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Last week, we heard from Mariya and Adi, two of our newly graduated Student Stories writers.  This week, I’m turning back to our continuing bloggers for their end-of-spring reflections.  Today, Gary reports on his first year in Fletcher’s PhD program.  He will complete his coursework in the fall semester and move on to his comprehensive exams and dissertation.

As the spring semester came to a close, I paused to reflect back on my first year of doctoral studies and attempted to put it into context.  Remarkably, it is the fourth year of full-time study I’ve enjoyed since the completion of my bachelor’s degree in 2004 (all while serving on active duty in the Marine Corps).  I was previously fortunate to spend three consecutive years as an Olmsted Scholar (one year of language training in California, while simultaneously working on an associate’s degree in Mandarin Chinese, followed by two years in a master’s program in Taiwan).  As a military officer, it is unusual to have the opportunity to follow those years of school with additional graduate studies.  In that regard, I’ve benefited from the recent emphasis that my service has placed on developing officers with doctorates, paving the way for what I am doing now.  I’ve been deeply impressed with the quality of the first year of my education at Fletcher, and I am very happy that I will have another year here to continue my work.  Following a vote in May by the PhD Committee, I have now advanced to PhD candidacy.

An aspect of the program that I have appreciated is Fletcher’s PhD colloquium, a forum for doctoral students and candidates to present their research to their peers and faculty members and receive feedback and (constructive) criticism before making their actual dissertation proposal defense or conference presentation.  Some students also use the colloquium at a later stage in their dissertation research and writing process, presenting at the colloquium only a short time before they plan to defend their dissertation in front of their committee, almost like a “dry run.”  For example, at a colloquium session in late January 2018, we heard David Wallsh, currently a Research Analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, present his dissertation research, entitled “Switching Sides: Foreign Policy Realignment in Egypt and Syria.”  Wallsh integrated the feedback he received at that colloquium session and then successfully defended his dissertation in April.  He graduated from Fletcher at Commencement last month.

Over my two semesters at Fletcher, a total of a dozen of these sessions have taken place about every couple weeks.  Since Fletcher PhD candidates have wide-ranging research interests, we get to enjoy presentations that run the gamut of topics.  For example, last fall, PhD candidate Fang Zhang gave a presentation entitled, “How Governments Mobilize Finance to Support Innovation: The Case of the Domestic Clean Energy Sector,” which she later presented in a revised form at a China Global Research Colloquium at Boston University.  Ben Naimark-Rowse presented on communication across enemy lines; Jamilah Welch presented on her research into the adoption of new agricultural technologies in Niger, centered on Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags; and this past March, Andrea Walther-Puri presented on “Assessing the Impact of U.S. Military Counterterrorism Assistance.”

In addition to being a venue for presenting research, the colloquium also periodically serves as a forum for mentorship by the more senior PhD candidates.  For example, a panel of students has spoken about what to expect and how to prepare for comprehensive exams, which come after completion of the coursework phase.  We’ve also enjoyed a panel featuring senior PhD candidates who have attended the Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research at Syracuse University, which we are all encouraged to attend after completion of the second year in the program.  Finally, we’ve also included students and faculty from the new joint Tufts-Fletcher PhD in Economics, and Public Policy program, inviting them to join the colloquiums and other social events put on by the Fletcher PhD program.

Looking ahead for me, one additional semester of coursework remains.  Last summer before matriculating at Fletcher, I attended the Public Policy and Nuclear Threats workshop run by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at University of California-San Diego, which was an excellent venue for recalibrating my mind for the academic challenges and opportunities that doctoral studies experience, and for networking with students, professors, and policymakers in the nuclear realm.  This summer, I’ll likely get started on developing and working through the reading lists for my concentration areas, International Security Studies and Pacific Asia, in preparation for the comprehensive exams that I plan to take in the spring of 2019.  During May and June I’ve attended or will attend some interesting conferences in Washington, DC and Philadelphia.  Later in the summer, I’ll attend the Aspen Security Forum and a seminar in history and statecraft for PhD students at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.  I’m happy that the Clements Center seminar will provide another rich learning and networking environment to keep me invigorated between semesters.  Around those events, I’ll do some road-tripping with my family, spanning much of the continental United States, continuing to enjoy being back in our home country after several years assigned overseas.

