Archive for Academics

A Faculty Perspective: Preparing to Study Cyber at SIPA

Guest Post by Professor Jason Healey

Admissions note: Jason Healey is a Senior Research Scholar at SIPA specializing in cyber conflict, competition, and cooperation. He directs the Initiative on the Future of Cyber Risk and teaches two courses: Dynamics of Cyber Power and Conflict and Cybersecurity: Technology, Policy, and Law.

In my five years here, it’s been clear that SIPA’s Dean Merit Janow is committed to bringing all things cyber and digital to the school. We’ve developed a robust program of research, events, and coursework that have made SIPA a hub for the study of cybersecurity and technology policy and our students are not only the main recipients but our best partners.

I’m often asked how students can prepare to study cybersecurity policy at SIPA. In this post, I’ll provide some recommendations on resources students can use for self-study whether you want to get a head start before SIPA or help prepare yourself for one of the five main cyber career tracks for SIPA alumni.

Reading

There are different learning styles. For me, I prefer reading. Whenever I’ve re-directed my career (into cyber in 1998, working for the finance sector in 2001 and the White House in 2003, expanding into risk and business continuity in 2005, and so on) I’ve read as much as I can get my hands on starting with general topics then diving more deeply.

If you want to switch into a cyber career, or wondering if it’s for you, start your reading early. First, there’s the general cyber reading. Here, look at The Cuckoo’s Egg (Cliff Stoll), a very readable classic, and The Hacked World Order (Adam Segal) or The Darkening Web (Alexander Klimberg) on general cyber international relations. Both are good, but Adam Segal is adjunct faculty at SIPA and directs the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. David Sanger’s The Perfect Weapon is amazing, as is Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day and, more recently, Andy Greenberg’s Sandworm. Andy and Kim are some of the most-trusted journalists in the field, along with David Sanger and Ellen Nakashima.

Singer and Friedman’s Cybersecurity and Cyberwar is a bit out of date but very readable — as is my cyber military history, A Fierce Domain. There’s also a lot of academic works like Ben Buchanan’s The Cybersecurity Dilemma, which is excellent, but probably a better third or fourth book.

Second are reports from think tanks like the Atlantic Council, Center for a New American Security, Council on Foreign Relations, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the East-West Institute. These organizations are also holding a lot of virtual events during the quarantine that are open to the general public.

Third, the Internet threat reports from major cybersecurity companies will give you a unique and up-to-date perspective. FireEye’s APT1 report made history, a private sector company calling out espionage – with in-depth analysis backed by evidence – by another country. CrowdStrike’s Global Threat Report is quite readable and there are now dozens of such reports focusing on adversary groups, that is, criminal hacking groups or state-backed espionage teams. The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report and reports from Ponemon are on cybersecurity more generally and the costs of cyber crime.

Last, there is the more technical literature, especially tied to hacking skills and certifications. I started with Hacking Exposed, now on its seventh edition, but study guides for Security+ and Certified Ethical Hacker are also useful. Only dive into these if you care about such things and can deal with sometimes daunting technical material right out of the gate. They’re important but you might start with the other material first.

Social Media

Many of the most influential and interesting practitioners and scholars in the field are on Twitter, and this is a great way to follow the most recent developments. Start with the authors I’ve mentioned here. Follow me then follow those I retweet. As you read Sandworm (especially, as it is new) be sure to follow those mentioned as well as all the authors and journalists I’ve mentioned above.

Getting a Basic Technical Background

If you want a job in cybersecurity, then you must have some understand of what happens on the other side of your screen. If it still seems like magic, then your analyses won’t have enough foundation. Fortunately, even a modicum of basic computer science or programming can be enough for you dispel the fog of magic and learn key concepts and terms. The deeper you can go, the more job options open up for you.

Any of the basic computer science classes available on the various MOOC platforms (EdX, Coursera, Udemy, etc.) will be a great start. CS50x is a particularly popular option. And get as much Python as you can, not just for cyber but to help you at SIPA and any job afterwards. If you can handle the quant, consider pairing cyber classes with the concentration in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis.

Within the cybersecurity fields, a certificate is a routine credential to demonstrate you have special knowledge or skills. The Security+ certificate by CompTIA is one of the most achievable for most SIPA students. Usually, you can study as much as you want for free and only have to pay to take the certification test, usually a few hundred dollars. The higher-end certifications, such as those from SANS, are often highly specialized and more expensive (often paid for by companies to train their staff).

This brief list of recommendations will get you off to a great start in studying cybersecurity policy, and you’ll be well prepared for cyber-related classes at SIPA. More importantly, you’ll be on your way to an exciting career in a field which has difficult and interesting challenges and is well paid and chronically understaffed. I look forward to your joining cybersecurity as a colleague!

Reader request: All about EPD’s curriculum and career networks

Thanks to Shruti Manian MPA ’20 for this blog post in response to a reader request. (Yes, we do read your submitted ideas! You can submit a post request here!) This is for Agastia C., who asked for tips on coping with the rigorous curriculum in the Economic and Political Development concentration, as well as about industry networks for students.


