Author Archive for George-Ann Ryan

Tackling Work, Ambitions, and SIPA: How I managed to plan a two conferences in two years at SIPA without going insane

In October 2018, I became a founding member of The Sadie Collective, an organization which aims to help solve the pipeline to pathway problem surrounding the severe under representation of Black women in the economics profession. Presently, just 2% of bachelors degrees in economics are offered to Black women. At the PhD level, the proportion less than 0.5 %  and dropping despite advances in STEM subjects overall according to a recent report by the American Economics Association’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession.

This is problematic for many reasons. It not only perpetuates the myth that women and minorities are incapable of tackling the quantitative social sciences but stifles the voices of necessary perspectives in a field that commands so much influence in our day to day lives. Working at the intersection of economics and public policy opens doors to the rooms that influence policy which so often negatively influences women and people of color. From public health concerns such as the availability of birth control to choices surrounding who our economy works for and how to support them. The homogeneity in the economics profession doesn’t only hurt underrepresented groups, but the economy at large when it fails to benefit from the variety of experiences and expertise that diverse researchers and policy makers bring. So with that problem in mind, the Collective works to empower, support, and inform Black women in economics and related fields such as finance, data science, political science, and public policy.

Last year, one month into my studies at SIPA, I joined the organization and began planning for the first conference which took place in February 2019. Mentioned by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, NPR’s Planet Money, and Forbes Magazine the event surpassed our expectations of public interest and also cemented the potential of our organization to thrive. However, as Chief Financial Officer, I had to manage fundraising and bookkeeping and keeping spending in check between operations and other department’s concerns. I also had to prepare to write a financial report toward the end… all during midterms, finals, problem sets and the like. This year, our conference was double the size, hosted by Urban Institute, three days long, and had much more support form established grant-making organizations (making the need for attention to detail in financial management even important for grant report purposes). We also had some hard hitting guest speakers such as Sarah Rosen Wartell, the President of Urban Institute, and Janet Yellen, the former and first female Chair of the Federal Reserve, economist at The Brookings Institution, and President of the American Economics Association.

Planning these events and co-running the organization as a whole with the co-founders and CEO and COO (Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman and Fanta Traore) and the rest of the team would take up five hours of my week on a slow time but 10-18 ( and maybe even more during the height of conference planning season) on average throughout the year. Plus I had school responsibilities from taking many quantitatively demanding courses, acting as the Committee Coordinator of RISE: Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity and Economics (a campus group) for the 2019-2020 academic year, my Program Assistant post at Admissions ( which is why I’m writing this…. Hi!!), my former post  as a member of the Faculty and Curricular Subcommittee of the Diversity Committee, my EPD Workshop Capstone…THE LIST GOES ON.

It is not easy to do it and I gave up on a lot of opportunities to party with my cohort in favor and balancing self-care and my responsibilities. However, it is not impossible. I’ve learned first hand that, with discipline, you can manage anything that is thrown at you. Your obligations may not be entrepreneurial. You may want to manage a job to earn some more money while at SIPA to lessen the cost of going to grad school, volunteer, create a student group on campus, or any thing that may take time away from your academic obligations. However, the premise is the same. You need to:

  1. Think about how you use your time wisely, make a plan, and stick to it. Use google calendar, make to-do lists, and ensure you do everything you can to hold yourself accountable.
  2. Prioritize! You can do everything but not at the same time. I chose to prioritize these curricular, extra-curricular, and professional obligations and my own self-care. Did I go to the gym as often as I wanted to? No. But I when I could I went and tried to make it count. I also appreciated time being present with friends more because I knew that I was registering a opportunity cost for more “productive time” that I wanted to ensure the time was worth it. I can always spend my post-graduation time crushing it at the gym but the personal and professional relationships I want to foster can expire. That was my mental math, but you do yours.
  3. Speak up! Most professors are really understanding. If you are submerged with professional work and need a few extra days for a paper or problem set, speak up and respectfully explain your situation. Most times, professors are human and understand because they’ve been there before.
  4. Maintain yourself. Running on empty isn’t cute. Ensure that even at your high season of work, you have a light at the end of the tunnel where  you can turn off, decompress, and practice self care.
  5. Say no! I said no to a lot of things and even though I felt a twinge of FOMO when all was said and done, in the end, I knew it was what I needed and that my full, present, self would be in attendance if I had gone.

