Author Archive for Samantha Taylor

The Seeple’s Guide to University Apartment Housing

Alright, so you’ve got accepted to SIPA and you’re moving to New York in August, but you need a place to live. You’ve probably already been invited to apply for Columbia Housing through the University Apartment Housing portal (UAH) (located in your Welcome Portal), and may or may not have done so. While I personally do not live in university housing, many SIPA students do. I recommend you give it a shot as it’s a reliable and easy way to obtain housing while living in NYC compared to the trials and tribulations of doing an off-campus housing search (future blog post to come). Here are a few things to keep in mind if university housing is for you:

1. Location: Most SIPA students want to live near campus because it makes for an easy commute. UAH has capitalized on this and 90% of its apartment buildings are located around the Morningside campus (yay for walking to school!).  However, there are a few buildings located farther away that the University provides a shuttle to (Check out the Arbor in the Bronx).

2. Take a Chance: Columbia Housing is a lottery, and there is no guarantee that you will get a placement.  I recommend all incoming students that want to apply for university housing because UAH is a trusted landlord, and it’s the path of least resistance when it comes to apartment hunting in NYC.

3. How it Works: When applying I recommend looking at the UAH website here for important deadlines and instructions on the application process.  Incoming students will create an account through the Housing Portal. This requires you to have a Sign-Up Code which you can obtain for the SIPA Housing Liaison. Once you have gained entrance to the Housing portal, you will be asked a series of questions about your living preferences and will complete the housing application. Once you have submitted your housing application, you will be notified over the summer of your housing decision. If you are not selected for housing, I recommend joining the waitlist just in case.  This opens up in early August. If you receive housing I recommend you check out the UAH website for more information on signing the lease and moving in as well as payment options for rent.

4. Costs: UAH gives students a breakdown of average rents for their housing options here on their website. While this is the easiest option for incoming SIPA students to take, it is not always the cheapest option. Additionally, UAH offers both furnished and unfurnished apartments. So, if you find yourself in an unfurnished apartment it is important to factor in the cost of buying furniture.

I hope these tips were helpful in gauging what to expect when applying for UAH. The main take away is that while there is no guarantee you will get university housing, you should still apply because hey, what do you have to lose?

The Waiting Game

The people who all knowingly state patience is a virtue must have never felt the acute anxiety that accompanies waiting for graduate school application decisions. They must have never have known the paranoia that comes with the obsessive refreshing of your inbox in hopes (or deep fear) of seeing that subject line: There has Been an Update to Your Application Status. I remember this feeling vividly when I was applying to graduate school, and the anxiety consumed me so much that I actually had to turn off my email notifications because I found myself checking it even when I had not received a notification, just in case one “slipped” through.

Playing the waiting game is stressful, especially when your future hangs in the balance. But as you wait, remember, you’ve done all you could do. You put your best foot forward on your application, in your test scores, in your letters of reference, in your personal essays where you talked about that life changing study abroad experience. Having come out the other side of this dark tunnel, I wish I could have managed the anxiety better.

While nothing alleviated the nerves entirely, I did try and preoccupy my time with two simple distractions. First, I made sure I occupied my time with activities. Either with taking on more projects at work, sort of the more occupied my mind is the less I have time to worry about the decisions. Or hanging out with my friends, because when I was out having fun I wasn’t thinking about checking my email. It also helped that I have some pretty great friends and former coworkers who were my support group and “knew” that I was going to be ok no matter what the decisions ended up being.

Second, I took what I call the “Ignorance is Bliss” approach, and tried to be proactive by pretending I got in to all the schools I applied to. This led me on a quest to get as much information about the institutions I hoped to attend. I did a lot of online research, but I also tried to set up as many chats as I could with alumni and students and visit classes. This was easier for some than others, based on the fact I had applied to several schools abroad. However, meeting or talking to people from the schools is a great way to learn more about the programs while also getting a feel for the type of people these institutions attract. I found it really helpful, and depending on the person and their personalities, they either made me excited about the result I might receive ( in one case made me rethink my decision to apply in the first place!).

It seems when we as applicants finish applying and are waiting for the results, we have this fear that if we don’t get in to our dream schools our futures will be drastically altered by some sort of cosmic shift, however, that is simply not the case. I know this because I received rejections from really great schools, schools I wanted to go to. But I also got into to schools I never thought I would get into. For example: Columbia SIPA.

We as individuals put so much pressure on ourselves that the fear of not succeeding can consume us while we wait. If we don’t get in, we want to know why. Why was I not qualified enough?  Even I am guilty of this — after all I’m only human. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking to alumni from various graduate schools, it’s that there is no secret sauce for how to get in to specific schools. Every school has their own criteria, and honestly, that could vary from applicant to applicant. This knowledge made me realize I did all I could do. I created the best application I could muster, hit submit, and prayed that luck was on my side.

