Archive for Academics

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!

Attend Our Virtual Mini Lecture Series

We are officially one week into the fall semester, and it’s proven to be unlike any other. We moved all our courses online and implemented Hyflex classrooms for a small number of classes. These specialized classrooms allow professors to teach students simultaneously online and in-person.

With these modifications in place, we moved our standard Class Visit program to a virtual mini lecture series. These live lectures will provide prospective students an opportunity to virtually experience what a class is like at SIPA. These lectures will be delivered by our esteemed faculty members on their current class topics, followed by a moderated Q&A session. Here are a few upcoming sessions:

Be sure to check out this schedule and reserve your spot!

A Faculty Perspective: Preparing to Study Cyber at SIPA

Guest Post by Professor Jason Healey

Admissions note: Jason Healey is a Senior Research Scholar at SIPA specializing in cyber conflict, competition, and cooperation. He directs the Initiative on the Future of Cyber Risk and teaches two courses: Dynamics of Cyber Power and Conflict and Cybersecurity: Technology, Policy, and Law.

In my five years here, it’s been clear that SIPA’s Dean Merit Janow is committed to bringing all things cyber and digital to the school. We’ve developed a robust program of research, events, and coursework that have made SIPA a hub for the study of cybersecurity and technology policy and our students are not only the main recipients but our best partners.

I’m often asked how students can prepare to study cybersecurity policy at SIPA. In this post, I’ll provide some recommendations on resources students can use for self-study whether you want to get a head start before SIPA or help prepare yourself for one of the five main cyber career tracks for SIPA alumni.

Reading

There are different learning styles. For me, I prefer reading. Whenever I’ve re-directed my career (into cyber in 1998, working for the finance sector in 2001 and the White House in 2003, expanding into risk and business continuity in 2005, and so on) I’ve read as much as I can get my hands on starting with general topics then diving more deeply.

If you want to switch into a cyber career, or wondering if it’s for you, start your reading early. First, there’s the general cyber reading. Here, look at The Cuckoo’s Egg (Cliff Stoll), a very readable classic, and The Hacked World Order (Adam Segal) or The Darkening Web (Alexander Klimberg) on general cyber international relations. Both are good, but Adam Segal is adjunct faculty at SIPA and directs the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. David Sanger’s The Perfect Weapon is amazing, as is Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day and, more recently, Andy Greenberg’s Sandworm. Andy and Kim are some of the most-trusted journalists in the field, along with David Sanger and Ellen Nakashima.

Singer and Friedman’s Cybersecurity and Cyberwar is a bit out of date but very readable — as is my cyber military history, A Fierce Domain. There’s also a lot of academic works like Ben Buchanan’s The Cybersecurity Dilemma, which is excellent, but probably a better third or fourth book.

Second are reports from think tanks like the Atlantic Council, Center for a New American Security, Council on Foreign Relations, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the East-West Institute. These organizations are also holding a lot of virtual events during the quarantine that are open to the general public.

Third, the Internet threat reports from major cybersecurity companies will give you a unique and up-to-date perspective. FireEye’s APT1 report made history, a private sector company calling out espionage – with in-depth analysis backed by evidence – by another country. CrowdStrike’s Global Threat Report is quite readable and there are now dozens of such reports focusing on adversary groups, that is, criminal hacking groups or state-backed espionage teams. The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report and reports from Ponemon are on cybersecurity more generally and the costs of cyber crime.

Last, there is the more technical literature, especially tied to hacking skills and certifications. I started with Hacking Exposed, now on its seventh edition, but study guides for Security+ and Certified Ethical Hacker are also useful. Only dive into these if you care about such things and can deal with sometimes daunting technical material right out of the gate. They’re important but you might start with the other material first.

Social Media

Many of the most influential and interesting practitioners and scholars in the field are on Twitter, and this is a great way to follow the most recent developments. Start with the authors I’ve mentioned here. Follow me then follow those I retweet. As you read Sandworm (especially, as it is new) be sure to follow those mentioned as well as all the authors and journalists I’ve mentioned above.

Getting a Basic Technical Background

If you want a job in cybersecurity, then you must have some understand of what happens on the other side of your screen. If it still seems like magic, then your analyses won’t have enough foundation. Fortunately, even a modicum of basic computer science or programming can be enough for you dispel the fog of magic and learn key concepts and terms. The deeper you can go, the more job options open up for you.

Any of the basic computer science classes available on the various MOOC platforms (EdX, Coursera, Udemy, etc.) will be a great start. CS50x is a particularly popular option. And get as much Python as you can, not just for cyber but to help you at SIPA and any job afterwards. If you can handle the quant, consider pairing cyber classes with the concentration in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis.

Within the cybersecurity fields, a certificate is a routine credential to demonstrate you have special knowledge or skills. The Security+ certificate by CompTIA is one of the most achievable for most SIPA students. Usually, you can study as much as you want for free and only have to pay to take the certification test, usually a few hundred dollars. The higher-end certifications, such as those from SANS, are often highly specialized and more expensive (often paid for by companies to train their staff).

This brief list of recommendations will get you off to a great start in studying cybersecurity policy, and you’ll be well prepared for cyber-related classes at SIPA. More importantly, you’ll be on your way to an exciting career in a field which has difficult and interesting challenges and is well paid and chronically understaffed. I look forward to your joining cybersecurity as a colleague!

Reader request: All about EPD’s curriculum and career networks

Thanks to Shruti Manian MPA ’20 for this blog post in response to a reader request. (Yes, we do read your submitted ideas! You can submit a post request here!) This is for Agastia C., who asked for tips on coping with the rigorous curriculum in the Economic and Political Development concentration, as well as about industry networks for students.


Economic and Political Development (EPD) is one of SIPA’s largest concentrations. Students are required to choose and complete two courses (6 credits) in any one of EPD’s four Professional Focus Areas. Since the four Professional Focus Areas are Economic Development, Political Development, Social Development and Sustainable Development, EPD attracts students with a wide array of experiences and backgrounds. EPD students are interested in careers in international multi-lateral organizations, consulting, government institutions, NGOs and even the private sector to name a few.

EPD does an excellent job of ensuring that it caters to students’ varied interests and allows us the opportunity to explore and engage with fields or organizations we may be interested in.

Every week the concentration organizes anywhere between 1-4 events (usually leaning closer to 4) that are open to all students. Speakers are usually leaders in their fields and organizations and are able to give students in-depth insight into specific and significant projects and help us better grasp trends in the space. Often speakers are SIPA alum and are able to give very focused advice on how we can maximize our time at SIPA and what courses they believe will be particularly pivotal to succeed in certain sectors. Some of our speakers this semester have been from UNESCO, the Grameen Foundation, Women Deliver and many more.

Another incredible professional opportunity is the yearly EPD Career Panel. The Career Panel is organized in conjunction with the Office of Career Services and allows students to hear from a diverse panel that reflects the student body’s interests and expertise. This year, the EPD Panel had representatives from the World Economic Forum, the Global Impact Investing Network and the Economist Group to name a few. The Career Panel gives us a chance to hear about the day to day work of professionals in fields we are interested in and ask them questions and build a network. The Concentration also organizes an internship panel so first year students can gain insight into the internship experiences second year students had.

Lastly, EPD faculty members are always happy to help connect students to their vast and impressive networks both in and out of SIPA. Faculty members will often help students reach out to SIPA alums who work in organizations we may be interested in or often are even willing to use their own personal networks to help us out.

The professional opportunities available to EPD students are numerous and impressive. As long as students are willing to take initiative and are curious to learn, there is always an event, a faculty member or an alum around the corner waiting to lend a helping hand.

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!

"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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