Last summer, as my family drove across the country moving to the Boston area to start at Fletcher, we made a couple of stops.  One of them was at Fallingwater, arguably American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous work, located in western Pennsylvania not far from Pittsburgh.  I’d long wanted to see that work in person, at least since high school (which for me was the early 1990s), so it was a big deal to me to finally see it.  As an architecture aficionado, I hope to stake out a few more American classics on my wanderings this summer.

With my family at Fallingwater, near Mill Run, PA, July 2017.

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Alongside the last day of classes today, the blog’s Student Stories writers are wrapping up their commitments for the year.  Gary, our writer from the PhD program, is naturally looking ahead to the writing of his dissertation and some pre-research research was involved.

You may have heard the rumor before.  A student puts hundreds or even thousands of hours of work into formulating, researching, analyzing, writing and finally defending their doctoral dissertation…only for it never to be read by anyone outside the dissertation committee.  To put lie to that falsehood, I plumbed the depths of the Fletcher dissertation archive held at Ginn Library.  I selected from the hundreds of available dissertations by picking those written by people with whom I now have or previously have had a connection.  For some writers, I have been their student somewhere along the line or they are fellow military officers (active or retired); and for others, I used their research as a resource to prepare for military operations I have personally participated in.

Fenway Park doesn’t have the only Green Monster in the Boston area…here is Ginn Library’s own “green monster” of Fletcher dissertations.

Just to be clear, I didn’t read the dissertations I picked out from cover to cover — after all, some of them exceed 500 pages in length.  I mainly read the abstracts and the front matter to get a sense of where the writers, some now notable members of the commentariat, government, think tanks, and so forth, were in their personal journeys while writing their Fletcher dissertations.  It was an intriguing experience that I may repeat in the future because I felt like there was a lot more to discover.

A 341-page dissertation on left (from 1993), and on the right a 360-page dissertation from 2012.

With those introductory remarks out of the way, I’d like to provide some general macro-level comments about the nine dissertations I examined for this post.  The first notable feature of many of the dissertations was the inclusion of a curriculum vitae or CV.  Invariably, these are interesting time capsules of a sort.  Looking at where the writers were long ago in their personal journeys makes it easier to imagine a similar path forward for those of us studying at Fletcher today.

Some dissertations include an acknowledgments page, from which it is notable to see the personal connections and broad support required to complete any such project.  Often, the authors list out their closest colleagues from among their PhD cohort, and I can imagine those groups of former students studying, debating, and analyzing together in the same spaces in the Fares PhD Research Center under Blakeley Hall where our current crop of PhD candidates does the same thing.

Finally, it’s easy to notice that the physical bulk of dissertations has changed over time.  In years past, dissertations were printed only on the fronts of each leaf of paper, leaving the backs blank.  This made for some massive tomes, the shelves groaning under their weight.  More recently, as the available shelf space for Ginn’s green monster has dwindled, dissertations are now printed on the front and back of each page, making for far more slender volumes.

The cover of Dean Stavridis’ 1984 dissertation. Don’t try to check this one out!

Moving on to the three dissertations I want to examine in greater detail today, the unifying theme is that they were all written by current members of the Fletcher faculty or staff.  I am compelled to start with Dean Stavridis’s 1984 work, not only because he is the head honcho of the school, but also because of the unique marking on its front cover.  I would wager that it is one of the only, if not the only, Fletcher dissertation whose demand might warrant such a marking.