Of course, rejection of any kind can sting a bit. However, if there’s one thing I learned from the graduate school application process it’s que sera, sera — what will be will be. It sounds cliché, but I really do think applicants need to remember that life will go on after decisions are rendered. You may find yourselves in a place where you are accepted to all the schools you’ve applied to and you now have to choose between too many options. Pre-decision anxiety is real, but post-decision anxiety is a far greater beast.

My final piece of advice for those applicants currently in the thick of decision season is: No matter what happens this application cycle, you will be okay. You cannot make a wrong choice. You will end up where you are meant to be, and soon this will be a distant memory.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: MPA/MIA v. JD

This piece was co-authored by Julia Chung, my fellow program assistant at the Admissions Office.

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Image result for shrug emojiMadeleine Albright

For those of you who don’t know the International Affairs Building, where SIPA is housed, is directly attached to Columbia Law School. It is a very subtle reminder of the decision we, Julia and Samantha, made two years ago before they started graduate school. Julia, studied for the LSAT for a year after graduating undergrad, fully anticipating a career in law. Samantha, worked as a legal assistant for three years at a law firm in Washington, D.C., and similarly thought law was in her future.

Today, both Julia and Samantha are SIPA second-year MPA and MIA students respectively, and both made the crucial decision to pick graduate school over law school. We recently had a conversation about the decision to go with public policy instead of a legal degree:

Why did you want to go to law school in the first place?

Julia: In undergrad I thought that if I wanted to do public service and civil rights, the path was a law degree. I thought that to make the change I wanted to see in the world, I needed to do it through litigation. With this limited perspective on career paths, I studied for the LSAT in my senior year in undergrad and the year after graduating. (As a side note, my family told me that because I was good at arguing, I should be a lawyer. Don’t think that was sound career advice though!)

Samantha: I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to work in policy, and had met a lot of people in the industry, who happenstance all had law degrees. I thought that was the way it worked. After I graduated undergrad, I took a job with a law firm in Washington D.C. in order to gain experience in the field. It was sort of a test run, which I recommend everyone interested in law do before deciding on whether to go or not. It was long hours, a lot of work, but I loved it. Despite the intensity at times, the experience really made me think the life was for me, but I still was not 100% sold. I wanted to do policy, and I had yet to work with someone that was doing work in that realm.

What changed?

Julia: After taking the LSAT, I spoke to a Vassar alum who was a lawyer and he said: Only go to law school if you actually want to practice law or if you have $150k to spare. He said that I seemed to have passions other than law and I should pursue those first. Taking that advice and knowing that my heart was in civil rights, I started working at a community-based organization in Flushing, Queens, doing civic engagement work. After two years of working with many lawyers, I decided that the great work they did was not for me. I realized that law wasn’t my tool to make the changes in the world I wanted to see. I didn’t want to be worrying about legal precedence or writing briefs. I wanted to be more on-the-ground and not limited to finding solutions through law.

Samantha: A coworker was talking to me about how he was going to graduate school for a degree in international affairs, and this really piqued my interest. I started researching graduate institutions around the world, to see what kinds of programs were out there for international affairs and security policy. That’s when I came across a couple of schools whose programs really spoke to me. I ended up speaking to one of the partners I worked for about my career trajectory, and he told me not to go to law school unless I was 100% sure it was for me. He also said that we no longer live in the days where you need a law degree to inform policy. Since I was not 100% sure of whether law school was for me, despite my experience, I chose to apply to graduate school.

Why did you choose Columbia SIPA?

Julia: I looked at graduate school to switch career paths. I wanted to shift from community organizing to something else, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what “something else” was when I applied to graduate school. I came to SIPA because it is a full-time program that is academically rigorous with a strong student community, and has a strong Urban and Social Policy program with practitioners teaching courses. I sat in on Mark Steitz’s “Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy” and knew instantaneously that SIPA was right for me. I knew that SIPA would teach me the hard skills I needed to take the next step in my career.

Samantha: I chose SIPA because I felt the MIA program and the International Security Concentration would provide me with both the theoretical and practical foundation I needed to pursue my future career goals. I also liked the fact that SIPA’s cohorts are very diverse, and that I would be studying with students from all around the world. I felt very welcomed at SIPA when I came to visit during the application process.  I think I had some preconceived notions of what SIPA and Columbia University in general were going to be like; however, everyone was very welcoming and I just had a feeling that I was in the right place.

How will an MPA/MIA degree work towards your future?

