Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘sipa’


October 15, 2008 · 4 Comments

Without getting too specific here, since God knows who reads this:

As a teaching assistant for my stats class, I have been responsible for administering a weekly computer lab.  The professor for the class gives me the assignment, tells me what his expectations are, and sets me free to drop knowledge to a room full of about 25 students.

Again, without getting too specific, I have faced considerable challenges in how to best utilize these two hours.  There are constraints in terms of instructions, objective, pacing, differentiation, skill-level, attention, patience, technology… you name it, I face it.

AGAIN, without getting too specific, I have done my best to organize those two hours in a way that best serves the needs of ALL of the students.  I don’t want anyone leaving lab without having done the exercise, so that’s priority #1.  People work at their own paces based on their tech-level, so I’ve strategized to create step-by-step power-points on how to use the data-analysis program, and helped people on an individual level as they encountered problems.

Some students are very frustrated with a “learning-by-doing” approach because they’re not entirely sure whether their outcomes are correct or not, since I haven’t provided an examplar or group hand-holding session.  Today I listened to them explain their frustrations with my approach, and I could certainly understand their perspective.  I tried to be diplomatic without over-sharing the considerable constraints I felt I faced, just as I’m trying to be diplomatic now as I write this.

Some students were more… constructive… in their feedback than were others.  Other students seemed to complain out of a sense of entitlement; that whatever approach I was using didn’t meet their expectations for learning objectives.  And they weren’t interested in my theory that data analysis programs are hard, and part of the learning of the program is the struggling with it.  “We pay a lot of money to learn, not to struggle,” was the quote I believe.

Obviously I felt some of the criticism was…unjustified… given my constraints, objectives and perspective.  But it made me very self-reflexive.  The students who were particularly harsh demonstrated no empathy for my perspective.  They were critical for the sake of being critical.  I feel as if there were no circumstances under which they would not find something to complain about.

And I’m like this a lot of the time.  A lot of people are like this a lot of the time.

It’s really easy to complain about what’s wrong.  It’s harder to understand why things might be wrong.  It’s hardest to figure out how you can change things.  And it’s damn near impossible to apply this kind of systematic, analytical reasoning in a relatively reasonable time frame.

Step 1 (Anger):  Things are Bad –> Step 2 (Empathy and Understanding):  Why are they Bad?  –> Step 3 (Analysis):  How can I change the things that make things Bad?

Most people are perpetually stuck on Step 1.

Only managers understand Step 2.

I’m voting for Barack Obama because he gets step 3, and he can do this kind of thinking on the spot, all the time.

Categories: Opinion
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Help for a Friend

August 22, 2008 · 1 Comment

My friend has been working on a project this summer introducing secondary education in rural Cambodia and she’s trying to secure funding through American Express.  Please take a moment to nominate her project by clicking on the link below:

Hi friends,
The NGO I have been wortking for this summer, The Cambodia Project, needs your help to raise money – actually 5 minutes of your time would do. Please go to or American Express site ( and nominate the proposed innovative project for secondary education in rural Cambodia. In one day, we got 98 votes. If we manage to have 3000 in 10 days, we can win up to a million dollar donation and get our project running for good… So please sign up and forward this to as many people as you want/can!
Thanks in advance for your support!

Categories: Neato · graduate school · work
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The Great Fellowship Debacle of Ought-Eight: Resolution

August 10, 2008 · 1 Comment

Good news!  Last Thursday I was informed that I had received a small, but significant fellowship for the Fall semester, as a reader for a Quant class.  Fingers crossed for the Spring.

The day before, I had submitted for publication this post on the morningside post.  Hopefully the administration changes the language on the recruitment web-site.

Categories: graduate school
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An Innovative Approach to Financial Aid

July 17, 2008 · 2 Comments

As I await resolution to The Great Fellowship Debacle of Ought-Eight (current status: 1 call, 3 e-mails, zero response), I’ve found an interesting idea via Tyler Cowenmatching donors directly with students, thus cutting out the middle-man of the Financial Aid Office.

The organization that arranges the matching is called, and the guiding principle is that a direct matching process is more transparent, accountable and efficient than the current system schools have in place.

