Archive for Academics

Exploring International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP)

“Oh, you’re IFEP? You MUST be smart.”

“IFEP? No, I’m good after macro, no more for me.”

“IFEP! You’re going to make so much money!”

These are just a sample of some of the statements one may hear as a SIPA student concentrating in the illustrious International Finance and Economic Policy, also known as IFEP. I’m writing this to answer some common questions and give my general impression of the concentration (DISCLAIMER: I am still doing requirements for the concentration so I’m currently taking International Trade and Theory of International Political Economy…..both are fine….so far).

(DISCLAIMER 2.0: I’m going to use acronyms to make my life easier while typing this. At SIPA, we live in a world of acronyms.)

The IFEP concentration has three main tracks: International Finance (IF), International Economic Policy (IEP) and Central Banking (CB). A majority of the students in IFEP are split between IF and IEP, with a minority of people concentrating in CB.

How good at math do you really have to be to succeed?

It definitely helps to be good at math but in all honesty, I don’t think I’m that good at math, and I have been doing fine. However, I have experience in the quantitative and economic fields, so I am more comfortable with the material. It is still difficult for me and takes some time to grasp it, but I enjoy the challenge.

Why did you choose to concentrate in IFEP?

Economics was a weakness of mine in undergrad, and I chose IFEP to improve my understanding of economic theory and analysis skills. I wanted to change my weakness into a strength. I knew it was going to be a change of pace, but I got tired of dodging economics so I jumped in head-first. Plus, I’m looking into infrastructure investment and development / political risk as potential career fields and strong economic skills can help in those areas.

Do you have to come from finance to succeed in IFEP?

Once again, it definitely helps but it’s not a must. Brushing up on key economic and financial concepts can go a long way to succeeding in IFEP. I’ve seen people with not much quantitative experience do well in IFEP. They spent time going through the material and practicing the logic behind the theory.

Is Quant scary?

In the beginning it is, but once you get used to it and understand how it is used to evaluate policy outcomes, then it is not too bad. When you put in the effort, you’ll have that breakthrough moment when you finally understand a difficult topic. It’s a deep dive into statistics and regressions which after about two months, most people get.

So many concentrations, so little time

An alum once told me that the best and worst thing about being at SIPA is the amount of choice we have. Those words could not ring truer today. Seeples are spoilt for choice when it comes to courses on offer, even more so when we have the opportunity to cross-register (in layman terms: take classes from other Columbia University schools).

It’s easy and tempting to want to do everything, but that quickly becomes overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle school, internship/work, student organization, school events, sleep and wellness, and having a social life.

When I first came to SIPA, I had no idea what my graduate school game plan was – what skills did I want to develop, what classes I wanted to take, what knowledge I wanted to get which would help me towards a meaningful career after graduation. I did the safe thing and opted for core classes in the first semester to buy myself some time. While you’re not locked into your concentration when you’re at school, it helps to have a clear idea of what direction you want to head in. Here are three tips to help you find what concentration/specialization works for you:

#1 Figure out your area of interest and choose a concentration that caters to it

AKA, why do you want to go to graduate school. By now, you may already be in the early stages of your personal statement, which has hopefully helped you think about what drives you and what your career goals are. There are six concentrations for both MIA & MPA degrees and each curricula has a different subject matter and focus. The focus of each concentration is quite self-explanatory as they are rather distinct – economic development, energy, human rights, international finance, international security, and urban & social policy.

Choosing a concentration does not restrict you from taking classes that might relate to other concentrations. Rather, it serves as a starting point to help you focus/tailor your graduate school academic life. One of the biggest concentrations is Economic and Political Development (EPD), which I belong to. I chose EPD (and stuck to it) because of the breadth of courses and the focus on development and emerging markets. As I hope to return to Southeast Asia, this emphasis on the developing world is important for me.

#2 Identify your specific interest or leverage your professional background to specialize

Choosing a specialization is SIPA’s way of helping you further focus your degree. Most people have one specialization but some do have two specializations, because why not. Specializations require less credits to fulfill the criteria compared to concentrations. But don’t fret because you only need one to graduate. If you’re unsure of how to choose, go with your gut because SIPA offers flexibility in changing your specialization. Management is a popular specialization because it offers a wide range of flexibility, especially if you’re looking to take classes outside SIPA. Some Seeples also specialize in a region. Some specializations such as Technology, Media and Communications (TMAC) are still broad and offer more breadth and further focus such as cybersecurity.

