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Posts Tagged ‘Lab’

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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We’ve just closed out the first full month of the semester, yet it already feels like we’re two months in. Exams and briefings are coming up, and the last vestiges of rust from the long winter break should be shaken off by now.  Today is a holiday, but that’s only in the technical sense. Holidays are like weekends in grad school: you don’t have any classes, but that’s just an opportunity for your study group to meet.

My  lab group spent several hours discussing our policy issue on Sunday, drawing a complicated flowchart all over the blackboard in a classroom we commandeered.  We even had colored chalk, which was quite exciting (yes, colored chalk will excite you in grad school).  Today and tomorrow we’ll be at it again, and I anticipate another  set of marathon meetings.

When you’re in the thick of things, sometimes it’s good to take a moment to relax or do something enjoyable.  On Saturday evening I was convinced to procrastinate my quantitative methods studies and instead hang out and watch the NBA All-Start activities.  Although procrastination is not a good thing generally, I think it was a good decision to chill.  I had a great time with a good group of guys, talking laughing, eating pizza, and watching basketball.  Saturday evening reminded me that it’s important to maintain human contact that doesn’t involvement policy analysis.

With the aforementioned briefings and exams coming up, I don’t expect to have many more opportunities to hang out.  I do expect, however, to spend a lot of “quality time” with my lab group. Between the policy lab and quantitative methods (and the demands of grad school in general) I expected to be extremely busy this semester. I also hope to find some quality time to relax and keep perspective.

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I’ve just started my second semester here at Milano.  As an urban policy student, I’ve been thrust into the intensive experience know as the laboratory in issue analysis.  It’s technically a course but it’s more like being a consultant with training wheels.  My only other class is statistics (we’re advised to take only one course in addition to the lab).  The change from first semester to second semester is quite dramatic.  Last fall I was taking four classes and auditing a language course.  With a total of five classes my schedule was packed.  This semester I have a lot more leeway as to how to spend my time, which is a double-edged sword.  Structure can help one focus.  At least, it helps me focus.  With the lab, my schedule is much more fluid.  I may have different commitments from week to week, so time management is essential.

On top of navigating the lab, being a second semester student brings its own challenges.  In one sense I’m veteran, having completed a quarter of the program.  In another sense I still feel like a new student since I’ve been in class for less than six months.  After coming back from a long winter break, there’s a bit of disorientation.  Some of my classmates from the fall have switched to other programs within the school and so I hardly see them anymore.

On the flip side, I haven’t really spent time with most of the people in the urban policy program yet, much less the entire school.  The policy lab will definitely give me an opportunity to do that.  So plenty of opportunities lie ahead.  First semester was great (and tough), but now we move onward to meet new people, make new friends, and tackle to social issues of the day.

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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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Well, internet, you may have heard there was some ruckus going on at the New School lately, and I can report this: most of us were honestly so crazed about Lab that after our question “OK, but CAN WE USE THE MEETING SPACE?” was answered, my compadres and I really didn’t have time to raise our heads from computers long enough to get a read on that situation.  I will just say that I am an advocate of nonviolent protest and am likewise concerned whenever I see what appears to be a very aggressive physical law enforcement response.   It is really not affect to say that the Lab people have been too busy to notice much else.

So I’ve been mighty quiet lately but that is owing to a few things.  First off, um, LAB.  Secondly, I’m really trying to take better care of myself during this round, so doing things like going to yoga, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, watching movies, reading poetry, and meditating amidst the sorry scene of my living room have somewhat taken precedence over writing.  Not to mention the fact that this time I’m in a new place which is this: I just don’t know what to say.  There.

Saturday, as on most days this term, I schlepped Bagzilla, my beloved (est.) 47-pound bag bearing my laptop, chargers, water bottle (which is always empty by the time I get to Milano after a day at the office), Advil, some notes, a deteriorating calendar, and assorted daily effluvia to campus and our group met.  Yadda yadda yadda, I realized I had to grapple with Excel to come up with some numbers for this project.

Now here is the thing.  I have NEVER claimed to be any sort of economist.  This isn’t owing so much to math anxiety as much as, well, more of an interest in and natural affinity for WORDS.  (Please, economists, don’t hate, congratulate, and we’ll all be just fine.)

So I spent Sunday trying to figure out how to generate numbers that were actually meaningful to our project, and then realized I was doing it wrong, and then saw my colleagues’ work, and sort of tweaked some things, but frankly?  I’m still not sure on this math. 