At the end of the day, the stressed and haggard moments are just grad school anyway, so you might as well make them work for you. Being a part of The Sadie Collective and many other organizations and posts have, at the end of the day, only provided me with more enrichment that will take me into my post-graduate school life with more confidence to work, mentor, and transform the world around me.

Top Five Classes At SIPA: A List From a Second Year EPD Student

Note from Admissions: Class visits are currently open! Register soon as spots fill up quickly.


So, after being at SIPA for near the marketed maximum of four semesters, I have a few thoughts about classes. This isn’t the usual, obvious offering of advise such as “don’t take an 8:30am on a Monday” because chances are, in grad school, most of us have been there and done that. No, in this essay I will outline my top five classes ( and some honorable mentions ). This is also helpful for prospective students with a keen interest in the EPD program who are on the look our for cool classes to sit in on for class visits!

** For context, my course load is, as expected, very influenced by the fact that my concentration is Economics and Political Development and my specialization was Advanced Economic and Political Analysis but became Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis in my second year. Therefore, I can’t say much in the way of courses that interest concentrations in human rights, energy, international security policy, et cetera. So, with no further blabbing, let’s get to the meat or vegetarian alternative, here’s my top five:

  1. Global Inequality with Suresh Naidu: For those interested in economic inequality and understanding it both on the level of economic theory and on a practical level of policy levers to counteract it, this class offers not only a comprehensive history of inequality, its origins, and policy solutions for it but why we should care. It covers everything from Kuznets curves to slavery’s impact on cross-country inequality. There is also space for practical applications with problem sets that lean on skills learned in quantitative analysis courses at SIPA and response papers to the readings.  Professor Naidu’s class is very conversational with very informative power points and interesting readings. This is a great class to test your aptitude for further economics study beyond the required Micro and Macro offerings at SIPA.
  2. Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy with Rodrigo Soares: Professor Soares is an economist and noted expert in impact evaluations, especially in health policy, crime and violence, labor economics, and more with much of his work centering around his home country of Brazil. His class, Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy is a considered a level three quant class so prepared to use STATA intently! In this course we learn basically the same thing as many other quantitative analysis courses at this level at SIPA – the principles of regression discontinuity, IV, etc. and how and  when to use these different quasi-experimental methods with observational data – but, each is unique due to each professor’s policy focus area and interest so it doesn’t hurt to take two. This course both prepares you to understand and implement these statistical methods in an impact evaluation context. This is possible one of the least theoretical quant courses as SIPA as its assignments, particularly the final paper — a policy evaluation project — mimic the prompts, instructions, and work expected if we were working as quantitative research staff at a think tank or NGO for a randomized-control trial, for example. It will also help you distinguish a bad study or evaluation from a good one and be able to critique evidence when it is given to you — a good skill for future policy makers.
  3. The Transatlantic Economy with Seamus O’Cleireacain: Seamus is a G. A trade economist by training, he excels at explaining economic theory and quantitative concepts in a class that is truly multi-disciplinary attracting students with no economics background at all and students like me who live and breathe the stuff and still keep us both entertained. With fair exams and a pretty comprehensive final paper, Seamus’ Transatlantic Economy course covers international relations, economic growth theory, trade negotiations, and macroeconomics through the lends of comparing the EU and United States positions and attributes. Taking this course during the Brexit era was doubly intriguing as Professor O’Cleireacain started each class with an overview of the updates to the negotiations and politics that occurred the preceding week and managed to always bring it back to the class subject at hand with humor and ease. Class participation was expected and, often times, helped us to digest the material better as they pulled on all our strengths from economic research papers to international relations or political science papers. This class, however, was more on the theoretical end, but it was really engaging and definitely a good way to spend a Thursday evening.
  4.  Economic Development for International Affairs with Miguel Urquiola: This class or its counterpart Economic Development for International Affairs, is compulsory. However, that doesn’t mean it is a dreary mandatory class that everyone suffered through. I enjoyed it thoroughly as an addendum to macro, which I happened to be taking at the same time. This course is a mix of basic quantitative analysis ( which you normally take in either your first or second semester in Quant Level I), open economy macroeconomics ( especially with regards to taking a deep dive in growth theory), development economics, health and education, and poverty studies. There are quantitative and qualitative problem sets you do in groups to share the load and interesting readings which assist you in comprehending the lectures. There are a few STATA-based problem sets at the beginning, which is why taking quant to learn or refresh your coding skills is a prerequisite, but it’s not too hard once you attended the lab sessions and did the practice problems with the teaching assistant.
  5. Private Sector Development Strategies for Developing and Transition Countries with Stephan Hadley: I am only a few weeks in but I can already tell that this class will be one of the most useful non-quant courses I’ll take at SIPA. This course looks at the evolution of private sectors in developing and transitional economies and the current economic, managerial, and political issues that they pose from macroeconomics, FDI, financial sector development, conflict, corruption and more. It’s a few weeks in so I can’t say too much about examinations and workload but the readings are really interesting so far and the professor has been nothing but courteous and understanding.