The tl;dr version is don’t stress because there is a lot of flexibility to explore and choose your specialization if you’re admitted. It might be more helpful to think about what geographic coverage you might prefer.

#3 Recognizing how much flexibility you want to pursue electives

Every concentration has different requirements and the amount of credits you need to take to fulfill that requirement. Concentrations such as EPD, Energy and Environment (EE) and the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) may have more core requirements compared to others. This might limit your ability to take more electives and classes outside of SIPA, if that is what you are looking for, or if you’re not keen to take full 18 credit semesters. Some requirements may also be challenging to fulfill. For example, EPD has a second language requirement and language courses can be 4/5 credits. This might limit the number of electives you can take per semester if you are required to take language classes and cannot test out. Similarly, IFEP is a more quant-heavy concentration which requires satisfying more advanced economics and quantitative courses.

Think about the trade-offs of what experience you are looking for out of graduate school and how much flexibility you require for your own well-being.

I’m Great at Math(s) — What Does SIPA Have for Me?

Thanks to David Wickland MIA ’19 for this post in response to a topic submitted by Nicole H. Submit your idea for a blog post here.

Taking a more quantitative focus at SIPA can mean a lot of different things: There’s the underlying conceptualization of quantitative analysis taught in Quant I and Quant II, the more direct applications covered in Evaluation and Economic Development classes, the academic literature analysis of the various Quant III classes, and the programming focus of others.

They’re all important. They’re all interesting. You might not want or need to do all of them, but there’s a lot to choose from at Columbia.

I’m a 2019 SIPA grad who obtained an MIA with a Concentration in Economic and Political Development and a Specialization in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. I studied electrical engineering in undergrad and had worked as a data analyst prior to SIPA, so I came in with a decent quantitative background. But I had little-to-no knowledge of how quant could be applied in the social sciences.

One of my goals at SIPA was to figure out how to go about using any of this stuff, and taking as many quantitative courses as possible seemed like a good way to explore different applications.

Quant I

I never took Quant I, so I’m going to gloss over it a bit, apart from noting that regardless of how you feel about it, don’t let it play too much into your decisions on other quantitative classes. It covers a lot of ground and can be a bit overwhelming, but the later courses tend to take a milder pace and help drive home the topics covered in the first semester.

Quant II

This brings me to Quant II, which I cannot recommend enough. This is probably the second quant class most people will take (although exactly what constitutes a quant class is debatable). Quant II essentially picks up where Quant I leaves off, delving into the most widely used regression methodologies to give enough understanding to follow most papers and studies one would come across. I don’t want to claim that everyone loves Quant II, but a lot of people who thought they would hate it wound up loving it, and I think it’s probably the best course to judge if this is something you like. It gives a more practical understanding of the material and helps reaffirm everything in Quant I.

(Just to note, there are currently two Quant II professors, Alan Yang and Cristian Kiki Pop-Eleches. They’re both great, and their classes are structured slightly differently. In Alan Yang’s, the last month is spent on a data analysis project that helps ground some of methods in more practical usage, while Kiki’s ends by covering some additional methodologies which are also useful. If you take Alan Yang’s, the skipped methodologies are covered in Applied Econometrics and Economics of Education Policy;  if you take Kiki’s, Harold Stolper’s Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation is essentially a full semester version of the data project you would have done, so neither is entirely a missed opportunity.)

Quant III

While the Quant I – Quant II track has clear continuity, classes after these focus more topically and can mostly be taken in whichever order one likes. The term “Quant III” gets thrown around a lot, and it refers to a group of topically different classes which require Quant II, not a single specific class. In no particular order, these are some thoughts on the Quant III classes available:

