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Posts Tagged ‘Policy Analysis’

Earlier this week my policy group and I officially completed the first round of lab.  It was definitely a tough haul but everything worked out in the end.  The process itself is very interesting: we spent several weeks going in one direction on the project, but then had to shift and go in another direction – two weeks before we had to present to the client.  With the deadline looming, we re-worked our entire analysis, even to the last minute.  After our briefing, we went to work on the analytic brief, adding information that didn’t make it to the briefing, filling in spots that the client requested, and clarifying key points.  Five people working on one document – not a party.  The whole thing was stressful, time consuming, and very irritating.  The result?  The client is very pleased.

Lab really is one of those experiences that helps you grow as a student, as a professional, and as a person.  Yes it’s stressful.  Yes it’s time consuming.  Yes it’s irritating.  But it’s good for the soul.  And I really do mean that.  Depending on the group you have, you can build very strong bonds with your group mates.  That 12-hour analysis session of yesterday will be the nostalgic joke of tomorrow that you all laugh about.  You learn to work with people.  You learn to compromise.  You learn when to lead and when to follow, when to speak up and when to shut up.  It’s tough, rough, and not fun by any recreation standards.  And it’s all worth it.

On Monday I’ll get a new group and a new policy issue.  And it will all begin again.

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First off, Laura brilliantly beat me to this (see below, we’re posting nearly simultaneously tonight, because GREAT MINDS), but : it is registration time around here, so if anyone has BURNING questions (or any other kind, I suppose) please feel free to reach out and let us know.  We are happy to help.

On that note, for students in policy analysis, Thursday evening begins The Trial Round, a/k/a, the long, anticipated slide into, for most first years, a spring spent in Lab. I’ll have more to say about Lab proper as we get closer, but as I’m going to be one of the Lab Assistants (or TAs, or GAs, or Helper People) in the Trial Round, and later in the Spring, for Lab, I thought I would offer a few brief notes as we enter the first phase of this. My apologies if you are in either of my teams and I get repetitive.

1 ) Opening night may feel very strange. Opening night is Thursday, and I’m sorry I sometimes slip into theater lingo when discussing all of this, but honestly for me this whole process is vaguely reminiscent of prepping for a play. So I’ll also say “rehearsals” about the briefing, and if you are a real, live present or former theater person, I’m sorry if you don’t do likewise, and it doesn’t mean that I am not taking this seriously.  (I took plays plenty seriously too!)

So Thursday you will be assigned to your team with whom you’ll begin work on your Trial Round project, during which you’ll complete an analysis and deliver a recommendation to your “client”.  To do so, you’ll be using the mandate and data pack (collated materials gathered by a Lab group last spring) as well as your own, fresh set of eyes and skills.  You’re going from the class where you’ve been all term to this small group, with a Lab Assistant and faculty advisor, and you’ll not be in your big class again until the end of this process.  So in some ways it might suddenly feel like a whole new class.  You may feel discombobulated.  That is understandable, and not cause for panic.

2) You may feel anxiety about who will be in your group, what your project will be, what you will have to contribute to this process; all of the unknowns which will be answered quickly over the next few days.  For now: be open and begin making peace with the lack of control you will have over many parts of this process.  For some of us, myself included, that is a challenge.  Letting go of certain things, which I kind of did by the end of the Trial Round, enabled me to hit the ground running in the spring for Lab.  Use this as your space/time to get the kinks out and figure out how you work best in this very strange, and artificial, situation.  Believe me, having done so led to a much more productive and positive experience for me during the first, “live”, round of Lab.

3)  If your T.A./Lab Assistant uses lingo that sounds slightly different from that which you’ve been using in your class, no worries; it just means they probably took Policy Analysis from another professor.  Dirty little secret, and if you disagree FEEL FREE to throw down in the comments, but we’re all doing different versions of the same thing here.  Trial Round puts you, for the first time, into the position of learning what works best for you.  To accomplish that, you use these tools in TR, so that you can better accomplish the goal of helping your oh-so-real clients in the Spring.

4)  You have a GREAT group of TA/LA’s getting ready to work with you.   We are your first line of assistance and are eager to help you complete a succcessful, and hopefully even POSITIVE experience in the Trial Round.  

Finally, congrats to Laura and her group as rumor has it the Chase competition continues for our trusty New School team.   Bravo, all!