Honorable Mentions!

These are classes that I hear my fellow Seeples rave about but haven’t gotten the chance to sample: Race Policy & American Politics with Christina M Greer, Theory of International Political Economy with Markus Jaeger, Gender, Globalization, and Human Rights with Yasmin Ergas, and Data Science and Public Policy with Tamar Mitts ( or anything with Tamar Mitts for that matter).

So there you have it! The courses I’ve taken and loved and the ones who got away. For more courses that are non-econ and quant (can’t blame you) check out fellow PA Stuart and his over view of the ISP concentration.

A Sonnet Composed Upon Ancel Plaza Bridge, 05 February, 2020

As a graduating student, who won’t feel like it until my capstone is complete, this Valentine’s day, I’d like to write an ode to SIPA and the experience it has given me over my two years here. From the 8pm-10pm review sessions for Macro ( and the professors willing to give up their precious time to teach them), finding solace in the cafes on campus, and mingling with your amazingly international cohort while you wait approximately 20 years by the elevators. In a sonnet that would surely earn the blessing of my high school teacher: SIPA I bid you my valentine.

 

A Sonnet Composed Upon Ancel Plaza Bridge, 05 February, 2020

By George-Ann Wordsworth

 

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would be the soul who could pass by, 

A sight so lovely in its majesty,

A Nous Cafe empty, like desert, wear

The taste of matcha; and rice bowls,

The lifts, the flags, the students show all nationalities.

Open minds would have never thought to meet;

Our drive to change the world is deep.

Never did we more beautifully sleep, 

After the micro or macro exams;

Ne’ver saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The line at Publique glideth at its own sweet will:

Dear God! I need my coffee by 2:10!

Despite your lifts, my heart loves you still!

The SIPA Workshop: Travel and Preparation for Two Weeks of Field Research

Over the first two weeks of January, right after the Christmas and New Year holidays, I traveled to Bangladesh to participate in field research pertaining to my SIPA EPD Workshop, the second year practicum that allows students in the Economic and Political Development concentration at SIPA to have a practical application of what they’ve studied so far. Projects can run the gamut between impact analysis, communications, quantitative research prompts, and strategy papers. My project was assisting an international NGO called Orbis International in evaluating their assessment framework for the organizations they partner with. Orbis International is an international health organization dedicated to eliminating avoidable blindness in the developing world through partnerships that build the capacity of local healthcare providers and training and services delivered wither through telemedicine or their Flying Eye Hospital — a retrofitted jetliner that is a state of the art flying eye hospital complete with waiting rooms, surgical theaters, and classrooms.

In the run-up to my travel on January 3rd, I had, alongside with my group, created a work plan draft or two to solidify our scope of work, presented our workplan to our professor and peers for feedback, presented it to our client, and negotiated our scope of work with them. This process allowed us to solidify what exactly we were meant to do in the project and gave us a workplan for how we’d like to approach our field trip to get the most relevant information needed for our trip. It was not all easy, though, is a group of seven, finding consensus in a workplan that would allow each of us to be able to tackle a part of the project we were interested in and find the roles in the project that allowed us to best show our strengths.

