  2. I researched Fletcher, Tufts, Boston and Somerville/Medford.  3. I talked to my undergraduate professors who studied in the U.S. to get a sense of what it would be like to study abroad and to plan my study fields.

But there will always be those who disagree.  Among those who wouldn’t do the prep work again, are two who said:

It wasn’t necessary to try to fill gaps in my skills — there were plenty of opportunities to do that at Fletcher.

If you’re planning on taking the Economics 201 placement exam, don’t spend too much time studying for it — it’s really easy.  A couple of weeks reviewing some very basic concepts should do it.

Of course, blog readers, that last comment might come from an economics whiz so, as with all this advice, keep your own situation in mind before deciding what to do.

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The next batch of advice from current students to incoming students is a little inconsistent.  No…it’s very inconsistent.  So before you start reading, let me give you a framework for viewing it.  My guess is that the differences in perspective are rooted in the natural diversity of backgrounds (academic and professional) as well as personalities of the advisors.  All of the comments are practical tips for getting ready for classes.  Note that Shopping Day refers to the first day of the semester (this year, Tuesday, September 4) when short introductory sessions are offered for many classes.)  With that said, I’ll let the comments fight it out among themselves.  Again, these are the things that students did, or wish they had done, to prepare for their Fletcher studies.

Start looking at classes before you get here!  I began picking my classes a few days before lessons started and was overwhelmed by the choice.  Fletcher is so flexible and has such a diverse curriculum that you’re going to find hundreds of classes you’re interested in.  It’s tough narrowing it down to four classes in two days.

Identify some of the courses you want to take.  Some great courses have prerequisites that must be completed first.  Start looking at courses that might be of interest at other area universities.

I planned out which classes I wanted to take in the fall.  I knew exactly which classes I wanted to take, but after Shopping Day and talking to people, I only took two of those four classes.  Still, it was helpful.

Start earlier deciding which four courses to take the first semester.  Giving it thought in advance can lessen the stress during Shopping Day and the first week of classes.  Really pay attention to students’ evaluations (accessed through the Fletcher internal website) of the courses in previous years.  They really give a good sense of the quality and characteristic of the course.

On the “relax” side of the spectrum:

I spent so much time thinking about coursework and what my schedule should be for the first semester.  In actuality, I didn’t need to do all of this prep work.  It certainly helped that I had some idea of the courses offered, but things start to change once you arrive at school.  Shopping Day changes everything for most people.  So don’t worry too much about your courses until you get here!

I wish I hadn’t stressed so much about things that were not that crucial, like picking my classes and meeting the requirements.  Things just fall into place if you do what you’re supposed to do.  Don’t stress too much.

I tried to think about what I might want to write a thesis about.  Seriously!  I did that the summer before starting.  Don’t bother.  Your classmates and professors, and the ideas you’ll be exposed to, will be much more stimulating than even the most creative ideas you could come up with on your own.  I don’t remember much of what I came up with, but it definitely had nothing to do with what I ended up writing about.

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Just before students flew off the campus last month, I asked for their ideas to help prepare their incoming peers.  I posed three questions:

◊  What did you do to prepare for Fletcher that you would recommend for September’s incoming students?
◊  What did you do to prepare for Fletcher that you now consider unnecessary?
◊  What do you wish you had done before starting your graduate studies?

The suggestions fall pretty neatly into several large buckets, with some people satisfied with how they prepared and others wishing they had done things differently.  I could start anywhere but, rather than stress you out with suggestions regarding your academic futures, I’m going to plant the idea that will take the longest to implement.  Relaxing, and arriving early in the area.  Here’s what students had to say on these topics:

I wish that I would have arrived in the area a bit earlier than I did.  I was extremely envious of the students who came in August, got to know the area, and were comfortable by the time Orientation started.  They generally sublet a room for a month and took the time to find good housing.  Most ended up with cheaper places that I did — I arranged from afar in late spring — and were comfortable with the decisions they made.  Those who needed to work in the fall also had time to find a suitable job and make arrangements before the flood of students arrived back on campus.  I wish I had come August 1st.

Arrive in the area a few weeks before the start of Orientation, especially if coming from abroad.  It’s great to have time to get set up, get a phone, pick up an ID (critical for going out to bars without taking your passport!) and become familiar with the area.

I took days off from my previous work, enough to let myself prepare  — mentally — for my new life.  I spent time with my family and friends, and I suggest the same for incoming students.  You will miss it and will not have much time in the next two years!!

I wish that I had looked more into what was available in Boston.  I arrived the day before Orientation and still haven’t managed to see most of the city (two semesters later…ooops…).

I was working intensely up until 1.5 months before school started.  In those last free weeks I made a point of relaxing, reading as much as I could (for leisure as well as catching up on all news and current events), and exploring Fletcher’s courses and biographies of professors. Things pick up very quickly once you arrive, and Orientation is exhausting (albeit an incredible week).  Make sure you are well rested and caught up on all of the other “life” things that you have to do.  Once you start here, you’re in it, and those things become more of a luxury!

That’s the first round of common sense advice from current students.  One point I would add for international students is that arriving early gives you a chance to improve your English language skills.  The start of the semester is very busy, and the more adjusting you can do before Orientation, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Another round of suggestions is coming up tomorrow.

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