Dean Stavridis’s 1984 dissertation was entitled “Marine Technology Transfer and the Law of the Sea,” and it tipped the scales at an impressive 529 pages.  I’d say he was ahead of his time in seeing the intrinsic value of the Law of the Sea treaty and suggesting ways in which it could be improved to increase the chances of full Western (read U.S.) buy-in/ratification, but that wouldn’t be a surprise.  Our dean is characteristically ahead of his time on many issues, which I think we will eventually see in cyberspace and the idea of a new triad consisting of cybercapabilities, special operations forces, and unmanned platforms, among other topics.  Like me, Dean Stavridis attended Fletcher as an active duty military officer.

Next of the reviewed dissertations is Professor of Practice Michele Malvesti’s 2002 work, “Risk-Taking in Countering Terrorism: A Study of U.S. Presidential Decisions to Use Special Operations and Covert Action.”  Her dissertation is an examination of prospect theory as applied to decisions to conduct counterterrorism missions during the Carter and Reagan administrations.  An interesting note: Professor Malvesti went directly from completing this PhD to working on counterterrorism issues on the National Security Council Staff for five years and, as a result, she is an example of a great resource who has “been there, done that” at very high levels of the U.S. government.  I was fortunate to take her National Security Decision Making course last semester, and I found it to be very engaging.  Bridging the gap between the policy world and academia, the course is loaded with top-notch guest speakers, contacts of Professor Malvesti from her time in government.  Last semester we heard from the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the Assistant Washington Editor for The New York Times, and many more.  For those reading who will someday attend Fletcher, I highly recommend the course.

Last for today, a look at the 1998 dissertation of Professor Sung-yoon Lee, “The Antinomy of Divine Right and the Right to Resistance: Tianming, Dei Gratia, and Vox Populi in Syngman Rhee’s Korea, 1945-1960.”  It is an examination of the seemingly opposing forces of Confucianism and democracy in Korea during this period.  I am currently a student in two courses with Professor Lee and last semester I took another one of his courses.  (One of my concentration areas at Fletcher is Pacific Asia, and my dissertation research is related to China-North Korea relations, so it makes sense that I would take many of his courses, as he is one of American academia’s premier Korea experts.)  With the shifting relationship between the U.S. and North Korea throughout this academic year, it is not surprising that Professor Lee has been in great demand as a live commentator on numerous television and radio programs.  He records many of these from Fletcher’s world-class television studio, part of the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World.

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Today we’ll hear from Gary, our Student Stories blogger in the PhD program, who will return to the U.S. Marine Corps after he completes his Fletcher studies.  Though I’ve often watched as a parade of limousines and police cars escort a dignitary to Fletcher, I had never thought about the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the visit happen, and I’ve learned something from Gary’s post!

One of the great benefits of being a student at Fletcher is the visits of many senior officials and policymakers.  This includes not only leaders from the diplomatic, political, and business realms but also senior military leaders.  For my service, the U.S. Marine Corps, the fall semester saw a “bumper crop” of such visits.  During October and November, the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fletcher alumnus General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (the senior uniformed officer in the entire U.S. Armed Forces); the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller (the senior officer in my service); and Lieutenant General David Berger, the commander of the largest field command in the service, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.  Between them, these three officers brought more than 120 years of combined service in the Marine Corps to the table.  However, I’m not going to talk about what they presented during their visits — in part because two of the lectures took place at ISSP luncheons, which are conducted off-the-record — but instead I’ll take a look “behind the scenes” at what goes into making a visit for one of these senior military officers happen.  (The Boston Globe carried an article about General Dunford’s visit here.)

ISSP Fellows with Dr. Shultz and General Dunford, November 14, 2017. (Gary is second from the right.)

General Dunford and his former professor, Richard Shultz, and the ISSP lecture.

As one might expect, a great deal of coordination typically goes into a visit by a senior leader.  Planning begins months in advance.  ISSP mails out the official invitations.  For last semester’s visits, this step took place before I even arrived on campus in September.  After that, suffice it to say that there are a lot of emails exchanged and phone calls placed to work out visit itineraries, menus, locations where people can change from civilian clothes to uniforms or vice versa, and more.  Sometimes the group emails a questionnaire with the questions they need answered for their planning process to move forward.  If one of the senior officers is arriving via nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, then there are additional considerations involving the base protocol officer, base operations, and so on.  If they arrive via Logan Airport, there is a different set of considerations.  There is local coordination for security and ground transportation.  For an ISSP fellow designated as the AO (“action officer”) for a visit, one of the key things to learn right away is the key contacts on the visitor’s staff — it might be more than one person.