Julia: I came to SIPA knowing that I needed more hard skills – policy analysis, data analysis, memo writing, program evaluation, etc. SIPA provided those hard skills and the opportunity to explore different policy areas. I came to SIPA only interested in civil rights, but will be leaving in May with knowledge on urban sustainability, design thinking in the public sector, and technology used in international crisis response. I think my MPA degree prepares me to think critically on today’s most pressing issues, but also gives me tools and the network to be able to address them. I also think that with a MPA degree, I have more flexibility to create the career path I want than I would have if I went to law school.

Samantha: I believe the MIA will help me in my future endeavors because it helped me develop both hard and soft skills which can be applied to the jobs I am seeking in the foreign policy and international security fields. In law school I would not have been required to take a quantitative analysis course, or a cyber-security course, and I think these courses have really helped inform the way in which I evaluate the world around me. While law school would be useful in terms of understanding legality and jurisdiction for policy, I believe the MIA program has given me the opportunity to think critically about current international security policy issues, in order to better understand the nuances the make them complex and challenging to resolve.   

Do you have any regrets about your graduate school decision?

Julia: None – I’m excited to graduate and put all that I’ve learned to test!

Samantha:  I have no regrets about choosing to get my MIA at SIPA.  Every now and then I do think about law school and reflect back on when I made the decision to not pursue a JD. I remember where I was in life, and what career goals I had at the time that made me think I was not 100% ready to get my JD. If you asked me today if I think law school is in my future, I would say “yes.” But if you asked me if I could go back in time and remake the choice between and MIA and JD again, would I choose differently? I would say “no.” This has been a life-changing experience for me, and I would not change a thing.

Look, if you are a prospective applicant of SIPA and you still can’t make a choice, feel free to call or drop by the Admissions office and talk to a current student or Admissions Officer.

And don’t worry, if you decide that you want both an MPA/MIA and a JD, you can also apply for a SIPA/Law School dual degree. For more information, you can take a look at the website here.

ISP, Will You Be Mine?

In honor of Galentine’s Day and as an International Security Policy (ISP) concentrator, I thought I would write a blog post that not only gives incoming students interested in ISP a glimpse in to the concentration, but also provides some perspective on being a woman in a field that is often thought of as a patriarchal space. To do this, I enlisted the help of Ana Guerrero, Brit Felsen-Parsons and Caitlin Strawder, three current ISP concentrator SIPA students to discuss the topic and give advice. But before I dive in, let me introduce you to these ISP women.

Ana Guerrero MIA’19 is a second year, MIA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Ana completed her undergraduate degree at Middlebury College with a Bachelors in Spanish and Italian literature, and a minor in Portuguese. Prior to SIPA, she worked for an Italian petroleum company where got to explore her interest in geopolitics.  Ana is interested in Middle East conflicts, and during her time at SIPA, she interned for the Global Security department at NBC Universal, and is currently a Terrorism Analyst where she is learning the hard skills necessary to supplement her Theoretical education.

Brit Felsen-Parsons MPA ’20 is a first year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution.  Before SIPA, Brit served for two years as a shooting instructor to the infantry and commander in the Shooting School of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Brit then went on to complete her Bachelor’s degree at the College at Columbia University, double-majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.  She also held research assistantships at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, the Columbia University Political Science Department, and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  While at SIPA, Brit supplements her studies as a research assistant at the Saltz man Institute of War and Peace Studies at SIPA.

Caitlin Strawder MPA ’19 is a second year, MPA, ISP concentrator, specializing in International Conflict Resolution. Caitlin completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University where she earned a B.A. in Political Science.  Upon graduation in 2013, she received two consecutive Fulbright English Teaching grants to serve in Colombia and while teaching she studied romantic languages, economic development, the then-present negotiations with the FARC, and conducted research on indigenous rights in Silvia, Cauca.  While at SIPA, Caitlin interned on the Colombia Desk at the State Department 2018, and maintains a position as a conflict resolution practitioner and operations analyst at New York Peace Institute.

Now that you know a bit about these ladies, let’s jump in:

Why did you choose to apply to SIPA, and specifically the International Security Policy concentration?

Brit: I fell in love with SIPA, and specifically with ISP, when I took the infamous ISP core class – Professor Richard Betts’ “War, Peace and Strategy” (WPS) – as a sophomore in college.  Since I did my BA at Columbia as well, I had the opportunity to explore SIPA, and I found myself most drawn to ISP courses and events.  In my first year of undergrad I was still torn between studying political science and neuroscience, but with that first ISP course I was hooked. A few courses later, I had decided that for me it was SIPA or bust, so I applied to the MPA program. It’s been three years since WPS, and I can honestly say I keep loving SIPA – and ISP – more and more.