  • Applied Econometrics: This covers a lot of the loose ends and more in-depth examinations coming out of Quant II, and is probably the most direct follow-up to that class. It is very technical compared to Quant II and less immediately practical. Quantitative Methods in Program Evaluation and Policy Research, which was not offered during my second year, is supposedly similar but more applied.
  • Economics of Education Policy: If you are interested in education you will love this class. It explores different aspects of education and the research surrounding them, with general open discussion of the papers, their relative merits, and their implications. Very highly recommended.
  • Time Series Analysis: This is perhaps the most technical Quant III class, and it has a fairly narrow focus on financial markets and predictions. For students with good quantitative and programming skills and are interested in how markets can be tracked and the underlying principles of time series’, this class is for you. If that’s not your cup of tea try one of the other classes instead. (Note: This class is taught in R, and is the only class at SIPA to do so to my knowledge. The basics are explained and the coding is not particularly intensive, but it can make things difficult. At the same time R is wonderful and everyone should learn R.)
  • Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation: Whether or not this is a Quant III class is debated, but it does require Quant II and covers quantitative material, so it’s at least related. Full disclosure, I never took this class, but I generally heard positive things about it. The course is a semester long data analysis project, and works to build a deeper understanding of STATA both in the data analysis and data visualization fronts. I generally heard excellent things about it, and would recommend for anyone who wants to learn more applied STATA.

Thoughts on other Quant classes of interest:

  • Computing in Context: This was good introduction to Python as a language. The applications aren’t particularly quant-oriented, but if you’re looking to learn Python this is probably the best way to go about it.
  • Program Evaluation and Design: Not a quant class per se, but I feel that most quant classes at SIPA are focused on research and evaluatory studies. This class (which I did not take but have heard great things about) can help fill in more around how data was collected and why that specific question was asked or that specific information was gathered.
  • Machine Learning for Social Sciences: Taught in Python, this Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (“QMSS”)** class goes into the fundamentals of machine learning and its applications. For any SIPA students interested in ML or AI, this is probably one of the most directly applicable courses available, although QMSS students get priority and it tends to fill quickly.
  • Data Mining for Social Science: Taught in R, this QMSS course is the main Columbia class on data mining and it’s supposedly fairly good as an introduction. This is another class I never took, but what I heard from other SIPA students is that it was interesting, though not particularly in depth.
  • Statistical Computing with SAS: This is a Mailman School of Public Health course on SAS. I knew one person who took this and they seemed satisfied. It sounds similar to Computing in Context except for SAS and with more of a public health focus. SAS as a language isn’t nearly as common as STATA/R/Python, but it’s still useful to know. It’s also quite different from the other stats languages and can be harder to learn on your own.
  • Research Techniques and Applications in Health Services Administration: This is somewhat similar in design to Economics of Education Policy except it is at Mailman, a bit less technical, and focused on Public Health. If health is a particular interest area and you want to know more about the quantitative studies surrounding different aspects of it, definitely try to get into this.

If you’re interested in SIPA’s quantitative program, I recommend researching and asking around about the courses you want to take. For example, talk to current students who may have taken the courses you’re interested in, speak with faculty members such as Kiki and Yang, and take a look at the course evaluations on a specific class as well as old syllabi.

I talked a lot with Kiki about what courses I was looking for, and he gave me a holistic view of the Quantitative program and an overview of the course’s strengths and weaknesses. I found his guidance valuable, and coupled with my research on the courses I wanted to take, I was able to craft the quantitative experience I was looking for at SIPA.

**QMSS is housed in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. SIPA students can take courses through QMSS by cross-registering, as well as obtain a dual-degree through its program. For more information about QMSS please visit their website here. For information about Columbia Dual-Degrees, visit our website here.

Professor Sarah Holloway on Social Entrepreneurship: “Empathy is the number one skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur.”

We’re resharing this piece on Professor Sarah Holloway from Columbia News.

Having worked in the public and nonprofit sector for 25 years, Sarah Holloway, a member of the SIPA faculty and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Columbia Startup Lab, understands what it takes to make a difference in the fast-changing world of socially responsible businesses. She teaches knowledge and skills essential for non-profit, for-profit and social enterprise management at Columbia and is often seen around the Lab at WeWork Soho West, answering questions and giving feedback to teams from the more than 70 alumni entrepreneurs.

Professor Holloway mentors students competing for the SIPA’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, which awards a total of $50,000 annually to two or three innovative projects that use digital technology and data to improve the global urban environment. She has also helped launch a number of social enterprise startups in the New York metro area that focus on education and urban technology, including MOUSE.org and Computer Science for All (CSforALL).

Q. What is social entrepreneurship?

A. Social entrepreneurship is the practice of solving global social problems through market-based strategies. Social entrepreneurs are empathetic, adaptable, patient and “build with, not for.” They know and listen to their customer. Technology is a tool that can be used to support growth, scale and transparency.