For ISSP military fellows (who spend a year at Fletcher on a non-degree basis), coordinating these visits provides an opportunity to interact with the “brain trusts” behind the senior leaders.  Depending on where they are, these groups have different names — Action Group, Staff Group, etc. — but are composed of some of the sharpest young officers in the ranks.  For General Neller and General Berger, their teams consisted entirely of Marines, but General Dunford’s staff features officers from across the services and some Department of Defense civilians.  These organizations house planners, subject-matter experts, advisors, and speechwriters.  In addition to the planning groups, the senior military officers also have aides de camp in charge of coordinating logistics and other general-purpose matters.  It can end up being a pretty large retinue of folks when all is said and done — half a dozen people, or more.

After completing their studies, Fletcher graduates in uniform can end up working in these commander’s groups, based on their developed skills in diplomacy and negotiation, oral and written communication, and statecraft.  For example, the director of General Berger’s Commander’s Action Group, LtCol Sea Thomas, attended Fletcher immediately upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.  (He was a MALD classmate of Fletcher Professor Rocky Weitz!)  On General Dunford’s Chairman’s Action Group, LtCol Todd Manyx (ISSP Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow in 2007-08) serves as a special assistant, and Army COL Abigail Linnington, who holds a Ph.D. from Fletcher (2013), is the director of the organization.  From the outside looking in, these groups appear to do meaningful, relevant work directly for senior leaders whose voices count.

General Neller engages in a small-group discussion with military officers after his November 28, 2017 ISSP luncheon.

It was a great professional honor for me to meet and interact with these three senior Marine Corps leaders. It is not all that often that a mid-grade officer such as me has the chance to meet top leaders.  I had served with General Berger previously in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, so it was great to catch up with him now that he has ascended to near the pinnacle of his profession. During General Dunford’s visit, Professor Hess did me the great honor of providing an introduction to the general, and we spoke briefly, comparing our experiences as Marine Corps fellows at Fletcher.  However, the highlight for me was riding with General Neller from the airport to Fletcher, ostensibly as the “on-site lead,” bringing the senior officer up to speed on the “lay of the land” before he steps out of the vehicle and begins the luncheon event.  That did happen, but I also had the chance to chat with my service’s top officer about family, hopes for future assignments, and challenges and opportunities for the Corps.  That’s not something that happens every day — except maybe at Fletcher!

When high-level visits happen, things can get pretty exciting.  You must remain flexible when things change, sometimes even as the visit is already in progress, such as if a flight is delayed and you need to adjust the agenda in real time dynamically.  But once the visits end, things return to normal fairly quickly.  Then it’s back to classes — until the next visit!

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The second of the new Student Stories bloggers is Gary, who started the PhD program in September.  Today he shares the long road that he took to Fletcher.

My path to Fletcher started in 2012.  I was living in the Denver, Colorado area and I’d just completed a two-year stint on the Olmsted Scholar Program, studying for a master’s degree and living in Taiwan with my family.   It was time to pick my next big “stretch” goal.  After doing some research, I discovered that one lucky Marine Corps officer per year was assigned to a fellowship at The Fletcher School.  From the Fletcher website, it looked like a dream come true – immersed in international affairs, surrounded by students from all corners of the globe, making connections and building relationships.  How could I make it happen?  I knew that because of my rank and career timing, it would be a few years before I would be eligible for the fellowship, but in the meantime, I wanted to fill any gaps in my resume to make myself as competitive as possible.  Reflecting back now, this sounds a lot like the advice that Fletcher’s Office of Career Services has provided to all the first-years as we navigate the excellent Professional Development Program, designed to prepare us for post-Fletcher careers just as we begin our studies here.

