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A mid-November check-in: Snow, Virtual Info Sessions, Application Tips

Winter is Coming

It was the first snow of the season yesterday! Here’s a snapshot courtesy of first-year student @luzangil.

Unfortunately due to the snow causing transit issues, we did have to postpone the Diversity Spotlight event arranged with the SIPA Students of Color (SSOC). I’m so happy to see the level of interest in this event, and we’re so sorry for the inconvenience. Everyone will be notified once it’s rescheduled; in the meantime, learn a little more about SSOC’s most recent Identity @ SIPA panel.

Register for our Virtual Information Sessions

While we let everyone know about events on-campus here in NYC in case they’re able to attend, we’re aware that many of you are busy or live further away. With that, we have multiple virtual information sessions coming up that you should register for.

An exciting addition to these virtual events: SIPA’s Concentration Directors will be talking about their unique concentrations and what they look for in program candidates. There’ll be a chance for Q&A at the end, and this is a great way to get a detailed look at the nuances of what each concentration offers.

Application Tips

Finally, for those of you working on your Fall 2019 applications, here are blog posts addressing some common questions we’ve been receiving lately:

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.

My Experience with Cross Registration

One of the great things about SIPA are the many course offerings across concentrations and specializations. Although the majority of students spend their first year focusing on the core curriculum, by your second year there are plenty of opportunities to branch out and take electives. One of the great things about SIPA is that it allows you to cross register at other schools within Columbia University. This is a really great add in because it allows you to mix and match across a variety of fields and courses. The process itself is fairly straightforward and varies between each individual school. For example, Columbia Business School offers two cross registration phases during the semester. There are a limited number of seats available for SIPA students in specific business school courses; however, there are a lot of courses to choose from. In my experience, you will generally get your first choice if you apply. SIPA students are able to cross register at several schools at Columbia University, including Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Overall, my experience with cross registration has been very positive. I’ve taken courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and Columbia Business School. At IRAAS, I took “Gender, Labor and Sexuality in the Caribbean” with Dr. Pinnock. The course explored the concepts of gender, sexuality and labor and the historical and contemporary perspectives of work in an increasingly globalized society. Taking the course in my second year was really beneficial, as I’d spent my first year at SIPA focusing on the core curriculum and taking classes in my concentration, International Finance and Economic Policy, which gave me a strong background in macroeconomic theory and analysis. The course allowed me to combine my two interests, gender and economic policy and apply my coursework from SIPA in my final paper in the class, which was on Sex Work and the Dollarization of the Economy in Contemporary Cuba.

I highly recommend cross registration and taking advantage of the many courses across Columbia. It is especially important for those of us who are interested in public policy to gain a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors.

Note from Admissions: Graduate school is a big commitment and “fit” is hugely important. Take advantage of SIPA class visits and register here.

SIPA’S SDG Fellows Team are Geneva Challenge Finalists!

Congrats to SIPA’s SDG Fellows team (Alonso Flores MPA-EPD ’19, Nigora Isamiddinova MPA-DP ’19, Jessica Arnold MIA ’19, Nitasha Nair MPA ’19, and Ji Qi MPA-DP ’19) who have advanced to the finals of the 2018 Geneva Challenge. Their project, DASH – Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding, aims to map and analyze the changes in migration patterns, seasonality, and urban and agricultural development using data from satellites, mobile telecommunications, and GPS- enabled systems. It will create a blueprint for utilizing big data and applying machine learning and AI for better policy-making under deep uncertainty.

Launched in 2014, the Advancing Development Goals International Students Contest, or more commonly known as the Geneva Challenge, is an international contest for graduate students that aims to find innovative and pragmatic solutions to a designated international development problem. Every year five finalist teams, one from each continent, is invited to an oral presentation in Geneva where they defend their solutions to a jury and the public. This year the subject is climate change.

SIPA students have a history of partaking in the Geneva Challenge. Previously, a team of recent SIPA graduates (Olga Abilova MIA ’15, David Braha MIA ’15, Isabela Cunha MIA ’15, and Jessica Dalton, a master’s degree candidate at Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights) were selected as finalists for the 2015 Geneva Challenge on migration.

Wish Alonso, Nigora, Jessica, Nitasha, and Ji luck as they defend their project on November 27!

"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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