Archive for Academics

A week in the life of a 2nd year student

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the 2nd year student is none other than moi (aka Steven, who is writing this post). Some things to keep in mind while reading this:

  1. I’m not a morning person and like to sleep in so my days begin a little later.
  2. I’m taking 16.5 credits and working this semester so I’m doing a quite bit of running around. Talk to enough people at SIPA and you will hear some pretty hectic schedules (i.e 2 jobs, 5 classes and is in 3 groups 😯 )

Everyone at SIPA (especially 2nd years) has a “rough day”…and for me, a rough day is the day that most of your classes are on. All that intro to say that my rough day is Monday:

3 classes…..

6 hours……..

2 sips of water (if I’m lucky).

Monday:

2:10pm: I start my Mondays off with Decision Models and Management, a super interesting operations management class with a lot of excel optimization model building. This is one of my favorite classes this semester, and I’m learning a lot. The professor, Lucius Riccio, is funny and smart. Homework every week though so I spend a lot of time working on that — despite that, highly recommended class.

4:00pm: I walk about 20 steps to my next class Cyber Threat Intelligence. Another interesting class, lots of insightful reading. I find myself looking up random malware and Youtube-ing videos on how to hack and learn more about vulnerabilities or past hacking incidents. LOTS of Acronyms.

4:05pm: Stomach loudly grumbling in class.

4:10pm: Get some gummy snacks from the vending machine. (PRO TIP: Get a locker and put snacks in it or bring snacks in your bag for your rough days. #dontstarve)

6:10pm: I crawl to my last class, Community Economic Development. I learn all the things about how affordable housing is financed.

8:00pm: Fin

tired arrested development GIF

Tuesday:

A WAY LIGHTER DAY THAN MONDAY!!!! My school day doesn’t start until 6:00pm (International Trade)! I usually spend Tuesdays working on Decision Models and cleaning out my inbox (email inboxes fill fast at SIPA. There is A LOT going on). Two days into the week and I’m already fatigued.

I burn my incense and play a lot of R&B at home. After Mondays, I need a day to decompress and exfoliate.

Wednesday:

From 11am to 5pm: I am at Admissions working and writing blog posts for all you beautiful people, as I am currently doing right now as I write this.

After work @ 6:10: International Political Economy class

6:15pm: Stomach growling again.

8:00pm again:

tired arrested development GIF

Thursday:

Just working at Admissions from 11am to 5pm, writing more posts and answering all your questions on SIPA!

5:01pm:

black lives matter freedom GIF

Friday through Sunday:

A mix of more incense, more R&B, endless readings and problem sets, more sips of water, more gummy snacks and building up the will and core strength to do it all again next week.

brain studying GIF

Note from Admissions: For those applying, Steven will be online to answer your admissions and student life questions on Wednesday, December 4. Check your email to RSVP for our live Q&A.

Studying International Security Policy at SIPA

Nabila recently provided some great advice on choosing your concentration at SIPA.  When I applied, there was no question that I was going to concentrate in International Security Policy (ISP). I was leaving the Army and was interested in continuing to work in the national security space, so it was a natural fit. But I suspect many of you have a wider range of interests or are interested in potentially pivoting to a new career path, and in those cases it’s so important to get a feel for the curriculum and culture of each concentration so that you can find your best fit.

I’m going to hopefully assist in that regard by giving you an overview of the ISP concentration and also dispel some pervasive myths and stereotypes.

Doesn’t everyone in ISP have military or government experience? Will I fit in?

The most common myth is that everyone in ISP is a veteran or someone who wants to follow a very defined path into the government. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Leon Trotsky noted, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Whatever your career aspirations, security issues affect every sector and understanding issues of war and peace is essential to anyone that desires to one day lead in government, international non-profits, or even private sector companies. I have friends in ISP that have backgrounds as Army Special Forces Officers, private sector consultants, paralegals, diplomats, and human rights workers. And as far as coursework, the concentration requires no prior academic training in international security or any particular professional background. For more on the diverse backgrounds of ISP concentrators, read this great blog post by ISP graduate Samantha Taylor.

What career paths do ISP students pursue after SIPA?

ISP students are prepared for a wide range of career paths in U.S. and foreign government agencies, intelligence, think tanks, defense analysis, cybersecurity, consulting, journalism, legislative staffs, and international organizations. For U.S. students, the majority of these positions are in Washington, D.C., but there are increasingly opportunities in New York City as well, especially in cybersecurity.

What are the courses like?

Almost all of your ISP courses will be small seminars of 10-20 students. Columbia offers more courses in security studies than all but a few other universities, and SIPA and the Political Science department (you can take graduate level Political Science courses while at SIPA) have numerous full-time faculty members focused on security issues.  During your two-year program, there will be approximately 30-40 ISP courses to choose from. The courses cover a wide variety of areas including intelligence, cybersecurity, defense analysis, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, terrorism, and regional issues, among others. You can view the entire curriculum here, but the best way to see what ISP courses are like is to experience one for yourself. This semester, ISP courses available for class visits include War, Peace, and Strategy; Methods of Defense Analysis; Contemporary Russian Security Policy (taught by the former Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia); Intelligence and War; and several others. Register for a class visit here!

What extracurricular opportunities does ISP offer?

The ISP concentration starts off the year with an annual fall retreat to a campground north of New York City. I went my first year, and it was a great way to meet classmates, second year students, and several professors. In the spring, the concentration usually takes one trip to DC or a military installation. Last year, the trip was a staff ride to Gettysburg and the U.S. Army War College led by Professor Stephen Biddle. There is also a spring crisis simulation held at SIPA and run by ISP students. Last year, students explored the conflict in Yemen in a realistic, one-day simulation.

