Summer Reflections 2010 – Post #7

John Hughes just graduated from SIPA and during his second year of study worked in our office.  He is spending the better part of the summer in the office to assist with projects and help fill in for a staff member on maternity leave.  John is set up for a job in Washington, D.C. and will be moving there in August (our second largest alumni network in the world is in D.C if you were interested).

I asked John to reflect a bit on his experience as a SIPA student and contribute to the blog over the summer.  This is his sixth entry.


I just finished speaking at one of our twice-weekly information sessions, where I was asked what sets SIPA apart from comparable schools.  I thought I’d recreate my response here, as I believe that it is true.

First, you have to think about what schools you are setting SIPA apart from.  The MIA and MPA, though largely similar in coursework at SIPA, have different rivals.  On the MIA side SIPA compares with schools like Georgetown, SAIS, Fletcher and GWU.  On the MPA side, however, SIPA compares with schools like Harvard, Woodrow Wilson and Syracuse.  SIPA is a top program in either degree, but the nice thing about it is that both groups of students are fully integrated.  This is one thing that sets SIPA apart.

Though some MPA programs have international components (i.e. Harvard) and other MIA programs have policy components (i.e. SAIS), none of the other top schools can boast that both student groups are integrated under the same roof.  The advantage of this comes in the diversity of student interests and career paths.  Public policy and international affairs are inherently intertwined, so it makes sense that future leaders in both fields would begin interacting in graduate school.

The single biggest strength of SIPA, in my opinion, lies in its massive alumni network.  This cannot be overstated.  SIPA has 16,000 alumni working in hundreds of different careers in hundreds of countries.  I don’t know of any other single factor that would be more important for a professional school.  SIPA students come here for the purpose of professional advancement, and having such a large alumni network to tap into to help with this advancement is very valuable.

Despite what you may hear or think, the majority of SIPA students find jobs through networking.  I’ve mentioned previously that some get hired through formal recruitment programs, which is true, but many more get jobs by contacting people who are able to put them in the right place at the right time.  I knew this to be the case coming in and therefore a large alumni network was important to me.

I found that every alumnus/a I have ever contacted from SIPA has been responsive, supportive and generally helpful.  Not all got me an interview, but they at least gave me things to think about that helped my search moving forward.  Also, I figured that not going to school in DC was not disadvantageous for my field of interest since SIPA had just as many or more alumni working in DC as the DC schools did.  I found this to be absolutely true.  That said, we also have more alumni in New York, London, Shanghai etc. than any other rival school.  This is something I highly recommend considering in your search.

Another big strength of SIPA I found was the incredible faculty.  It was wonderful to have so many classes to choose from.  However, what made these classes even more interesting was the people who taught them.  Most of your professors will be adjuncts.  Not all, by any means.  SIPA has many dedicated, knowledgeable, full-time professors.  However, there are many more who work full-time doing something else and who teach on the side.  At first blush this may sound like a disadvantage.  However, I should reiterate that it is a professional school.  These adjuncts don’t just have some other job; they have very interesting other jobs.

I had a finance professor who runs a hedge fund during the day and another who is the heading of global emerging markets at a large bank.  I had a security professor who worked for a certain intelligence agency in DC for many years.  I had an energy professor who was the head of scenario analysis planning at a large oil company before coming to SIPA.  There are many more like this.  These people are able to not only give you insight into how things really work in their fields; they are also able to shape the readings and coursework to give you the tools to enter that field.  They also tend to be a great networking resource.

The last advantage, as I mentioned on my earlier post about the World Cup, is the student body.  For me, studying international affairs with students from over 100 countries was a huge draw.  No other school can come close to SIPA’s diversity.  Being able to hear from classmates that have direct experience in the places we are studying adds a valuable element.

The student body is also really, really interesting.  Everybody I knew at SIPA had done something cool before graduate school, and all had (and still have) impressive goals.  After only two years I consider some of my SIPA classmates to be some of my best friends, and I am sure we’ll stay in touch for many years.