Archive for Academics

Why I chose International Finance and Economic Policy as a Concentration

When I was looking at graduate schools initially, I knew I wanted to focus on my three interests: women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and finance. It was very important for me that I found a school that allowed me to pursue all three. The International Finance and Economic Policy concentration was ideal in that it provided me with coursework in both finance and economics.

My first year courses included macroeconomics and microeconomics, as well as corporate finance and international capital markets. All of which gave me a strong background in financial and economic policy and allowed me to apply the skills I learned in the classroom in a real world context. The International Finance and Economic Policy concentration is also ideal in that it has three separate tracks: International Finance, International Economic Policy, and Central Banking. This meant that I could tailor my coursework to focus specifically on international finance.

I chose the International Finance track because I knew that my interest in promoting women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship required that I have knowledge of accounting, corporate finance, as well as emerging financial markets. Additionally, the International Finance and Economic Policy concentration had a global focus, which allowed me to look at financial systems and economies on an international scale. This was very important to me considering that my main interest is to help women entrepreneurs and 51% of SME’s globally are owned and operated by women. Additionally, my specialization in Gender and Public Policy was a great way for me to combine my interests in both finance and gender. Much of the work that I did in my IFEP classes served me well in my gender classes, particularly in the realm of evaluating economic and financial systems through a gender lens.

Photo Source: Carol M. HighsmithPublic Domain

New Courses at SIPA: Military technology, private sector work, and social impact campaigns

SIPA is constantly expanding it’s curricula so that students are equipped with the tools they need to start solving pressing global policy issues. There’s a wide range of areas that SIPA students choose to go into, so here are some new course highlights from this semester. (No need for a TL;DR, these course highlights are just one minute long.)

Working with the Private Sector for Development Outcomes

Military Technology Assessment

The Art of Creating Social Impact Campaigns

Best apps and websites for the grad school application process

One of the most important things about applying to graduate school is staying organized. There are so many deadlines/things to remember that it becomes hard to keep track.  However, there are plenty of apps and websites that will make things easier. Below is a list of some popular apps/websites that will make your graduate school application process easier. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. 

Wunderlist: This app is great, it is very easy to input reminders and you can even create a shortcut on your laptop to create notifications with ease. It also syncs with your calendar automatically. 

Wolfram Alpha: This is essentially a very fancy visual calculator. It is able to solve problems across a variety of topics, including probability, money and finance, and statistics. This comes in very handy for the GRE. 

Trello: This is a great website for keeping track of projects with multiple tasks and assignments. Trello is a popular tool for many startups, which means it can handle a large number of tasks at the same time. 

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock: This is a great alarm clock that works naturally with your sleep cycle. It keeps track of your natural sleeping patterns and REM cycles to wake you up when you naturally would. The application process can be stressful and getting plenty of rest is important.

Youper: This mental health tracking app helps you handle stress. Although there are many apps out there that work similarly, this app stands out among the rest in that it helps you better understand your emotions in real time. Never underestimate the importance of taking care of your mental health!

Quantitative Coursework at SIPA: Yes, you will pass

I remember when I first looked at the core requirements for SIPA:
Microeconomics
Macroeconomics
Quantitative Analysis

I saw those three classes and I immediately thought “Am I cut out for this?”

For context, I attended a small liberal arts college where I majored in Government and History. During my four years of undergrad, I took one math course and one science course. My internships didn’t require much of a quantitative background, so I graduated with only a basic understanding of Excel and organizational databases. Yet, I still decided to apply. When I was admitted, my anxiety did not get better. Instead, it got worse. I kept worrying that I was going to have some sort of reverse “Eureka!” moment while sitting in Microeconomics, where I finally realized I was incapable of doing graduate level math.

Alas, that did not happen; I managed to get through Micro and Macro my first year and even received high grades in both classes!

For anyone who is worried about the Quant requirements, please do not stress. It is possible to succeed in these courses! And no, SIPA students are not all math whizzes or kids who act like they don’t get math but are secretly really good at it. I’d say a majority of newly admitted SIPA students come in with a similar background as myself.

So in terms of what you can expect, here’s a rough breakdown.

Micro/Macro:

Both entry level economics courses are mandatory for all SIPA MPA/MIA students. There are two ‘levels’ to the courses. The upper division classes are for students who are comfortable with calculus or are really willing to challenge themselves, by learning how to pick up the calculus concepts as they go. Students who either concentrate in International Finance and Economic Policy or want to take higher level economics/trade/finance courses all take the upper division micro/macro courses.

I took the lower level options for both Micro and Macro. Both classes have a fair share of math, but is is mostly arithmetic and geometry. Most of it is all conceptual and the class really is about understanding when to use the right formulas/approach to a question. Believe or not, the math becomes easier over time; the hard part, is again, knowing when to use what.

Whether you enroll in the lower or upper level courses, you will have your main two hour class, recitation, which is an extra class taught by teaching assistants, and a weekly group problem set.

Thankfully, students have access to teaching assistants who offer office hours pretty much every day of the week. These office hours last around two hours and they’re an excellent opportunity to go over concepts and to ask questions you may have on problem sets.

I was diligent about staying on top of my work, so I would go to class, recitation, and office hours every week. Add on top of that the time I spent on the homework and I probably ended up spending roughly ten or more hours a week on Micro/Macro.

However, when you are working with these ideas for hours every week, you really start to pick it up. If you put the time in, you will learn it; trust me!

Quantitative Analysis (Quant):

I am currently in Quant 1 now. Quant is essentially statistics. You have one weekly lecture, a ‘lab’ which is effectively a recitation, and a weekly problem set. The class mostly covers the formulas and theory behind Stats, while the labs tend to focus on interpreting and using STATA, a program for statistics that helps researchers organize and analyze data.