On January 3rd, I set off on my 9:45 for nearly a full day of flights that would result in me reaching Dhaka Bangladesh around 5:00 pm local time. For this trip, I was accompanied by my workshop teammate Yina who flew to Bangladesh from her home country of South Korea. After a night of rest and acclimating to the timezone, we were up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our work with the Orbis Bangladesh team which commenced with breakfast and orientation on Orbis Bangladesh’s work and facts relevant to our project.

On January 4th and 5th we stayed in the city of Dhaka, working at the Orbis International country office and their staff. We learned a lot about impact evaluation and partner assessment processes, on the ground development practice in the health sector, and what it takes to organize programs across dozens of institutional and implementation partners. We had overviews of all of Orbis’ NGO partners such as BRAC and Save the Children before setting off to Mymensingh, around 4 hours North of Dhaka by Bus.

We stayed at the BRAC Learning Centre in Mymensingh, a collection of dorms for students and development workers managed by BRAC, the largest NGO in the country, and from there set off to visit the Dr. K Zaman BNSB Eye Hospital in Mymensingh. This eye hospital covers the Mymensingh Division of Bangladesh and surrounding areas by providing not only vision tests and eye screenings but cataract surgery, geriatric and pediatric eye surgery, and other concerns. It is supported by multiple vision centers it runs in more rural provinces that offer less invasive services such as refraction testing. There, we met record keeping, medical, ophthalmic, administration staff who gave us not only a warm welcome, but an overview of the eye hospital’s work, the people they serve, and the challenges they face in ensuring that everyone receives the right care for their needs in the over 100km radius that they serve.

 

After our day of meetings on the 6th at the eye hospital, we took a break for lunch and had an excursion to the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) campus where we toured the student farm and all of the tropical fruits and vegetables, flowers, and trees that were bring grown. We even had a photo shoot on this beautiful bridge overlooking a gazebo filled with water lillies before hopping on a small row boat on the Brahmaputra river before returning to the BLC dorms in Mymensingh.

On the 7th of January, we set off for a one hour drive to Netrokona District in the Mymensingh Division of Bangladesh. We were going to visit the Netrokona Diabetic Hospital where Orbis International is supporting their efforts in building capacity to treat and diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy — damage to the vessels in the eye due to complications due to diabetes. There, we met with the President of the hospital, its volunteer doctors, and other staff. Yina got to sample the retinal imaging machinery and we got to learn about the hospital’s expansion efforts. We also got to speak to the government representative — project manager from the ministry of social welfare — who told us about the government’s efforts to support rural health initiative. Because of the rural nature of the area, we were given a police escort and got to snap some photos with them too. They were extremely friendly and ensured our safety throughout.

On the 8th of January we headed back to Dhaka City. The drive took over five hours due to traffic and some pretty intense fog, but we made it back in one piece. After getting back to the city, we met with officials at BRAC and SightSavers — two large NGOs who collaborate with Orbis due to their shared mission and got an idea of the challenges they faced in their work — these conversations were not only amazing networking but crucial to the success of our project.

Finally, on the 9th we got to present our findings for the trip and how they will help our project move forward. We learned so much about how to evaluate impact on the ground — especially in the field of ophthalmic care — that will be useful for our project and are excited to continue. Over the next semester, we will create a report and a tool for our client, Orbis, and pilot it over Spring Break in Ethiopia.  It is a lot of work to balance with our courses, but it is such a key, tangible, application to our academic work that it is so worth it.

“What makes an ideal SIPA student?”

One question we get asked a lot as students and as program assistants in admissions is “What is the PERFECT SIPA student?” This is normally levied by applicants who are ready to mold themselves into whatever they need to go to guarantee admission.

Although we appreciate the passion, it is a hard question to answer! SIPA’s students come with such a wide variety of experiences — from theatre to investment banking — that there is no one way to characterize what the perfect Seeple is. Below are student stories that give some contact as to how wide the gamut spreads in backgrounds, career goals, and approach. 

George-Ann:

What skills did you come to SIPA with/aim to improve here?