Economic and Political Development (EPD) is one of SIPA’s largest concentrations. Students are required to choose and complete two courses (6 credits) in any one of EPD’s four Professional Focus Areas. Since the four Professional Focus Areas are Economic Development, Political Development, Social Development and Sustainable Development, EPD attracts students with a wide array of experiences and backgrounds. EPD students are interested in careers in international multi-lateral organizations, consulting, government institutions, NGOs and even the private sector to name a few.

EPD does an excellent job of ensuring that it caters to students’ varied interests and allows us the opportunity to explore and engage with fields or organizations we may be interested in.

Every week the concentration organizes anywhere between 1-4 events (usually leaning closer to 4) that are open to all students. Speakers are usually leaders in their fields and organizations and are able to give students in-depth insight into specific and significant projects and help us better grasp trends in the space. Often speakers are SIPA alum and are able to give very focused advice on how we can maximize our time at SIPA and what courses they believe will be particularly pivotal to succeed in certain sectors. Some of our speakers this semester have been from UNESCO, the Grameen Foundation, Women Deliver and many more.

Another incredible professional opportunity is the yearly EPD Career Panel. The Career Panel is organized in conjunction with the Office of Career Services and allows students to hear from a diverse panel that reflects the student body’s interests and expertise. This year, the EPD Panel had representatives from the World Economic Forum, the Global Impact Investing Network and the Economist Group to name a few. The Career Panel gives us a chance to hear about the day to day work of professionals in fields we are interested in and ask them questions and build a network. The Concentration also organizes an internship panel so first year students can gain insight into the internship experiences second year students had.

Lastly, EPD faculty members are always happy to help connect students to their vast and impressive networks both in and out of SIPA. Faculty members will often help students reach out to SIPA alums who work in organizations we may be interested in or often are even willing to use their own personal networks to help us out.

The professional opportunities available to EPD students are numerous and impressive. As long as students are willing to take initiative and are curious to learn, there is always an event, a faculty member or an alum around the corner waiting to lend a helping hand.

3 Tips from a Student Researcher at SIPA

Working as a student researcher at SIPA is a great opportunity to gain practical experience in your field and learn firsthand from SIPA’s world-class faculty members. So how do you get the job and make the most of the experience? Here are 3 tips based on my experience working for Professor Jason Healey.

1. Network!

Since individual faculty members are the hiring managers for these positions, it’s certainly beneficial if they know who you are prior to seeing your application for a position. You should take their classes as early as possible, attend events that they organize, and utilize their office hours. You should also join any relevant student groups. For example, Professor Healey often prefers his student researchers to be active members of the student Digital and Cyber Group (DCG) because he works closely with DCG to organize cyber policy-related events. I was a DCG board member and had worked with Professor Healey in this capacity prior to being hired as a research associate. The key thing is to demonstrate your interest in the topic by being involved!

2. Look for both formal and ad-hoc opportunities.

There are two primary ways in which student researchers are hired.

First, a few research assistant positions are usually included in the formal assistantship application process for second-year students. SIPA students apply for these positions in the spring semester of their first year.

Second, faculty members hire student researchers on an as-needed basis. The majority of student researchers are hired this way, and both first and second-year students are usually eligible. Many of these positions are advertised via your concentration, in the Professor’s classes, or through the relevant student group. So again, it’s vital that you stay involved!

3. Understand your strengths.

When applying for a position, discuss the specific requirements for the position with the professor. Faculty members hire students to assist with a wide variety of tasks including archival research, online research, coding, quantitative analysis, writing, event planning, or helping manage various programs. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and what you want to do. In my role, I mainly focus on writing for publication because I’m able to write in a style consistent with Professor Healey, which makes the co-authoring process much smoother.

Working directly with a faculty member is one of the best things you can do at SIPA. If you keep an eye out for opportunities and follow these tips you’ll be well on your way to a great learning experience!

Experiential Learning at SIPA

The objective of the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at SIPA is to ensure “students acquire the substantive knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to address the big issues of international affairs.” But how does that work in practice? What kinds of experiential learning opportunities does SIPA provide to truly immerse students in international affairs?

First off, I’ll dispense with the most well-known factor. New York City is incredibly diverse and is home to numerous organizations that play vital roles in international affairs and public policy. SIPA students have countless opportunities to interact with these organizations via internships, guest speakers, conferences, site visits, and career panels. Not to mention that at SIPA you’ll be surrounded by classmates from over 100 countries and will gain immeasurably from those diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Beyond that, here are 4 less well-known experiential learning opportunities at SIPA:

  1. Global Immersion Courses

Just this year, SIPA inaugurated a new series of Global Immersion Courses that will enhance the MIA curriculum by providing students the opportunity to explore vital global policy issues firsthand. The first course in this program was titled Beyond the ‘Refugee Crisis’: Refugees in Turkey and Global Public Policy. Students in the course spent 10 days in Turkey taking classes on refugee policy and meeting with policymakers, journalists, multilateral organizations, and refugees. Upon returning to NYC, the course met four additional times during the Spring 2020 semester to further study the issues the students experienced firsthand in Turkey.