There are also an unending amount of incredible guest speakers that come to Columbia, and many of those of interest to ISP students are hosted by the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. Just in the past year, students have attended events with former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

MPA-DP’ 20 student Natasha Bhuta, presents at the event Mapping Data: How the Largest Tech Firms use your Data

Photo: Natasha Bhuta MPA-DP’20

Data privacy and the power of technology companies is now a core issue in both American and international political dialog.

This semester, Natasha Bhuta (MPA-DP ‘20) presented at an event by Mapping Data Flows, a research project led by John Battelle, co-founding Editor of WIRED magazine, on what governs data in society, especially around data harvesting. Their research project turned the privacy policies/terms of service of the big four tech companies Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, into an interactive database that can be queried, compared, and visualized. They presented case studies illustrating the “Illusion of Privacy Settings” and “Are they Listening”.

The entirety of the project and whitepaper on their findings can be found at mappingdataflows.com.

Learn more about the MPA-DP Program:

Studying Cybersecurity at SIPA: A Course Guide

Photo: SIPA students and recent graduates traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with senior industry professionals and SIPA alumni working in the field of cybersecurity and threat intelligence.

Threats emanating from cyberspace impact governments, the private sector, non-profits, and individuals. The borderless nature of (most of) the internet as well as the fact that the private sector owns much of the infrastructure creates difficult policy challenges that governments and companies continue to confront. Thankfully, SIPA is helping train students to tackle these challenges through innovative coursework that allows students to explore the technical, legal, and policy aspects of cybersecurity.

As a current student, I’ve taken several courses focused on this area, and I’ve found SIPA to be a great place to study cybersecurity policy. While I concentrate in International Security Policy, there are courses applicable to students in all concentrations. An International Finance and Economic Policy student might explore cyber risk to financial stability, for example, while an International Security Policy student may be more interested in cyber conflict. As you apply to SIPA and prepare your personal statement, use this guide to assist in your research and allow you to explore the potential paths you can take in this exciting field.

Basic Technical Background (a great place to start!)

  • Computing in Context – This course teaches the Python programming language through a series of lectures and labs taught by a computer science professor. Then, a SIPA professor explores how these skills can be applied to solving public policy problems. This is an extremely popular class at SIPA that provides a very marketable skill set. While I haven’t personally taken the course, I’ve spoken to several fellow students who found the course challenging but highly practical.
  • Programming for Entrepreneurs – This hands-on short course, which requires no technical background, takes place over an intensive four days and covers the fundamentals of computer science, data structures, web development with HTML/CSS, as well as some basic SQL. While I had some basic web development experience from my undergraduate studies, this course still provided me with valuable skills and was a great first course to gain some additional technical background prior to taking other courses on this list.
  • Basics of Cybersecurity – This course equips students with the basic technical knowledge needed to succeed in other cybersecurity courses at SIPA. Students learn the basics of how computers and the internet work, networking concepts, and network defense and security. When I took this course, it was taught by an active-duty U.S. Army cyber officer, and it was fascinating to learn these concepts directly from an experienced practitioner.
  • Cyber Risks and Vulnerabilities – This course complements the Basics of Cybersecurity course by focusing on the risks and vulnerabilities of various devices and protocols. The course includes demonstrations of common hacking techniques or tools to illustrate how these vulnerabilities are exploited and the potential impact. You should aim to take this course after taking Basics of Cybersecurity.

General Problems in Cyber Policy and Cyber Conflict

  • Cybersecurity: Technology, Policy, and Law – This innovative seminar course brings together professors and students from SIPA, the Computer Science department, and the Law School to explore cybersecurity issues from the lenses of all three disciplines. The course culminates in an interdisciplinary research project. Students interested in any aspect of cybersecurity or the impact of technology on policy and law will benefit greatly from this course. Tip: if you’re interested in this course, demonstrate your interest in cybersecurity by taking other related courses and joining the student Digital and Cyber Group. The course always has a wait list and this will differentiate you.
  • Dynamics of Cyber Conflict – This course focuses on the national security aspects of cybersecurity, specifically how cyber conflict has developed and how it differs from other types of conflict. Through an interactive exercise, students will learn how to formulate practical policy recommendations to respond to a cyber incident. Taught by Professor Jason Healey, the editor of the first history of cyber conflict, this course is always popular and comes highly recommended.

Skills-Based Courses

  • Introduction to Cyber Threat Intelligence – This course introduces students to the skills required to work as a cyber threat intelligence analyst in government or in the private sector. While not required, students will benefit from having some prior technical knowledge, either from another SIPA course or from work experience. Taught by Professor JD Work, who has extensive government and private sector experience, the course has numerous hands-on intelligence analysis exercises that provide valuable experience (and are fun!).
  • Cybersecurity and Business Risk – This course examines cybersecurity from the perspective of the private sector. It explores the risks of conducting business connected to the Internet and how businesses understand and manage these risks. This course is especially beneficial to International Finance and Economic Policy students interested in cybersecurity. Taught by Professor Neal Pollard, the CISO of UBS, the course will help prepare you for cyber risk related roles in a wide variety of industries.

SIPA is a leader in training the next generation of leaders in cybersecurity policy. I encourage you to explore these courses as you craft your personal statement. A personal statement that clearly demonstrates how SIPA will advance your career goals is a great way to stand out in the application process, and cybersecurity courses from SIPA are a great way to stand out in your future job hunt.

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.

"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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