Their blog links to an article in the Princeton Weekly which discusses the distortionary pressures large endowment-subsidized tuitions can create in the competitive marketplace of higher education.  While Princeton might make be making education “universal” for its own students, the subsidy places tremendous upward price pressure on student tuitions across the board at other schools (especially Columbia).  As DiscoverScholar observes:

…historically elite learning institutions have much greater endowments and other financial resources at their fingertips.  These resources allow them to offer a better product and cheaper tuition to prospective students (which they will compensate for through interest on their endowments and subsequent alumni donations over coming years).  As a result, students accepted to a Princeton or Harvard face virtually no quality vs. price trade-off.

As I’ve written before, while SIPA has a $30 million endowment to support about 1200 students, the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton boasts a $558 million (endowment) for 200 students. As a result, not only is SIPA’s “percentage of revenue generated via tuition” double that of Princeton’s, but we have more inter-program competition for jobs and higher student-to-faculty ratios, including in the career services office.  (This does not even mention the fact that WWS offers tuition reimbursement for public sector committments, something SIPA could not even dream of doing).

As I’ve also written before, both here and for the Morningside Post, amassing student debt prohibits the student’s decision to enter the public sector.  The Review article mentions that a 2007 study co-authored by Princeton professors Cecilia Rouse and Jesse Rothstein found that even an extra $10,000 in debt greatly diminishes the odds that a graduate will take a public-service or other lower-paying job.

The sad part is that Columbia’s program for International Affairs is incongruently structured to allow students to pursue those jobs.  You have a situation where a bunch of former Peace Corps volunteers are looking to get more formal training in economic development or non-profit management, and they’re expected to pay $40,000 in tuition and fees per year out of pocket?  Seriously?  (Note:  I swear to God I will CACKLE into the phone if Columbia ever has the nerve to call me up for alumni donations).

Anyway, it would be nice to really compete competitively for financial aid based on a transparent matching process than to play the pray and hope and wait (based on misleading information) smokey-room system Columbia currently subscribes to.  (Still angry).

Categories: Opinion · graduate school
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Ask and Ye Shall Receive

July 10, 2008 · 1 Comment

So yesterday I asked some of lawerly friends to read over the Great Fellowship Debacle of Ought-Eight and provide counsel, both legal and otherwise.  Here are some things I learned:

1.)  Lawyers and Summer Associates are either really bored, really prompt, really nerdy, or some combination therein.  Of the 12 or so people I asked to take a look, over half responded within 4 hours.  So thanks guys.

2.)  As one friend put it:  “Let’s not get overly litigious just quite yet. I couldn’t get a read on whether you were just online ranting or if you were seriously curious whether you have a legal claim.” I actually was curious if I had a legal claim, but more so because of how little leverage I have otherwise.  If you’re one student in a school that hosts over 1300, your tuition’s contribution to the budget is marginal.  On the other side of the coin, being one year through a two year master’s leaves me little recourse other than to suck it up, foot the bill, and spend the rest of my life angrily shaking my fist at Columbia on the way to work as I pass it on the public bus from my tenement house in the Bronx.

3.)  The consensus (I think) was that I might have a case, but it was weak and probably not worth my time.  Even if the statement is a misrepresentation, I would have to prove that it was reasonably reliant (which might be doable, considering I’ve seen it used in other promotional materials, including the admittance package), and then I’d probably have to prove scienter, meaning that the statement was intentionally misleading.  Plus there are issues of damages; it’s hard to weight the opportunity cost of the forgone scholarship at GW against the intangible benefits Columbia could argue their degree provides.  All in all, again, not worth my time.

4)  The most consistent advice is that I try to work this out with the administration.  That I explain my situation and write and e-mail explaining my position.  There might even be an appeals process I can work through.  So I’ve called the Student Affairs Dean and written her the letter… we’ll see what comes of that.  It sounds like in the past the administration works to get you a “reader” position (as in reading papers and exams) which is small-commitment/small award fellowship for the first semester, and then get you a Program Assistant fellowship for the second semester (1/4 tuition or $9,000 for 20 hr./wk).

