Field Notes from a Grad School Visit

What’s the first thing you should do after your thesis is done?

More research, of course! The best kind of research. Fun research.

For me, that meant investigating the place where I’ll spend the next two years: Harvard Kennedy School. At HKS, I’ll study policy and political communications as a Master of Public Policy student. I’ll also develop leadership skills as a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow.

Fact: Signs like this exist for pictures like these.

I’m unbelievably excited about these things. I’m also eager to learn who my classmates are, where my classes will be, and what Boston is like. Thus, I figured it was time for some research — at HKS’ New Admit Day, which took place on April 7.

Here are some field notes from my journey there and back:

[4:58am] I’ve just gotten on the Dinky, which is not a big deal. But I’m going to Newark Airport, which is a moderately big deal because I’ve never been in a plane before!!! Yes, really. Today’s flight to Boston will be the first flight I’m ever on.

[7:59am] I’m on the plane! It feels like a motion simulator at Disney World.

[9:15am] After I arrive at Logan International Airport, I check in at my hotel before starting HKS activities — here’s the view from my room:

Couldn’t have asked for a better day!

[10:30am – 4:00pm] Four back-to-back panels focus on what it means to attend HKS, including:

– An overview of the MPP curriculum
– A sample lecture about ethics in public policy
– A Q&A session with current HKS students
– A Q&A session with each of HKS’ research centers

These info sessions are long, but they’re worth listening to. It’s true that most graduate programs already have this information on their website. Still, the information can seem abstract until it’s presented in person. Plus, interacting with school officials gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself and to ask questions — two things that are always a good idea.

As an added bonus, New Admit Day came with lunch and time to mingle with other prospective students. Two more good ideas!

[4:00pm – 5:00pm] I spend an hour walking around Harvard, including the campus and the surrounding stores. Think of it as me researching where I’ll be living and learning. Sadly, I did not have research funding to cover the Harvard gifts I was obligated to buy for my entire family.

In the middle of Harvard Square … who knew?

[5:00pm-6:15pm] It’s time for the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) reception. The CPL awards nine different kinds of fellowships, including the Sheila C. Johnson fellowship mentioned above. As a Johnson fellow, I’ll focus on reducing disparities in marginalized communities.

I’m particularly excited to do this alongside other fellows. Since grad students come from all different stages of life, it’s important to find ways to connect with people who already have decades of work experience, or are otherwise established in their careers. Being a fellow is an incredible way to forge connections with other students.

The rest of my fun research was pretty routine — returning to the hotel, eating cheesy tater tots, sleeping, and flying back to NJ. I know it’s not good to include irrelevant data, so I’ll spare you those details.

However, the data I’ve presented here is missing a motive and a discussion. Why did I apply to graduate school? How did I weigh grad school versus other options? What would I tell rising juniors about the post-grad process?

Even fun research needs to consider these ideas. So, I’ll be back soon with some thoughts — Stay tuned for my next post!

— Melissa Parnagian, Social Sciences Correspondent