Author Archive for Sevita Rama

Applying in Quarantine: What does a productive application schedule look like in a pandemic?

Although every country is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in its own way, we all have one thing in common: we’re all seeing less of each other than we used to. So what does that mean for the grad school application process? For one, it means that the SIPA video essay won’t be as daunting if you’ve been on Zoom all summer!

But where you might have been able to settle down in a coffee shop before and benefit from that secondhand productivity before COVID-19, being stuck at home, staring at screens all day, and potentially needing to pay more attention to your family members might make it harder to concentrate on how to build a narrative around your goals and sell your past professional and academic experiences to grad programs.

When I applied to SIPA in the fall/winter of 2018-2019, I lived abroad in Tunisia, was in between a couple jobs, deciding whether to stay or go, but chose to stay for at least a month to take my GRE (you will be able to waive it this year) and write my application essays in a relatively nicer climate than the suburbs of Michigan. I wasn’t seeing too many people at the time and had to set my own schedule between a consulting gig, some freelance work, and GRE/application prep. This time prepared me in a way for quarantine, so here are some tips to create a productive environment to meet your application deadlines!

  1. Find study buddies: Depending on your ability to see people during COVID, set up check-ins and accountability measures with your friends. I was lucky that another friend of mine was applying to grad school on the same timeline as me, so we arranged our GRE dates around the same time and set goals and personal deadlines for sending our personal statements and essays to friends for editing as well as reaching out to recommenders. We called each other every week to check in and talk about our potential futures! If you don’t have other friends applying to grad school, get your friends to have work or study sessions with you over Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. You don’t have to talk the whole time, but it’s great to have company on the other end of the line.
  2. Manage your time: With quarantine and social distancing, our perception of time right now is fairly warped. Sometimes days can feel like a full year and a leap day, and other times, you hit 6pm and can’t recall anything you’ve done that day. Whatever time management method works for you, create dedicated blocks of time in your schedule to work on your application. The earlier you start, the easier it is to manage at the end, but you don’t need to sit down for 16 hours and finish it all (I say this as a chronic procrastinator). Some people swear by the Pomodoro method, which is great if you can get motivated for short bursts of time. Before you know it, looming tasks become much smaller. You can also try productivity apps like Forest, which helps you limit your phone screen time while you focus on other tasks.
  3. Don’t waste your time trying to read minds: There are a lot of global events happening this year and the admissions committee is likely going to be hearing many different perspectives on the same events. Figure out what you want to say, not what you think admissions wants to hear. This isn’t really a productivity tip, but it might make the writing and rewriting process of your personal statements and other essays more fulfilling. I never thought I’d enjoy the process of having to sell myself as a candidate to graduate programs, but once I dug deep into why these programs mattered to me and the future I envisioned for myself, writing them became fun and helped me share my goals with my friends and family. One potential upside of the increased alone time might be the chance to reflect and introspect more deeply into your path (don’t be fooled, no one’s is linear) and what could lie ahead. The world is changing so rapidly, you can even be more creative than before about where SIPA might lead you!

The SIPA admissions blog will continue to be updated with advice from current students and the Admissions staff, so check back here for new insights about the process and don’t pressure yourself into being productive in the same ways you used to be!

Applications are just one part of the process, so keep taking care of yourself and maintaining your wellbeing throughout this cycle!

Program Assistant Introduction: Sevita Rama MPA-DP ’21

We’re introducing our new group of program assistants with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. We started with Zawadia; now please meet Sevita.

Sevita Rama is a Troy, Michigan, native who is currently in her second year of the MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) at SIPA, specializing in Technology, Media and Communications (TMaC). After graduating from Rice University with a BA in Cognitive Sciences and Policy Studies, she worked in North Africa on economic development projects with various NGOs and local implementing organizations for four years, and developed a passion for supporting rural communities through food systems. She also believes greatly in the power of community-based storytelling and is continuing to build on this interest at SIPA. In 2019-2020, Sevita was a Foreign Language and Area Studies scholar for Arabic and the Middle East/North Africa at Columbia.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

Right before SIPA, I had started with Oxfam’s Egypt Country Office, which is based in Tunis, Tunisia, due to the organization’s previous work critical of human rights under the current regime. Little did I know this experience in remote project management would serve me well when everything shifted online with COVID. I worked on a project that aimed to strengthen the social enterprise ecosystem across North Africa and create linkages across the region that would improve inclusive economic growth. Prior to this, I worked with other implementing organizations and consultancies that also focused on economic development in both Egypt and Tunisia.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I lived in Cairo in 2017, a friend was leaving to start his degree at SIPA. I had never been eager to get a master’s degree, but I realized that I would need one to advance in development and that I needed a break from ‘doing’ and meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth to actually sit down and delve deeply into the structures that shape work in international development. I also wanted to move away from economic development as a broad focus and look more closely at rural development work around food systems and agriculture, which was some of my most rewarding professional experience in Egypt. When I finally decided to take the leap and prepare my application, I spoke at length with the friend I met in Cairo who was just wrapping up his degree at SIPA. His confirmation about the practical nature of the DP program and the tight-knit cohort made me excited to join SIPA’s class of 2021 and start a degree that combined rigorous academic coursework with tangible outcomes.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A bit of both – I wanted to keep working in development and project implementation/management, but I also wanted to build up some expertise and work in agriculture and food systems that would allow me to work with multilateral (UN) organizations that focus on these issues. I wanted to try working at a new scale of programs by looking at the funding mechanisms and geopolitics of these decisions. Something new I wanted to try was developing a portfolio of storytelling work through photography and video, which is now why I am in the TMaC specialization. I have taken some great courses that have allowed me to produce podcasts, videos, and journalistic writing pieces that I can share and publicize far beyond the university’s walls while I am here and after I graduate.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?

As a DP we have a week of “pre-orientation” before the rest of SIPA gets orientation, called “Getting Started Week.” I was surprised to be able to bond so strongly with my cohort through the beginning stages of our program and during our retreat. It was also incredible to be around people who all had such different experiences with the development sector and were excited to discuss, analyze and “nerd out” about the field.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? How did you perform in those classes?

I would consider myself as having less quantitative experience than many of my peers. Although my Bachelor’s was in a STEM field, my quantitative experiences in undergraduate coursework was limited to biology-related subjects, and it had also been quite some time since I had done any intense problem sets. Studying for the GRE helped me brush up on my quantitative skills to feel prepared for Macroeconomics and Quantitative Analysis. I was worried about making it through these courses, but ultimately a combination of strong teaching teams, good group work, and being patient with myself helped me get through. I still don’t feel very inclined to take many additional quantitative courses beyond the requirements because my focus is still in project/program implementation and management, but I am excited about my Budgeting and Financial Management for Government class this semester and apply some of that knowledge to program budgeting in the future.

"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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