I reached out to that year’s Fletcher Marine Corps fellow to ask how I could maximize my competitiveness for the fellowship.  He wrote back almost right away — his advice was just to keep on doing what I was doing.  And make sure to rank Fletcher at the top of my list when it came time to complete my “dream sheet” ranking of schools and fellowships available for majors, the next military rank higher than mine at the time.  While I was happy to have received a response so quickly, I was a little disappointed with the answer — was there really nothing I could do to prepare as I waited several years to become eligible?

In the summer of 2016, I had been promoted to the appropriate rank and it was time, at last, to fill out my “dream sheet.”  Of all the excellent options, I ranked Fletcher #1, just as I had earlier been told to do.  In the meantime, I had completed an additional master’s degree and been published in a few outlets to maximize my competitiveness.  I put some thought into a rationale for why I should be chosen over all the other majors in the Marine Corps for this opportunity, wrote it up to accompany my dream sheet, and hit send.  More waiting ensued.

The news came through in December 2016.  I was in Okinawa, Japan, near the end of a three-year assignment.  I logged into my email early one morning, and there they were, the results of the selection board – I was going to Fletcher!  Later, I would be told that because of Fletcher’s foreign language proficiency requirement, the officer selected for the fellowship was the first one picked from the entire cohort of several hundred officers.

After the elation of being selected for Fletcher had subsided a bit, I analyzed the situation.  Of course, I still needed to apply and gain admission.  Typically, the Marine officer at Fletcher pursues the one-year mid-career MA degree program, which is ideal for obtaining a great master’s degree while keeping officers close to their normal military career track.  This was the path taken by the Marine Corps’ most famous Fletcher alum, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and things turned out well for him!  However, coming into the fellowship I already had two master’s degrees and had recently begun looking for a way to get started on a PhD.  I knew that Fletcher had a great PhD program, but by the time I received notice from the Marine Corps, the application deadline had already passed.  I reached out to the Admissions team, and they agreed to allow me to submit a late PhD application.  I turned my focus to producing a quality application and submitted it as soon as I could.  I’d already been waiting years for this opportunity, but I would have to wait a little longer for the results.  No matter what happened, I was bound to have a positive outcome: in either the MA or PhD program, I would be at Fletcher the following fall.

When the admissions result came back in March 2017, my unit was in the midst of a major theater military exercise involving many foreign partners in Japan and Korea.  I had to read the notice a couple times to make sure my eyes were not playing tricks on me.  Every time I looked at the letter, it still said the same thing: I had been admitted to the PhD program!  I excitedly told my boss, who relayed the news to our organization’s commanding general and, during the busy ongoing exercise, I soon had a brief meeting with Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, who congratulated me in person and told me to do great things, study hard, and make the Corps proud.

Now, as what I believe to be the first active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer in Fletcher’s PhD program, I continue to work to define the administrative parameters associated with the opportunity.  As I mentioned earlier, Marines typically get only one year at Fletcher — not enough time to make much headway on a PhD.  But I was pleased by the flexibility and openness I found as I worked with key Marine Corps stakeholders.  To my delight, all parties reached an agreement allowing me to have a second year at Fletcher.  During the two years, I should be able to complete the three semesters of coursework required for external PhD admits and the written and oral comprehensive exams in my two concentration areas (International Security Studies and Pacific Asia), and defend a dissertation proposal — ambitious but not impossible to achieve, if planned and executed properly.

Unlike most other students writing on the Fletcher Admissions Blog, as a career military officer with over 18 years of service, I also come to Fletcher with my family, a wife and two sons.  We’ve greatly enjoyed the few months we’ve had in the Boston area since moving here in July and are looking forward to taking advantage of the diverse range of opportunities and activities in our home community of Arlington and in the surrounding towns, cities, and states.  One simple thing we enjoyed over the summer was easy access to great biking on the Minuteman Bikeway.  Now fall’s brilliant foliage and crisp, cool morning air is a great treat that we haven’t always been able to enjoy as we have moved between Hawaii, California, Taiwan, Colorado, Japan, and now Massachusetts.

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