SIPA plans to offer additional courses in this innovative format covering additional issues and regions of interest to students. You can read more about SIPA students’ experience in this course here.

  1. Treks

Treks are student-organized trips to various countries that generally occur during the winter or spring breaks. These trips often include a mix of sightseeing as well as meetings with policymakers and business leaders. Past treks have included Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Palestine, and Peru. There are even some domestic treks to explore certain industries or policy issues, such as the energy trek to Houston and San Francisco.

Treks have provided SIPA students with enormously valuable firsthand experience with pressing global issues. Amira Dhalla (MPA ’20) had this to say about her experience:

“Attending PalTrek was life-changing and moving. I am beyond thankful to the deeply connected and committed group of students from SIPA who opened their ears and hearts to those in Palestine while engaging and learning among eight days of nonstop events. While in the West Bank we discussed pressing human rights issues, practiced heartfelt allyship for communities, experienced a wondrous culture, and witnessed relentless resilience. All of which would never have been possible within the constraints of a classroom.”

  1. Capstone Workshops

The capstone workshop is a key part of the core curriculum for the MIA, MIA, and MPA-ESP. These workshops provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a consulting project for an external client. Some workshops provide opportunities for domestic or international travel to meet with clients or conduct research. Clients have included US and foreign government agencies, New York City government offices, the United Nations, the World Bank, think tanks, non-profits, and private sector companies. This semester, for example, SIPA students are researching sovereign liabilities for JP Morgan, advising NYC Cyber Command on responding to cyber incidents, and evaluating cash transfer programming for Mercy Corps. Check out more about capstone workshops here.

  1. Language Circles

If you’re looking for a way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, many of Columbia’s language programs offer informal language circles to practice conversation. These voluntary, informal meetings are meant to facilitate speaking practice for students at all levels of the language. The Middle East Institute, for example, hosts a weekly Arabic language circle, and the French department offers weekly sessions of their Café Conversation program. Even if you aren’t taking formal language courses while at SIPA, these discussions can be a great way to connect with the community and immerse yourself in the language.

How to Choose a Graduate School

So now that you’ve submitted your graduate school applications, it’s time to start thinking seriously about choosing a school (after taking a much deserved break, of course). Most of you have applied to several schools, and all of the major schools of international affairs and public policy have so much to offer. How can you possibly decide? I certainly had a tough time with this decision two years ago so I’m going to discuss my decision making process in hopes of making this time just a bit easier for all of you!

  1. Determine your priorities

The first step is to determine your priorities. This is different for everyone, and there is truly no right answer. The specific course offerings, employment outcomes, financial aid opportunities, location, culture, class size, faculty, name recognition, and rankings are just some considerations that students may prioritize. Determine what is most important to you and prioritize those factors in your decision. It is often helpful to discuss these priorities with friends, family, or mentors.

  1. Compare courses and faculty

Of course, the majority of your time in graduate school will be spent in or preparing for courses so it’s vital that you are taking courses that both interest you and provide you with the skills you will need in your career. I found the best way to evaluate this was to create a full semester-by-semester course plan for each school I was considering. Using excel, I inputted each required course and the electives I wanted to take at each school. This provided me an easy way to compare each program in detail. I looked at the excel sheet and asked myself which program I would enjoy most while also developing the skills I would need in my career. In the end, the variety of electives and world-class faculty in international security, cybersecurity, and technology policy, the moderate amount of quantitative coursework, as well as the wide array of skills-based courses (and short courses) available at SIPA won me over.

  1. Location matters

Location has a huge impact on your access to employers, cost of living, and social life, but the most important factor is fit. You’ll be here for at least two years of your life, so you want to ensure you’re in a place that’s right for you. The best way to determine this is to visit the schools you’ve been admitted to. Explore the neighborhood, go out to eat, tour campus, and talk to current students about the quality of life. While I had been to NYC many times before and knew it was a place I wanted to live, attending SIPA’s Admitted Student’s Day assured me that Columbia and NYC would be a great fit for me. I can’t stress enough the importance of visiting campus, sitting in a class, and exploring the city.

  1. Cost

Finally, the least glamorous but still vitally important factor is cost. Research the cost of each school and then make a plan for how you will pay for graduate school. Review the SIPA Financial Aid page for information on costs and additional funding opportunities. You should also check out this blog post on Completing Your FAFSA and Budgeting by SIPA’s Associate Director of Financial Aid.

Choosing a graduate school is an intensely personal and difficult decision. While everyone’s decision making process is different, I found that going through the process I’ve described here enabled me to choose the program that was the best fit for me.

"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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