-Kristen

 

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TWO MONTHS since my last post, internets.  TWO MONTHS.  I am not going to apologize for my dereliction of duty because a) let’s be honest, couldn’t we all tell where my next few posts were going to go (policy lab) and b) Tushar and Laura were such a breath of fresh air around here.  I mean, how many times can you say “I got up, I went to work, I went to school, I met with my group, I finally got home, I did more research, and I napped a couple of hours”??  It sounds unbelievable to me and that pretty well sums up my life from January through June.

Wait?! That’s now!  Yes, yes, it is, and as my full-time colleagues Tushar and Laura are off working for their summer, I am proceeding with other mostly-part time students into another course.  In my case: Economics for Management and Policy.  I asked friends for snack recommendations, as I am trying to avoid plying myself with even more rice pudding, and one vet of this course advised “chocolates filled with vodka”, which was just about the most encouraging pep talk you could ask for.  Spot on, too, because the logistical challenge of this course isn’t coordinating five people’s schedules and snagging meeting rooms (to say nothing of coming up with quality work that is actually useful to your client), it is concentrating intently for four hours one night weekly, plus another two hours on another evening, making notes on economic policy and how to find the slope of a line.

It is not a total shock that I actually find this quite interesting–while I pride myself on being an outside of the box thinker, the beauty of a class like this following policy lab is that it feels so eminently logical that I am finding much to engage me in marathon reading sessions.  Also, this will be over rather quickly, and so the one-month-until-completion of my first year countdown is ON, people.

A good thing, too, because one painful bit of evidence as to how exhausted I am can be found reading through my posts this year, and seeing writing errors and cliche usage that makes me very, very sad.  Case and point: “I am an outside of the box thinker!”

Right.  I am also a creative dresser who shops at the Gap.  What a weak way to make a point, and I am trying to eke out the homeworks and assignments left this term so that I can join my colleagues who have embarked on The Summer of Greatness.

Just as soon as I graph these curves…

-kd

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Nature of the Problem:

Students have to prepare a thoughtful, concise, engaging PowerPoint presentation which will deliver some solutions and analysis to their clients, who were assigned 4? weeks ago.

Underlying Issues:

Susceptibility of bodies to prolonged virus exposure; crowded space/working conditions; having more issues to discuss and analyze than hours available to do so; fatigue; emotional stress; anxiety over different professors’ different ways of doing things (even though we’re all doing the same thing)

Related Issues:

value of graduate education, length of commuting times to Queens, New Jersey, Brooklyn, malfunctioning MTA/NJ Transit/PATH/MetroNorth, desire for a graduate nap room/infirmary/kitchen/bar, expense of graduate housing, anxiety over any and all employment prospects

Recommendation:

You got me.  Keep on keeping on, and for god’s sake keep some patience and humor. 

********************

You know, if I had mad skillz I’d craft a matrix for you all, which would just serve to get an ooooh and aaaaah from people like me, who, when a prospective student, assumed that somehow by the time this whole “Lab” experience took place, I would feel so transformed and competent that I would say that while challenging, Lab is like that annoying computer problem at work–something to be dealt and dispensed with, and no big deal.

Instead, we’re worried we’re not where we need to be, then get excited thinking we’ve Figured It Out (HA! behold our brilliance!)–and then we cycle right back to worry.

You do a first rehearsal of your presentation, and then the questions begin, and there are many.  Right then is about when you panic, or stall, thinking  why was that again? and YES we know we have to fix that typo (insert bratty eyeroll from KD, yes, I own it and I apologize).  Meanwhile, if you’re me you have just hacked up nothing good on a raw throat and are so tired you don’t remember the contents of your own iPod, much less why That Great Idea is So Great.  I had some idea as to what I was personally saying, but mostly kept thinking, I’m not “there” yet–I still need to rethink and chop this some more, to get to the essence of the point, and also, frankly, I WANT TO SIT DOWN.

After this first run through, which takes a long time, you go back and start from Slide 1, and work your way through.  Right now that’s what we’re doing, and while on the one hand it is in the realm of telling a story, a process that I love and understand, on the other it’s about data and analysis and the technical side of policy analysis with which we engaged last term.

I am just in no place to evaluate what is happening procedurally right now.  But I can report, happily, that in the midst of a lot of frustration and hard work, we are laughing a lot as a team, too.   Which is good, because if I had to stifle the wacky for this long under these conditions, things would be quite miserable.

-Kristen

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Yes, my friends, that is where your faithful pals and colleagues have been in policy-land: sick and very very tired.

Word of warning: there are now so many rhinoviruses (sounds more menacing than “germs”, doesn’t it?) floating around the Milano building that I would not blink if the heretofore unaffected started sporting scary spaceman outfits, so as to avoid the pestilence.

