Student bloggers: Sapna’s fall recap

Student bloggers: Sapna’s fall recap

Today we’ll hear from Sapna, now in her final Fletcher semester. She’s got loads of good advice for prospective and incoming students!

Hi all!

A busy Fall semester and a couple of snowstorms later, I am back! Although blue from the January weather, and dreaming of June already, this semester is bittersweet – it is my last one at Fletcher! In June, I will join that lot of very solemn, wise-looking folks called the Fletcher Mafia. I am hoping that completing my capstone will somehow make me wise because, in some ways, I am as clueless as I was when I first began at Fletcher. But in other ways, I have learnt so much here (including the meaning of life – take Professor Kowalczyk’s classes if you wish to learn it too).

Most of all, from the endless debates with people, both in person and on our student listserv called Social List, I learnt to question my prior beliefs, my worldview, my unconscious biases – to unlearn and relearn every day.

So, as a very mature and wise 6th semester student at Fletcher, here are my top tips for surviving grad school:

  • Lots of coffee
  • I mean lots of coffee
  • Late nights
  • Making long to-do lists
  • Then tearing them up and crying in Ginn Library
  • Letting people know that you have it all together, especially unsuspecting 1st years
  • Then panicking the night before an assignment and calling everyone you know


Tips Before coming to Fletcher:

  • If you can use the summer before Fletcher to brush up on at least one of the following – Introductory Economics, Maths or Statistics, then do it. Use an introductory-level textbook along with Khan Academy. Fletcher offers introductory courses in all these subjects. However, if you pass the equivalency test, Fletcher has some very interesting higher-level courses that you can take right in your first semester. The knowledge is very useful while reading research papers in IR classes too.
  • Brush up your Excel and PowerPoint skills – a must! Practice networking and public speaking or conversing in that foreign language you once learnt but have now forgotten.
  • Connect to other admitted students on the Fletcher Admitted Students Facebook group or through WhatsApp groups. Try to meet with admitted students and Fletcher alumni in your city (COVID restrictions permitting) or though Zoom / LinkedIn.
  • Learn as much as you can about what Fletcher offers – through the website and alumni – so you have a rough idea of what you want to do while here. Keep in mind that Fletcher offers a zillion courses and gazillion conferences and activities. You will change your mind often when you arrive here but having a rough road map helps.
  • Be prepared for the winter! But also, for the short-lived but scorching summer!

Tips for the 1st Semester at Fletcher:

  • There are so many cool courses here, it is hard to choose only 4-6 in a semester. Same with events, conferences, and activities. No matter what combination you choose, you are going to regret not going down other paths. Doesn’t matter – take a deep breath and remind yourself that you cannot be everywhere; do everything (if only!). No matter what you choose, you will still end up with a solid skillset and fun experiences!
  • Take a mix of quant and qualitative classes every semester – it balances the workload; exercises both sides of the brain; and looks good to employers. You can also use the theory you learnt in your IR or Econ classes combined with GIS or Stats techniques to build some nice models and impress potential employers.
  • Have a look at past syllabi and course evaluations. Talk to your academic advisor and students who have already taken the class before deciding your schedule.
  • Build a spreadsheet or use a good productivity tool to track all your assignment deadlines, meetings, and commitments early on in the semester. I am old-fashioned and still prefer a hand-written planner (I got a lovely Museum of Fine Arts, Boston-themed planner at the Harvard Bookstore in my first semester).
  • As much as possible, work backwards from your last semester to the first because a select few courses have prerequisites. For example, if you suddenly decide in your last semester that Impact Evaluation of Development Programs sounds fun, it is expected that you have taken Econometrics before that, and Statistics before Econometrics (or passed the equivalency exam).
  • Use the cross-registration option to either widen your network or to step out of your comfort zone. For example, I took courses at Harvard Kennedy School as expected. But I also took a class at the Harvard South Asia Department (on colonialism and languages in South Asia) and at the Tufts School of Engineering (on human-centred design applied to business, policy, and social problems). Now, I have a wider network that consists not only of people in IR and policy but also regional studies, and design and technology.
  • The first semester can be overwhelming – do not hesitate to use resources like the StAAR Center (Student Accessibility and Academic Resources) when you need it.

Now, I am going to go cry into my cup of coffee while I try to pen my capstone, go have some heavy discussions on the current state of Development Aid in the Fletcher Hall of Flags, while hoping someone has left “free food in the nook” after yet another Fletcher event.