So anyway, there’s still hope, I guess.  Will let you know what comes of it.

Categories: graduate school
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In Need of Legal Advice

July 9, 2008 · 3 Comments

Here’s a teaser to all of my law-school friends out there:

I recently found out that I wasn’t selected for a fellowship from my graduate program.  Not only was this a huge bummer, but it was a tremendous source of confusion.

You see, I was operating under the information provided by SIPA’s Financial Aid web-page, which clearly states the following:

Approximately 70% of the second-year class receives a SIPA fellowship award, averaging $18,000 per award.

As I mentioned last week, “if I’m not in the top 70% of my class, I’ll eat my freaking hat.”  In fact, I know for a fact that my GPA (3.59) places me well above the 50th percentile, because SIPA’s Adjunct Teaching Manual states that “grades submitted for SIPA core courses or courses with enrollments over 30 should have an average GPA between 3.2 and 3.4, with the goal being 3.3.”

According to the Career Services Employment Statistics, 389 MIA students and 262 MPA students graduated in 2007, for a total of 651 students.  And according to the e-mail I received notifying me that I was not selected for a fellowship, 285 MIA and 68 MPA students applied for continuing student fellowships, for a total of 353 students.

Now, I’m no math major, but 70% of a class of 651 students is 455 students.  If “Approximately 70% of the second-year class received fellowship funding,” then everyone who applied should have been matched, with 100 fellowships left unfilled.  But I didn’t get one.


I called the Student Affairs office with the WTF? question and was told that “70% of eligible second-year students who apply” receive fellowships.”  That sounds like a “50% of the time, it works every time” type of statistic to me.

Moreover, considering the rationale for fellowship selection (in order of importance: 1. academic merit; 2. financial need; and 3. extracurricular activities), I still should’ve been in the top 70% of eligible candidates.  But I didn’t get a dime.  I didn’t even get fucking work study, which is like a $14 hour pittance.

Here’s the frustrating thing: I could’ve gone to George Washington University’s Elliot School on a 3/4 tuition; I could’ve gone to SAIS and competed for a second-year fellowship there.  I chose SIPA on good faith that I would compete for and receive a fellowship, and I made that decision based on the information available to me.

I feel that I have been mislead and intentionally deceived.  Given the false information, do I have legal grounds to sue for fraudulent inducement?

For a two years master’s program, “an average of $18K” is a pretty big fucking carrot to dangle to “70% of the class,” when in actuality only 38% of the class receive that money.

Categories: graduate school
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Makes me angry

July 2, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Jesus Cristo this has gotten expensive:

Master of International Affairs (MIA)

2008                           2009                Percentage Increase

Tuition and Fees:                  $38,449                                 $39,036                           1.53%

Room and Board:                   $13,950                                 $14,400                           3.22%

Books:                                   $ 1,500                                  $ 1,500                            0.00%

Personal Expenses/Travel:    $ 3,195                                  $ 5,080                           58.99%

Total Expected Costs:    $57,094                         $60,016                     5.12%

I’m obviously not too stoked on a 5.12% expected increase in cost of attendance at what was already one of the most expensive schools in the country.  The big jump in personal expenses comes from “travel,” which (all of a sudden) factors into the expense of, yannow, moving across the country for 9 months, visiting family for the holidays, then moving somewhere else for a 3 month internship.

Of course, I’ve been offered no work study and am still on the wait-list for fellowships.  SIPA advertises that “approximately 70% of the second-year class receives a SIPA fellowship award, averaging $18,000 per award.”  Well, I had a first-semester GPA of 3.59 (3 A-’s and a B+) while working 20 hours per week and thus far I’ve gotten nada.  Zilch.  Squat.  And if I’m not in the top 70% of my class, I’ll eat my freaking hat.

Like I said… not happy.

Categories: graduate school
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Class Registration

April 18, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’m pre-registering for classes next semester, and I’ve been inspired by McSweeny’s “Classes My Top-Tier Law School Should Have Offered to Warn About the Profession,” (Crying Quietly: Clinic; Forwarding Emails: Theory and Practice) and “Live Action Role Playing Spells I Could Really Use Right Now,” (Portal to Library, Banish Procrastination).

Assuming I don’t get dropped, next semester it looks like I’m taking:

  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • International Capital Markets
  • Public Economics
  • Intermediate Spanish II
  • Quantitative Methods of Energy Policy
  • Economics of the Environment

Really though, I wish I could take a class to learn fireball spells, or get certified at copying-and-pasting.

Categories: Uncategorized
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I am a sub-par student

April 16, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Bernanke textbook

Struggling through a problem set for econ, I decide that it might be a decent idea to reference the textbook I bought at the beginning of last semester (for some ridiculous three-figure sum).

This decision leads to a rather embarrassing sequence of events:

  1. When I pick the book up, there is a substantial layer of dust, which I wipe down with a t-shirt (the t-shirt must now must be washed).
  2. When I open the book, it creaks like Tales from The Cryptkeeper. This book somehow manages to simultaneously smell both new and musty.  The pages are laminated and stick together.  There are some pathetic highlighter marks in Chapter 1 (on how to calculate GDP) that I apparently made during Week 1 of last semester.
  3. After flipping through the first few pages, looking for the desired chapter, I notice in the acknowledgments section that one of the dedications is signed by BSB, Washington DC. Curious, I flip the cover back to see that BSB is Ben S. Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

I’m (hypothetically) getting a “real-world” education!

Categories: Uncategorized
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It’s Time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations

December 18, 2007 · 5 Comments

Last Monday’s lecture in my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics class was taught by Professor Jeffry Sachs.  He is a cheerleader and an optimist and certainly has some ideas worth listening to.

One of the things Sachs spoke to that I really had been waiting to hear all semester is that “it’s time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations.”  It’s so true.

When historians are evaluating the Bush legacy, and America’s history at the turn of the century, they will be harsh not for any specific policy decisions undertaken, but the principles under which those decisions were made.  And the principle that will be criticized most harshly will not be the naive presupposition that democracy can be exported by force.  It will be the more dangerous assumption that our global society can be managed unilaterally.

Think of it this way:  when you see advertisements today like the following:


You are somewhat appalled (or ironically amused) by the quaint anachronism implied by the advertisement.  This is because we’ve redefined cultural norms of a woman’s role in society.  We’ve read the Feminine Mystique, we’ve experienced a cultural “movement” to the extent that such previously established cultural norms now seem dangerously retrograde and unsophisticated.

Now consider the following:  In a 2004 article for the New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind interviewed an aide to the Bush White House:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

It’s only been 3 years(!) and this quote ALREADY seems out of touch (with the reality they’ve created!)   The only thing that remains true from this quote is that solutions have, and will always emerge from the judicious study of discernible reality.  Empires create problems that empires cannot solve.  And problems exist outside of the control of empire, which is why empires inevitably dissolve, either by overreach, or overreaction.

We need a 21st century of international relations that teaches those Americans in power that a unilateral American empire is an unsustainable reality.

We need a theory that is based on the discernible realities of the problems we face in the 21st century, that are far different from the problems of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even the 20th century.

We need a theory that recognizes that a liberalized, open, global economy is the new reality for all of the world, and states must adapt accordingly or suffer the consequences of adhering to “quaint anachronisms.”

We need a theory that recognizes that the world is adding 90 million people per year, that we might already be at carrying capacity, that we are on the possible brink of a Malthusian catastrophe.

We need a theory that recognizes what  Jared Diamond teaches: that societies which destroy their own resources destroy themselves, and that today we are a de facto global society sharing global resources.

We need a theory that  stops relying on a theories of balance of power between states, and one that looks at non-state actors.  One that studies asymmetric gaps in capacities, instead of evaluating the capabilities of a single country.  One that redefines the idea of sovereignty, that universalizes the principles of human rights, that establishes and regulates the norms of global capitalism.

In the 21st century, it makes more sense to look at the galactic federations of science fiction than it does to look backward at the Holy Roman Empire.  And we have the capacities of reason, of predictive forecasting, of logic, and of history to guide us.  What we lack is the political leadership, and a progressive , normative, academic consensus.  So get on it people.

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