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.

When I’m not here

I’m writing here:

“Gender” can be a scary word, but after 600+ comments on one article in the Wall Street Journal about how girls dress, there were still some points that everyone seemed to miss, particularly when it comes to boys.

And when I’m not there, I’m collaborating with Mehdi here:

We took a story I wrote for class last year on a friend’s relative in an Iranian prison, updated it with the shocking news that came out these last few weeks and then matched it to a photo from ʻAkkā that Mehdi took this year, connecting the Bahá’ís, Iran and Israel in a way different from the Iranian government’s incessant–and wrong–accusations that the Bahá’ís are spies.

And when I’m not there, I’m finishing up a lovely little dissertation. All fresh thoughts on the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement and Putnam’s two-level game theory are welcomed with open arms.

Top 10 Lessons for My Favorite 1st Year MPAers (1-5)

  1. