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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!

VISIT SIPA AND EAT WELL ON A BUDGET!

food

It is highly recommended to visit the programs that you’re interested in applying to. When I was applying, I took  two weeks off of work and visited eight MPA programs. While I researched these programs, I instinctively ranked them in my mind from the one that I wanted to attend the most to the least. Surprisingly, after visiting the programs, my ranking of programs changed drastically! Programs on the top of my list were crossed off entirely, while schools I were on the fence,  jumped up high on the list. Factors for the rearrangement of my list include; approachability of professors, friendliness of students, sitting in on classes, as well as the ambiance of the city where the school was located.

In regards to SIPA, it was the one school that did not shift position. It was on the top of my list and remained there after my visit. The professors took the time out of their schedules to meet with me, the students took me out for some drinks at the end of the day and offered me candid answers to my questions, the classes were extremely stimulating, and New York City is amazing!

That being said, visit SIPA! See if it is a good fit, as well as NYC. While here explore the City. It can be quite daunting if you don’t know where to start. One of my passions before coming to SIPA was splurging on food. My desire for quality food has not diminished, although my wallet has since I am now a full time student. So, I have created a list of AMAZING restaurants to try when you’re here, while on a graduate student budget. This is clutch. These restaurants are scattered throughout Manhattan which will allow you to explore your new home if you decide to enroll. Good luck on your application and bon appetit!

restaurants 

 

Things to think about (do) before you apply for grad school

As the summer draws to an end, many people contemplate going to graduate school.  There are a lot of reasons to go back to school but you should decide if those reasons are good enough reasons to spend a year or two (or three) studying and taking exams and incurring debt while you are out of the job market.  You should also consider what is it that you hope to do when you graduate.  If you are thinking about pursuing a career in global public policy (because almost every aspect of life is affected by policy decisions and because you want to make an impact on the global community); getting into a highly competitive, highly impactful organization takes a higher level of training and expertise that a master’s degree can provide.

Going into a graduate program is a big investment in your career and it’s a way to focus on your passion.  Graduate school programs are very specific, so you should know what you want to get out of it before going into it.  You should look at going to graduate school to enhance and develop certain skill sets that will help you achieve a specific job that you want to have post-graduate school.

The piece of paper you get after you finish a program is not going to guarantee anything; it’s the experiences in and around graduate school such as the networking opportunities with students, faculty, and alumni, how you position yourself through the courses you take, the student organizations you may be involved in, events you attend, the internships and assistantships you obtain; your graduate school experience will make the difference on the impact you hope to have, personally and professionally.

You should research the various programs – make sure it’s the right program that offers you the concentration you are interested in studying that will help you get the job in a specific field that you had your eye on.  Start your research early.  You should visit the school/program websites, speak with the admissions offices, attend information sessions, sit in on a class, meet with a professor doing research in your area of interest, review course descriptions and curriculum outlines, and take the time to speak with students and alumni to get their perspectives about the program and life after school.

Find the right school and program that aligns with your interests and will get you the access to the opportunities that matter.

Who Should Not Apply to SIPA

A lot of my blog posts focus on the myriad of wonderful opportunities SIPA has to offer and how no matter your policy interest, the SIPA experience can make all your professional dreams come true! While this is certainly the case for a wide variety of people, SIPA is not the right fit for everyone. Below are examples of 5 types of people who should NOT be applying to SIPA.

  1. You have little or no professional experience. While it’s true that SIPA admits a small percentage (roughly 10%) of applicants directly from undergrad, these are people with significant work or internship experience.  Not only does a lack of experience diminish your chances of acceptance, but it’s not a good idea for you. One of the most important pieces of SIPA is gaining the skills and experience you need to propel you forward in your career, and if you haven’t even began a career, it’s hard to know what those are.  Additionally, a lot of the practical strategies as well as the more theoretical work we do in classes asks us to draw on previous work experience and apply case studies to our own work and life.  You won’t get as much out of your SIPA education if you don’t have these experiences to draw on.
  2. You have no idea what you want to do when you graduate.  Similar to the above, it’s difficult to use a SIPA education to move your career forward if you don’t know where you want to go. That’s not to say you need to know exactly what you want to do after SIPA but you should have a good idea of what you’re passionate about and the kinds of careers that might interest you.  If you are having trouble articulating this in your personal statement, perhaps you should think about gaining another year or two of professional experience before you apply.  A graduate degree is a big investment both in terms of time and money, so you want to make sure it’s something that you need, either personally or professionally, before you make that commitment.  Although many students get their second masters at SIPA, or do a dual degree program these moves are best planned strategically.  Think how frustrating it would be to spend two years at SIPA only to realize that what you really needed was a law degree.
  3. You have trouble interacting with people with different perspectives.  Even as public policy schools go, SIPA is remarkably diverse.  Not only does half of our student body come from non-US countries, we are economically and racially diverse even within our US population (and always striving to be more so).  Just as importantly we attract students with all different experiences and points of view.  If you cannot discuss hot button public or foreign policy issues, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, domestic health policy and poverty alleviation with people who have drastically different opinions than your own without losing your cool, these are skills you need to hone before entering our program.
  4. You are interested in gaining a purely academic or theoretical background.  Our MIA and MPA differ distinctly from a Masters in Political Science.  There is plenty of opportunity to study theory at SIPA whether it be in international relations, education or just about any topic you can think of, but the programs at SIPA are primarily professional degrees.  Like an MBA or law degree, they are meant to prepare practitioners to work in their chosen field.  Although a limited number of SIPA students do go on to pursue PhDs, that is not what our programs are geared toward.  If you know right now you want to go into theory or academia, you might want to consider a Master degree in political science, economics or another field of interest.
  5. You are unwilling or unable to do the work.  If this seems to you like it should be obvious, it does to me too.  Yet we’ve gotten dozens of emails from applicants asking if we can waive graduation or admissions requirements, if they have to do a capstone workshop or if they can graduate early before they’ve even been admitted.  Although SIPA does offer advanced standing for students who already hold graduate degrees, we want students who want to be here.   I want classmates who want to be here. Even in classes that I dreaded taking and that didn’t apply directly to my job (hello econ!) I still learned something.  There’s a reason these courses are required.  Most SIPA students have significant professional experience so although your experience might be valid or great, it does not exempt you from jumping through the same hoops as your classmates.  If this work doesn’t appeal to you now or you don’t think you can make the time to complete the application requirements, what makes you think the work will be appealing or that you’ll have more time in the future?  There is no shame in researching a school’s curriculum and realizing it’s not for you.

These things all said, I do hope you apply.  SIPA can mean a lot of things to a lot of different students with a variety of goals and if it sounds like our school might be the place for you I invite you to explore this blog, our admissions website or to attend an information session and talk with us further!

 

Post contributed by Nancy Leeds.  Nancy is a MPA 2nd Year studying Urban and Social Policy/Management with a Certificate in Gender Policy

 

Journal of International Affairs Opportunities

The following is a message from the Journal of International Affairs.  For more information on the Journal you can also read this entry posted by a student earlier this year.

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Dear Incoming Students,

I would like to present you with an exciting opportunity to write for one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious student-run academic publications in International Affairs.  Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs is looking for book review writers for its Fall/Winter 2011 issue on authoritarian states.

The issue will explore common themes in the ways that different authoritarian states attempt to boost internal legitimacy, exploit open economic networks, leverage international institutions, co-opt the media and stifle dissent. By viewing these regimes from the inside out, this issue will yield important insights about the role that authoritarian governments play on the world stage.

By July 20, interested applicants should email mc3387@columbia.edu the following:

1. A recent CV

2. Two recommendations of potential books for review (recently published – earliest from 2009)

3. A short writing sample (no longer than 750 words)

Successful applicants will be notified of their acceptance by August 5. The books will be assigned after the recruiting process is over.

Each book review will be 300 words long and will be due on September 5, 2011.

"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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