Maybe my perspective is skewed (entirely plausible, since I am really going only on personal and anecdotal evidence, as well as, you know, Facebook) but first we hit the wall of tired, and then fell limply to a pile of kleenex.  Or something.  Basically, we’re all working 24/7 with our groups, assembling research (even when you know that you don’t have time to do more, there are always these tantalizing reminders of your project, everywhere you go, all day long, prompting you to KEEP GOING past the point of reason) and hopefully analyzing/preparing briefings/assembling our many future documents.

I don’t know.  It’s hard to sum up in any sort of interesting way, because frankly, I’m resisting the temptation to talk more about MY project right now, but we really have gotten to a point where we’re breathing this, and dreaming it, as well as hoping that our solutions are going to be useful in some way.  This is the sort of thing that leaves you very drained, but hopefully feeling very proud about too.  I’m joking about the sickness going around because it’s to be expected under the circumstances, and also, what better bonding moment can you have than diverting attention from The Project to fetch more tissue/handkerchiefs, more tea, and share home remedies?  I’ve just learned about one involving tea with raspberry jam and some sort of liquor, and if it weren’t for the person’s grandma who makes it living all the way in the Ukraine, I’d totally be swilling it by now.  I mean, doesn’t that sound good?   Someone else swears by Sudafed, which makes me so crazed that I’d talk even more than I do now, and now?  Now I talk too much because that is what happens when I’m tired–I babble.  It’s truly unfortunate, and I have apologized many times.  In that sense a sore throat is a small blessing for others because I can’t do it. 

I am enjoying an evening of obsessing over finding some graphics that are really specific (oh, believe you me, I know what I am looking for, internets) for…I’m not even sure.  Just in case.  Whatever.  I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of it during our late night meeting tomorrow.

Carry on, ya’ll.  And to our friends Out There??  We do miss you.  And we will see you…well, honestly probably not until Spring Break or May, depending.  But when we’re not dreaming about Lab, we’re totally thinking of you.  Honest.

-KD

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I alluded in my first post to the wonders of confronting Excel as a former English major.  Believe it or not I wrestled with how much of that confrontation to discuss here, because There is No Crying In Baseball, and also because like Sarah Palin, I know what I know what I do not know what I—oh bother.

As a blogging team, we share membership in one of the required courses at Milano, called “Making a Difference”, which brings together students from all programs.  We’re in different sections, but we have that common reference to our work.  However, from there as a policy student our similarities end.

My other course this term (my part-time schedule includes two) is Policy Analysis, the first course towards my MS in Urban Policy Analysis and Management.  First up was a tour of the rational model, and (here I’m really zipping ahead) subsequently we’ve been dealing with all sorts of Excel-ent focused work in cost-benefit analysis. 

I could lie here, but how could I to you, dear internets??  I hit the wall.  Blammo!  If you’ve ever had the experience as a student of leaving a class session feeling that you’ve understood the concepts, you feel somewhat ready to tackle a project, only to spend the next few hours (or days) staring bleary-eyed at your computer wondering where it went wrong, then you understand what the last few weeks were like for me.  It’s driven me to distraction.  I spent hours playing with Excel, manipulating numbers here and there, only to end up with results that seemed a) Really Wrong, and b) unknowing of how to fix them.    I had gone to sessions offered by our helpful (and they really are) teaching assistants, again felt like “aha!  GOT IT!” and within 36 hours felt I had cycled right back to confusion.

It’s not just that on a superficial level I have not worked with economic analysis before, it’s that my mind is literally not trained to think that way.  Give me a stack (or a nexus) of theoretical concepts with a dash of brain-busting philosophy sprinkled on like parmesan (mmm, cheese!) and I am a happy, hardworking camper.  Give me a policy problem that asks for a financial comparison, and I want to help, truly I do, but thusfar I am still working on being useful in that regard.

One of the hard things about grad school is that you are confronted daily with all of the things you do not know–perhaps not literally daily, but certainly often enough–and one of the challenges becomes how to integrate that into your outlook without allowing it to overcome you.  If you are, like me, a student entering a graduate program that is a field (or 10) away from your “comfort zone”, reminding yourself as often as possible that you are trying something new, and to be kind to yourself, becomes imperative.  Some days I am better at that than others.

I am hoping that very soon I will have a professional “day job” context in which to experience the other, real-world side of my education.  One of the reasons that challenging moments in study become overwhelming for me right now is that, frankly, I am not in any other worlds against which to compare, to consider, to contextualize myself and my nascent professional capabilities.

I don’t want to jinx that “very soon” by saying more, so let’s move on, shall we?

-KD

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