Congratulations! If you’re reading this you are almost ready to start your SIPA adventure! (And I ,God-willing, have a high paying job recruiting and training women in American politics.) This is not going to be one of those graduation-speech type posts where I talk in general terms about life advice I wish I had two years ago. (Take risks! Follow your passion! Put potato chips in a sandwich!) These are five pieces of practical advice for SIPA navigation, the blunt truth tips that would have made my experience slightly smoother sailing.
1) Make sure the University has your immunization records before you get here. I spent my first registration period freaking out because there was a hold that kept me from signing up for classes. It turned out I, and a lot of my classmates, had not updated our immunizations and the university had placed a hold on our accounts. It took an extra 36 hours before I could sort it out and get registered. Don’t let it happen to you!
2) Buy your books on Amazon, from 2nd Years, or not at all. Two of my professors this year didn’t even bother ordering books through the bookstore because books are so much more expensive there. You can find almost all the books you are assigned in class used on the Internet. In addition a lot of second years will wind up selling their used books especially for popular classes. Finally before you go out and pay for a book, take a look at how often it appears on your reading list. Some professors assign only one or two chapters per semester out of a 900-page tome. If this is the case you might be better off sucking it up and borrowing the book from the library or sharing it with a classmate. I have even found excerpts I needed to read for class available for free on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, “don’t do the reading” (this isn’t undergrad), I’m just saying do it for free.
3) Makes your classes what you want them to be about. One of the things I really love about SIPA is the flexibility of the curriculum. That said, there will still be classes you are required to take for the core or your concentration, or just that you want to have on your resume that are not exactly your cup of tea. In most classes that require a final paper or project, your professor will be fairly flexible in allowing you to choose your topic. Even if it deviates slightly from the suggested topics on the syllabus, if you can make a case for why it is relevant to the course, your Professor is likely to allow you to write it. Professors want you to be interested in your work and they don’t want to read 30 of the same thing anyway. This semester I wrote three different papers on gender quotas in legislatures for three very different classes. I still had to do original research for each but it allowed me to delve in and really become an expert on the topic.
4) Always show up for the class, even if it’s full. If you are really passionate about taking something don’t take “course is full” for an answer. A lot of Professors will make an exception and people are likely to drop out on the first day anyway. If you’re there, you’re the one who gets to take their spot. Even if you can’t make it in the course that semester, you’ll be able to make a connection with the professor and s/he is all but guaranteed to give you preference next time.
5) This is who Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz are. My Admitted Students Day everyone was freaking out about Jeff Sachs speaking at the plenary session and I was like “who?” Sachs and Stiglitz are two big name Professors and their names get bandied about a lot especially in the first two weeks of school. I was able to take classes with equally accomplished and notable faculty in subjects in which I was interested, but still it will help you to know who these two are.
According to Wikipedia:
Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. He is a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979). He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, and is a former member, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He is known for his critical view of the management of globalization, free-market economists (whom he calls “free market fundamentalists“), and some international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Jeffrey Sachs is an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. One of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University. He has been known for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization He is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger.