Top 10 Lessons for My Favorite 1st Year MPAers (6-10 + more for good measure)

Now that the marks have been tallied and the hands shaken at graduation, here is the remainder of the list, continued from here

6. Capstone no.3 : Browse the website for videos such as the following:

Then HAVE FUN! It’s just school, where mistakes will cost you your mark, but not your job. Use this to learn, both about group dynamics and yourself. (NB: Taking it too seriously will result in a panic attack by November.)

-Your group: My uncle told me this when dealing with family. It seems pertinent here:

Before you open your mouth to speak, ask yourself if you’re saying something to advance yourself or if what you’re saying will better your relationship.

Will it help your group if you say this or will it just help you?

-Your client: Speak face-to-face as much as possible. It’s a rare chance to glimpse the inside of an organisation. Brainstorming ideas and discussing issues with them will help you figure out exactly what they want, and it makes it more interesting.

A short walk from our Capstone client's new office

A short walk from our Capstone client's new office

7.  Dissertation, no. 1: Weekly meetings … with my advisor were refreshing draughts of cool, sane waters in the midst of hot Capstone insanity. Showing someone what you’ve worked on all week for your dissertation will force you to keep up a good pace. My advisor was amazing, and she knew nothing about my topic — but mostly likely, neither did any of the markers. If you don’t click with your advisor, go to someone else.

8.  Dissertation, no.2: Quantitative is better than qualitative. We were all told that you do not need to do a quantitative dissertation to do well. But when the professors gave examples of qualitative work they liked, it felt like the exceptions that proved the rule. The people marking your dissertations are economists and game theorists — their language is numbers and diagrams. Speak to them in their language.

9.  Dissertation, no.3: abstract (worth 10% of the final mark). From what I received and heard from friends, the main critiques were:

  • Where is the data?
  • This is good for a doctorate but too much for a masters.
  • What is your question?   (Your title should be a precise question — one, simple question.)

Find a topic you love. Find an academic theory. Find the data to test/expand/refute that theory. Have it in your hands before your abstract is due, and KISS, as my old history teacher used to say (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

For your topic/question: As a doctoral student told me, when you’re a brilliant professor on the verge of retirement, you can write books and give lectures on topics like, “China” or “The Arabs.” When you’re a lowly graduate student, you write on, “Basket Weaving in the First Two Years of the Byzantine Empire.” Stay focused.

(NB: Don’t worry if you get a C for the abstract, as many did this year, you can still end up with a distinction.)

10. Referencing: is free and allows you to upload JSTOR and other PDFs and culls the relevant bibliographic data from them automatically.  I had some issues with the Desktop version, which does not allow you to add as many details as it does online, but it’s an invaluable resource nonetheless. Endnote is also a classic. Zotero is online and free as well.

11. Suggested options: If you can, take Leslie Hannah’s MN425 Business in the Global Environment. If you’re in his discussion section, you will learn something interesting every time, often through his off the cuff remarks. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, he cares about his students, and there is . . .  no exam. Just two papers (2,000 words each).

Also, you may not believe me, but AC470 Accounting in the Global Economy was as fascinating as the topic could be. Half the lectures were covered by an accountant, the other half by a sociologist looking at how people form what we’d think were just straightforward rules and standards (overall lesson: even accounting is subjective). The professors cared about what they were teaching and were always open for advice.

One last thing: look at how LSE calculates honours. For the Americans: your overall GPA does not matter! If you get a distinction in 6 units, fail a class and almost fail all your other classes, you will graduate with distinction. If you get a distinction in 3 units and a high merit — even a 69 — in everything else, you graduate with just a merit. Think about it.

What you might not have known about the Guardian’s eagle


The Guardian's Eagle: to be used for an upcoming book cover. Mehdi set up the camera, I took the shot and, thank you kindly, it's now all (c) Sabrina van den Bos

Mehdi and I woke up early last Sunday, hopped on the tube, and walked about ten minutes from the Arnos Grove Tube Station to the New Southgate Cemetery. In it is the resting spot of one of the central figures of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi (aka the Guardian), marked by the monument above.

Thieves stole the original eagle in the middle of the night about ten years ago and vandalised the rest of the grave, so  it is now kept well under watch. As Mehdi brought out a massive Nikon and zoom lens, the caretaker and his friend, both of whom are sweet, elderly Persian men, saw us on the security camera.  The friend came to check us out.

Who were we? Just visitors? Ok.  How about a tour?

I’ve been to this cemetery multiple times over the years, but I had never really learned anything about it.

In undergrad, I learned that one of New York’s biggest cemeteries was also one of its biggest picnic spots before Central Park existed and vampire flicks changed popular imagination forever.  They are, after all, more peaceful than creepy, and the texts on the tombstones are often more poignant than sombre, particularly at this one (though it’s still impossible to imagine breaking out a lunch spread here).

I haven’t fact checked everything I remember from everything I heard, but our gentle guide did point out that there five large rocks brought over from Mt. Carmel in Haifa and placed throughout the cemetery.  Each is a piece of home for me, which is a bit funny to find somewhere in London’s Zone 2, if you think about it.

The actual eagle is a gold-platted bronze statue chosen by Shoghi Effendi’s widow.  It’s eight times the size of the eagle he kept on his desk from some Japanese friends.  Apparently, it’s facing Africa, a continent he often wrote about with immense esteem and love.

This shot of it will be used for the cover of a book coming out soon.

Cambridge by (Satur)day

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Photos are mine unless otherwise noted (edits, camera adjustments, explaining the ISO for the umpteenth time, and encouragement all courtesy of Mehdi, who has a sweet shot from our lunch here).

On Saturday we rented a car and drove out to Cambridge where we met a wonderful family (whose photos I’ve witheld since I didn’t ask for permission to post them) and dined with a wonderful friend who schlepped Mehdi’s first and most-cherished Nikon back from Australia for him.  Cambridge itself had quaint old streets with throngs of tourists and academics in tweed jackets–some with matching tweed hats–and a cohort of classic bicycles around every corner.

There was also a big indoor mall with the big name stores London has, albeit better stocked and a little cleaner, from Starbucks to John Lewis.  It’s hard to escape a Westfield these days, be it Skokie, Illinois, Auckland, New Zealand or Cambridge.

There’s an article on the ever-widening gap between rich and poor (read it here) that says today’s super rich are a plutonomy, and “In a plutonomy there is no such animal as ‘the US consumer’ or ‘the UK consumer’, or indeed the ‘Russian consumer’. … There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take.”

But isn’t this also true for other classes given the proliferation of Westfield malls, Ikeas, KFCs et al?  Mehdi noticed our rest stop en route to New Forest the next day could have been Anywhere, USA or Australia for that matter.

That being said, London and New York City offer much of the same thing, but I still faced culture shock.  Things are different between the two metropolises, and a few hours away the air was better and the pace of life happily slower out in Cambridge.

But after traveling the world it is hard to accept that London, of all places, takes some getting used to, and it’s been a slow but steady process of falling in love with the place.  The day trips help.  More photos to come.