Caitlin: I applied to SIPA blindly following the Top Ten online rankings for international affairs degrees (like so many of my peers) and was delighted to get in. Joking aside, I had been living in New York for a few years and wanted to start the MPA adventure without sacrificing the family I found, my job, my apartment, or saying goodbye to the greatest city in the world. I was originally attracted to the program because of the International Conflict Resolution specialization, and I saw the ISP concentration as an ideal complement. I also thought it was important to study ISP particularly because I knew so little about it, while cognizant of its importance.

What are some misconceptions you have faced about the ISP concentration, in general, and as a woman in the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: Students not in ISP think everyone in the concentration is either active or former military and male. They are very surprised I am neither of those, which always proves interesting.

Brit: I think some students might have the impression that ISP is very militaristic and masculine, and to a degree I can understand why. It’s true that many of SIPA’s military veterans (though certainly not all!) are studying ISP.  Additionally, I know a lot of women studying ISP, and we make a unique, significant, and highly valued contribution to our classes and to the ISP community.  I recognize that I might feel more at home in ISP because I’m a military veteran, but I think the non-vets in ISP have no trouble holding their own in the classroom or in conversation, because we all recognize that we bring different experiences and skills to the table. Although I may be biased, I think ISP is one of the most familial and welcoming concentrations at SIPA, in part because it is influenced by the military culture of camaraderie and toughing it out together.

Have there been any challenging aspects to being a woman going into the ISP field?  If so how did/do you address them?

Caitlin: In terms of diversity, so much of getting the opportunity to work in some environments is the compromise of waiting until you have experience and standing before being able to authoritatively question assumptions of gender and roles in the workplace. 

Ana: I think traditionally the ISP field has been seen as a “boy’s club”. To combat this, I am trying to learn as much as I can, both in classes and in internships, in order to compete. Additionally, I believe it’s important to foster a strong female network within ISP in order to help each other succeed in the field. For me it’s a double whammy: I knew being a first-generation woman of color in a traditionally white male field would be tough. But I also knew that would be the case regardless of the field.

What do you recommend those students who are interested in International Security Policy consider before they attend SIPA?

Brit: I would recommend that students sit in on a few lectures or events if they can, and that they talk to current SIPA students to get an impression of the culture, the workload, and the opportunities here. Columbia University has a distinct culture, and SIPA has a culture-within-a-culture all its own, which you can only get a sense of by talking to people who are part of it. Also, reading course descriptions probably won’t be as informative as hearing a lecture or two, in terms of getting a feel for SIPA classes. For those for whom that’s not possible, I would recommend reading up on SIPA’s faculty and centers/institutes (Saltzman, Harriman, the Middle East Institute, etc.) to get a sense of the kind of research being done in-house.

Ana: Think about what you want to do after graduation and where you want to work—and work backwards from there. If you’re thinking of working for the government with some level of clearance you should start looking at those applications (if they’re available) even before you arrive on campus for orientation. Also look into fellowships for federal service and keep an eye on those deadlines!  Additionally, knowing where you want to end up will help you plan your course list so you get the most out of your precious two years at SIPA.

Are there any words of wisdom you have for women looking to go into the ISP field, and/or pursue the ISP concentration at SIPA?

Ana: As with anything we set out to accomplish — once you set out to achieve your goals, don’t take no BS!

Caitlin: Constantly look for networking events, career panels, and mentorship match-ups so that you have a chance to connect with different practitioners.  Especially for women—give prospective employers a preview that the nature of the field is changing and they should anticipate a high number of specialists in technology, geopolitical conflict, and analysis who happen to be women.

Brit: First and foremost, don’t be intimidated by security studies or by ISP. It’s not all machismo all the time, or all military lingo all the time. Some of my closest friends (and the best people I know) at SIPA study ISP, and the concentration draws a diverse crowd from all walks of life. I’ll be honest: the workload can be heavy. The readings can be loooooong and dense. But if you are passionate about security studies, and about studying them in an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan setting, then the ISP concentration at SIPA is the place for you. And if you are a woman interested in security studies, then I highly encourage you to apply. ISP is a pretty close-knit and supportive community here at SIPA, and it’s a great place to challenge yourself academically in order to best prepare yourself professionally. I love it, and I hope you will too!

I want to give a big thanks to Ana, Brit and Caitlin for their advice, and I hope you found it useful. I’d like to leave you with one final thought:  ISPer’s at SIPA are diverse in nationality, experience, and gender; and while the ratio is not 100% perfect, it is evening out.

Madeleine Albright, a SIPA alum, once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” I think this sentiment rings true for many of the women I know in the ISP concentration who continue to move the needle on women’s roles in ISP, and who are not deterred by the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the field.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and Happy Galentine’s Day!

Parks And Rec GIF by NBC

"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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