I have found Quant to be a bit harder than Micro/Macro. That being said, if you attend class, lab, office hours and work on the problem set, it’s almost impossible to walk away without feeling like you have some sort of grasp on the topic.

For the more ambitious students

In all likelihood, I won’t be taking anymore quantitative courses at SIPA after I knock out my requirements. However, I have known plenty of students that have gone on to complete the upper division courses, including some friends of mine who were equally as worried about Micro and Macro!

For students interested in learning more about Statistics, you can take Quant 2 and Quant 3, as well as other modeling and research methods courses.

For students interested in higher level economics courses, be mindful that some courses require that you take upper level Macro/Micro; this is typically because these classes use calculus and other advanced methods that are not covered in the lower level introductory courses.

However, there are plenty of upper level courses that do not have rerequisites that cover international trade, game theory, cost-benefit analysis, budgeting and financial markets.

The Point Is, Don’t Psych Yourself Out

If you are currently applying to SIPA or were recently admitted, you are capable of doing well in SIPA’s quantitative courses. These courses are a veritable rite of passage here and everyone experiences it together. By your second year, Micro/Macro will be a distant memory and you’ll joke with your peers about how stressed you all were. So to all future Seeples out there, good luck!

Why Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration is the right “fit” for Jake Sprang MIA ’19

Thanks to SIPA student Jake Sprang MIA ’19, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, for this guest post. You can read the case for the Urban and Social Policy concentration from Dylan Hoey MPA’19 here.

When I was applying to graduate school, I focused above all on finding the right “fit.” I was looking for a school and a program that merged my interests in human rights, international development and humanitarian response. When I came to Admitted Students’ Day, I had been accepted into SIPA to study Economic and Political Development, and was torn between three different universities. By the end of the day, I knew I would be going to SIPA and that I would be studying human rights and humanitarian policy.

During Admitted Students’ Day, I had the privilege of hearing from the directors of several of the concentrations. But, when I sat down in the information session with Professor Elazar Barkan and Susannah Friedman, Directors for the Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, everything clicked. Professor Barkan told the room that, when deciding which program to study, we needed to focus on what we wanted our professional identity to be. It was at that moment, I knew that being “development professional” wasn’t what I wanted. If I wanted to work in humanitarian response, I needed to study humanitarian response. That night, I switched to humanitarian policy, accepted my offer letter, and haven’t looked back. Since I made that decision, I have constantly been validated that I made the right choice for me. While there are many reasons why I’m proud to be in the HRHP concentration, there are three that stand out above the rest.

1. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy gives students a more cohesive analytical framework that other concentrations. In HRHP, we learn about approaching human rights and humanitarian response from a rights-based approach. Simply put, when we study humanitarian response, we start by focusing on ensuring and upholding the human rights and dignity of people affected by complex emergencies. We focus on the rights they are denied and how we as responders must work with them to ensure their rights as individuals and a community are protected throughout all phases of response. This approach is incredibly unique at SIPA. While many concentrations, especially Economic and Political Development and the MPA in Development Practice, focus on building practical skills, they do not provide the cohesive strategy for analyzing problems that will be faced in human rights careers. It’s like have a bunch of tools without a toolbox. On the other hand, the HRHP program gives students both: the tools to implement humanitarian response, and the toolbox: the analytical framework of a rights-based approach.

2. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy is the most flexible concentration at SIPA, allowing students to customize the program to their needs. One thing I love about the human rights and humanitarian policy concentration is the fact that I can build experience in the areas that most interest me. For example, if I want to learn about Water and Sanitation in Complex Emergencies, that class is an HRHP elective, cross-listed at the Mailman School of Public Health. Or, if I want to learn about the rights of Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement, I can take that course through the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. I can do the same with the Law School, studying Transitional Justice, or Gender Justice. And if I want to take a non-HRHP course, I have the space in my schedule, due to the flexibility offered by the program, which has less core requirements than other concentrations. HRHP gives me the opportunity to seek out the courses that interest me and develop the practical skills that I want to obtain. The program lets me choose the tools that I want in my toolbox.

3. I want my professional identity to be firmly grounded in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. At the end of the day, you need to pick the SIPA concentration that fits best for you. For me, I want to identify as someone working in the humanitarian field coming with a strong grounding in human rights. Designing humanitarian response programming is vastly different from development programming. To be a humanitarian, I realized that I needed to study humanitarian response. I’ve seen the importance of this professional identity through some of my cross-listed courses, with both development and humanitarian students. My colleagues have built an amazing set of skills for analyzing and designing international development programs. However, these skills don’t quite fit with the humanitarian field. It’s like asking a plumber to fix your roof. If you want to seek a career in human rights or humanitarian response, you need to make sure that you have the right tools and toolbox for the job. You can only get those through the HRHP concentration.

In closing, I want to make a small plea. When looking at the world today, it’s clear that human rights are under attack. The foundations of the human rights order developed after the Second World War is being eroded by the rise of nationalistic regimes across the globe. While this human rights system was and remains deeply, deeply flawed, it was the only system we had to protect vulnerable people from oppression and the deprivation of their rights and dignity. On the humanitarian side, things are equally grim. Mass displacement of people, driven by conflict, climate change, natural disasters and poverty is leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian relief. With the global North becoming increasingly unwilling to act, lower and middle-income countries are largely footing the bill. The need for humanitarian relief is greater than ever, and will only grow more and more pressing.

We need future policymakers who are passionate, intelligent and dedicated to addressing these growing challenges. Pick the concentration that fits best for you, but I know that I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled studying anywhere – or anything – else.

"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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