Author Archive for Rena Sung

Advice for surviving your first NYC winter

I came to the U.S. for college and spent four years in Providence, Rhode Island. I vividly remember the winter in Providence; it snowed till April and we got a lot of snow during the winter, so I had my share of snowball fights and made more than enough snowmen with my friends every winter. Although winter is my favorite season, it was way too cold there. Before I came to Columbia University for my master’s degree, I thought New York would be better in terms of the weather. I was wrong. Last January, we got heavy snow. In order to help you better prepared for winter, here is a list of items that I think would be good to have for winter in NY.

  • Decent boots that will remain watertight, even when you step into an unexpectedly deep puddle. I did not bring my UGG boots from home and I forgot to buy a pair. So I had to wear snickers when it snowed a lot last year. Needless to say, I slipped and my feet got wet. I would recommend you prepare for good-quality boots in advance.
  • Warm winter clothing items: thick socks, gloves, and a warm, properly padded hat; preferably one that covers your ears. They are all useful to walk to campus or go to downtown to have fun. Your fingers and toes get cold fast so make sure you have them. I seriously thought my fingers were going to fall off when I was walking to campus because I forgot my gloves in my room. I hope you don’t get to that level of coldness.
  • An electric blanket. I found this one especially helpful to keep me warm. My room frequently gets cold, and I seriously need something to stay warm. Luckily, my friend gave me her electric blanket when she left New York. It has been a lifesaver. I feel happiest when I go to bed with this warm blanket.
  • Hand-warming packs.  These small packs use chemicals to create a continuous heat for several hours. I think it is a bit like having small hot water bottles in my pockets. Although I do have gloves, they are not enough.
  • A travel mug for hot chocolate or hot tea. Another way to make sure you can still stay warm and go to class is to take a travel mug with coffee or tea with you in the morning. Sipping on some hot coffee or tea in the morning with my gloves on while walking to class turns out to be a great way to start a day!
[Photo courtesy of Mobeen Bhatti]

 

How to plan for your recommendation letters

The letters of recommendation from the right people address your potential and strengthen your application, thus boosting your chance of getting into good programs. However, the process of getting the good letters could be also stressful. So here are some tips I would love to share for recommendation letters.

1. Select people who know you the best and truly wish you success
SIPA prefers that your three references be a mix of academic and professional contacts. You should select people who know you and your work well enough to comment on it and will speak highly of you. It is recommended that when getting a reference from a job, choose someone who was in a position of authority over you and who viewed your work firsthand.

2. Be strategic if you are away from school for a long time or you don’t have professional experience
For me, I worked for about five years before coming to SIPA. So I thought it is better for me to get all the three letters from my professional contacts. Thus, I got two letters from my supervisors in two companies which I worked for, and one from a director in a media company where I volunteered for a long time after college. I thought this was the best possible combination that I could have at that time, rather than reaching out to my undergraduate professors. If you don’t have professional experience but have relevant internship experience, it may be a good idea to ask for a letter from your supervisor in an organization where you did an internship. Keep in mind the Admissions Office recommends anyone out of school less than three years (possibly five) obtain at least one academic reference.

3. Provide your recommenders as much information as possible
The best letters don’t come for free. You should do your best to ensure you have the best possible letters by providing your recommenders with as much information as you can. If it’s your professor, send along a current resume and a piece of writing or assignment that you did in the professor’s class. For both academic and professional contacts, I recommend you include a draft of your personal statement, so that they will know what you are planning for your future career.  You should also provide a description of SIPA so that they get a better sense of what kind of degree you’re pursuing. I would also recommend you encourage them to reference SIPA and your degree program by name to give the letter another level of specificity for the admissions committee.

4. Ask them early and keep good manners throughout the process
Most recommenders are busy people so ask them early to give them enough time to write a letter. Some people might argue that no matter how early you ask, they will start writing nearly toward the deadlines. Even though it is true, it is better to inform them that you need a letter beforehand. Keep in mind that it is also different from asking a letter five days before the deadline versus one month before the deadline. In addition, it is a good idea to send a thank you note after the recommender has written the letter. When you are informed of the admissions decision, don’t forget to send another batch of thank you notes, regardless of whether you get into the programs or not. You may need them again!

It is true that you will never be able to have a complete control over the content of your recommendation letters.  But by carefully selecting your recommenders, and making effort to inform them about your background and plans, you will ensure supportive letters that will meet the needs of your application.

[Photo courtesy of Rena Sung | After I got accepted, I flew to Singapore where he is based on to say thank you. The photo was taken at a restaurant with my recommender and another supervisor.]

A look at the MIA curriculum

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the difference between MPA and MIA programs. In my view, the two programs are not distinct especially when we take into account curriculum offered in two programs. However, I would like to point out some differences between the two programs.

The main core class
MIA students are required to take Conceptual Foundations whereas MPA students are required to Politics of Policymaking. For Conceptual Foundations, students get to study foundational theories of International Relations; we get to be immersed in realism, liberalism and constructivism in the beginning. Every week, prominent scholars such as Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Michael Doyle and Joseph Stiglitz come to give a talk on the specific theory in the current world affairs context. For the Politics of Policymaking class, students get a sense of how to write policy memos on current affairs and how to think and analyze from a policy-maker’s perspective.

Language Requirements for the MIA
MIA students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a second language. If your native language is not English, you can use your mother tongue as a second language. Or if you plan to learn language at Columbia, you can do it. However, only the intermediate language classes count toward required SIPA credits. The basic level language classes are not credited toward program requirements. For more information on this requirement, view former PA Allison Walker’s post, Everything you wanted to know about SIPA’s language proficiency requirement.

Here are some sample classes for a MIA student who majors in International and Financial and Economic Policy and specializes in Advanced Policy. As some students want to hone quantitative skills, they take advantage of being at Columbia by taking quant-intensive classes across statistics and math departments.

First semester
Microeconomic Analysis
International Political Economy
The US Role in the Foreign Affairs I
Cost-Benefit Analysis
Professional Development

Second semester
Macroeconomic Analysis
The US Role in the Foreign Affairs II
Analysis of Political Data
Quantitative Analysis I
Probability

Third semester
Conceptual Foundation
Introduction to Modern Analysis I
Analysis of Public Organization
Advanced Economic Development
Research Internship

Fourth Semester (Plan)
International Financial Theory
Financial Accounting
Capstone Project
International Capital Market
Chinese (intermediate level)

Finally, some prospective students ask whether or not they can switch the program once they are admitted. The answer is yes. It is possible to switch the program but make sure that if you switch, you might end up taking two core classes. So if you are not sure about your program, I advise you to postpone taking the core class to your second year. Also keep in  mind there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to switch because you were admitted to the program under a particular concentration/specialization.

"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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