I came to SIPA with some experience and knowledge in Economics and Economic research but not much of a policy background. In a lot of ways I was a jack of multiple small trades but truly a Master of none.  So, SIPA is where I came to add skill sets like policy expertise and formalized,non-academic writing to my repertoire and truly become a well-rounded individual. 

How do you think you signaled your unique worth as a potential Seeple?

Was it the fact that I, being extremely international, spelled colour with a “u” and said “learnt” rather than “learned”? Was it my quantitative experience? Who really knows. For me, a large part of my application was communicating both my worth as a student, a potential member of the student and student leader community, and a valuable alumna. 

What would you tell yourself if you were applying now?

The application reviewers are people too. Explain anything you think may be a weakness in your application and they’d be more than willing to take that into account. There’s no such thing as the “perfect” SIPA student but there is such a thing as a student for whom SIPA is the perfect school for. Communicate why you think SIPA is the one for you. 

Steven:

What skills did you come to SIPA with/aim to improve here?

I came to SIPA with the aim of improving my economic analysis and quantitative skills. During my undergraduate years, I took a couple of economics classes and liked them but was always scared to do more difficult economic courses. I came to SIPA to stop dodging economics and dive head-first into it. I also came to SIPA to learn about urban/housing policy a bit.

How do you think you signaled your unique worth as a potential Seeple?

Truth be told, I’m not sure. I just told SIPA who I was and the experiences I have had. Of course, I thought they were unique because I’m the person that is living them, but I wasn’t sure since SIPA gets loads of applications and there could have been someone with a similar background/story. I also spoke on how SIPA fit into my long-term plans.

What would you tell yourself if you were applying now?

Probably the same thing I told myself back then: Just be yourself. There were times I felt that I was unsure of myself, that I didn’t fit the SIPA profile. I ignored that idea and just applied. The backgrounds of people at SIPA vary so much that you will stand out and not even realize it.

Stuart:

What skills did you come to SIPA with/aim to improve here?

I came to SIPA to build some subject matter expertise in cyber policy as well as to generally improve my quantitative analysis skills. My undergraduate and professional experiences provided a strong background in international relations and national security, as well as strong writing skills. I didn’t, however, have a strong grounding in economics and quantitative analysis, nor did I have much experience in how technology and cybersecurity impacts the private sector.

How do you think you signaled your unique worth as a potential Seeple?

As everyone else has noted, you just never know. The community is so diverse here that there can be so many ways to stand out. The key thing I focused on was ensuring that my personal statement clearly explained my professional goals and how SIPA fit into that, as well as how I could contribute not only to academic life but to the community as well. I also carefully selected recommenders that could speak to different strengths (academic and professional) to provide the admissions committee with a holistic view.

What would you tell yourself if you were applying now?

I would tell myself to find mentors and friends to review my materials and point out my strengths and weaknesses. I did this when I applied, and it was so helpful to have a sounding board. You may be inclined to be too humble, or you may forget to mention an impressive part of your background, and a friend or mentor can point that out and help you articulate the things that may not be apparent on your resume or transcript.

Nabila:

What skills did you come to SIPA with/aim to improve here?

Like Steven, I came to SIPA to build my quantitative and economic analysis skills. I came to SIPA with stronger skills in writing and communications and wanted to complement that by building out my quant skills (even though it terrifies me!), as I felt that it put me at a disadvantage in the workplace. I also wanted to learn more about policy analysis and the intersection between technology and policy. 

How do you think you signaled your unique worth as a potential Seeple?

I have no idea! Maybe it was my work experience? Maybe my letters of recommendation? Maybe what I hope to accomplish post SIPA? In reality, it’s probably a combination of those things but to be honest, I have no idea but I’m grateful to be here! I hope it was the passion that they could sense from my personal essay but again, no clue…

What would you tell yourself if you were applying now?

Be you, be yourself and be honest about what you hope to accomplish. Those were the things I told myself when I was doing the application and that hasn’t changed because graduate school is an investment of both time and money so you want to be you! I’m not sure I have the “right” SIPA profile, but looking around at my classmates, we have such diverse backgrounds and experiences that I don’t think there is such as thing as the “right” or “ideal” SIPA student. 

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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