So what has been lovingly christened The Excel Spreadsheet of Doom is out there in google group land, and better numeric minds than mine shall hopefully make more sense of it.  In the meantime, I am trying to muster the strength physically, emotionally, and mentally to push through to the end of the term.  I’ve had some rather sad moments over all of this lately, even wondering what I could have to look forward to other than lab, and then someone reminded me, this ends SOON.

It is supposed to be gorgeous this weekend, so after a Friday of work and lab, spending a spectacular Saturday enjoying, somehow, some part of this weather is really eagerly anticipated.  Another?  I realized I should start trolling for a really amazing, cheap summer vacation destination so I have some great incentive.  So far, hanging out with the sea turtles and monkeys in the Costa Rica rainforest is sounding fabulous.  We’ll see.  Also?  FROGS!!!  (I love frogs.)

-Kristen

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Wow, I really haven’t  updated in far too long, but if you had followed me around in real time with a camera, internets….well, frankly it would have been a mix of sadness, giggles, exhaustion, medication, occasionally irrational outbursts, and usually ending up at laughing again.  That’s something at least.

To use a great line from “The Princess Bride”: “Let me explain…no, there is too much.  Let me sum up!” here is where we are at, the royal “we” being the lab students, my team, or even me since I’ve started thinking royally.  This is a long one, but it’s been a long time!

We were supposed to give our powerpoint presentation early in the week; we had an unexpected delay; we ended up having an extra full week to tweak, fiddle with, receive comments about, and generally drive ourselves insane over the powerpoint presentation; we went last (LAST!); we turned right around and are now preparing the written report that gets handed in on the first day back from spring break.

In case I haven’t mentioned this part yet?  Right now?  Is Spring Break.

Never has maintaining a sense of humor been more important.  I’ve not always been successful.  At some point of trying to edit slides and consolidate, and get a rhythm going in my part of of the presentation, I pretty much melted down about the entire situation, and had to excuse myself to the ladies room for a good cry.  (Funny, I excused myself from the room but now I’m just announcing it to the internet.  Ah, egos are charming, right?)

Some random thoughts, moments, and notions as we FINALLY approach the conclusion of this round:

1)  Every graduate program has one of these required elements, held up as an Amazing Experience Which Makes Us Different.  They do have some distinctions, but at the end of the day simply put, what you’ll be doing is a big project, which will exhaust you, test your patience, and trigger enormous stresses.  That is why regardless of where you enroll for your graduate degree, I seriously advise you to come up with something to help calm yourself when you need it, and to think about ways to take care of yourself.  When you’re too busy to use those healthy tactics, at least you can daydream about doing them.

2) Never underestimate the healing powers of rice pudding.

3) In terms of #1, knowing that no matter where you are, you’d have some version of this to get through, you’ll come up with, or your teammates will come up with, at least 5 reasons why the way that these projects are structured is inherently wrong, bad, and a completely awful way to spend your time.  I’d only share this: during my first MA I was one of those people, about master’s projects and orals, and who remembers what else, but I was definitely not shy about airing my opinion.  This time I find I’m much more selfishly interested in when I might sleep again.  Both are valid ways to be graduate students, but one of them has me less upset.  Experience is AWESOME.  My former grad school profs would be doing spittakes if they saw me these days, all “AHH, ok, let’s get through this” rather than suggesting a restructuring of–well, EVERYTHING.  It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, comments, or things I’d suggest about how to refine this process–I think I’m just a little jaded about How Grad School Works.  Part of that is that grad students and professors become pains to each other.   In the words of Sean Penn, “I am well aware of how difficult I make it for people to appreciate me.”

4) Whole Foods has a really tasty hot food bar and I became really fond of the tofu mixed with quinoa salad.  At some point towards the end of this half I became too busy to actually grocery shop, cook, or clean up.  So finding any kind of sort of healthy food during the day was really critical.  Other days, :), Chipotle’s bean burrito bowl did the trick. 

5) If you’re working full time during lab, there may be some awkwardness on all fronts–your employer will surely notice your fatigued and preoccupied state, your teammates will worry that you will become a shameless freeloading slacker, and you will vacillate between pride at not collapsing and fear that you are not doing anyone any good anywhere.  I still haven’t figured out how to sit with this, so instead have volunteered to do as much in both places as I could, and try not to feel too guilty.  (My friends who are working moms have inspired me a GREAT deal on this front.)  You are not Gumby.

6) I really want to finish this round up, but I’m really going to miss my team.  If you’re going to spend so many hours together, being around people who can work together and even laugh a little is so preferable, and I feel lucky that way.

I’m off to meet with my team again (aka my second family) and get this report into better shape.  Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be finished and free this Friday.  I am getting a massage, and having a really tasty cocktail somewhere or other.  It is going to rock.

-KD

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