Q. How does entrepreneurship work in different cultural settings?

The key is that the entrepreneur be authentic and, as a result, really know their customer. The most successful social entrepreneurs either come from the geography they are supporting or have experienced the challenge they are trying to solve. The skills are the same no matter where you are starting out. That said, I believe, it is slightly easier perhaps to be an entrepreneur in the United States as the ecosystem of support is broader and, at the moment, there are more sources of capital available.

Q. What are some of the critical social entrepreneurial skills essential for today’s business environment?

As mentioned, empathy is the No. 1 skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs also need to be passionate about their work, scrappy, resilient, open to change, and they should be able to wear many hats as social enterprises are often under resourced. It’s quite common in a startup environment for the CEO to play the role of COO, CFO, CIO and Chief Everything Officer.

Q. Share with us some of the best social entrepreneurship examples that make business sense.

I think Warby Parker, the glasses company and lifestyle brand, and their give one get one campaign is an example of a for profit social enterprise that is doing it almost perfectly. Warby is a multimillion dollar company that has built giving back into everything they do. They have successfully hacked the glasses industry by producing equal quality for a fraction of the cost and, in turn, have left room to be able to give back –to date over 5 million glasses have been distributed and for free. In terms of a nonprofit social enterprise, I love the work that Five One Labs is doing in Iraq. Founded by two SIPA alumni Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Five One Labs is now a massive support network and incubator for refugee entrepreneurs living in Iraq. In less than two years, they have developed such a tight, well-oiled model that continues to pivot and pilot new ideas. As a result, they keep getting it right. They are so hands on and holistic in their service model that they are impacting every single person they serve. I think they are amazing!

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about social entrepreneurship?

That it is easy to get something off the ground. It takes years and years. You have to be persistent and patient. Another myth is that if you have an amazing, unique and innovative idea, it is easy to sell and raise money. Sometimes the best ideas never get funded. Those that know best how to market themselves and tell the best stories usually have their ideas get funded.

Why I Chose SIPA

I remember receiving the email on my decision like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my undergraduate institution’s computer lab, lazily scrolling through my email account, looking for a message a professor sent me earlier that week. Then I saw the subject line from SIPA Admissions; I froze for a second and then clicked on it. I had trouble remembering my account password and after a few anti-climatic minutes of picking my brain for my password, I eventually got into the system. I was greeted by streaming confetti down my screen and an audio clip of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”. I had been accepted.

If I said that letter didn’t factor into my decision I would be lying! But in reality, Columbia was one of my top choices, if not my top. By the end of the admissions cycle, I was debating between two programs. One, an elite urban studies school located in the heart of one of America’s great cities. The other was SIPA. I went back and forth. I made charts and attempted to map my decision, listing pros and cons to every program and institution. I thought about how my degree would be perceived and the name recognition for both. I considered the reach of both programs alumni networks and looked over the biographies of dozens of professors I was interested in taking classes with.

After many days of deliberation, I ultimately decided on SIPA because of something I touched on in an earlier post; that is, out of all my options, SIPA seemed like it would provide the most comprehensive and interdisciplinary education I could find. Both programs are comparable in terms of reputation and both have very strong urban studies programs. However, I felt like SIPA’s ‘global’ and international curriculum provided me with more opportunities to take classes outside of my comfort zone, and to find synergies between my own areas of interest and entirely new subjects. I appreciated that the majority of my peers would be international; I knew that their perspectives in the classroom and outside would be invaluable as a future diplomat. I also liked that SIPA offered numerous opportunities to take classes at many of Columbia’s prestigious graduate schools, including the Journalism School and Teachers College. On a personal level, I relished the opportunity to attend events at these elite institutions and to be able to interact with a range of professors, like Sunil Gulati, the ex head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Relative to other locations, I knew that access to NYC and its immense social and cultural offerings would also further my education, and my personal growth.

When I fully realized that by attending SIPA I was really gaining access to all that Columbia offers, from its world class libraries to its world class faculty, I came to a decision very quickly. Before I accepted it officially, I played “New York, New York” once more on the acceptance letter portal just for fun and then I made one of the best decisions ever; I clicked the button to begin the enrollment process!

"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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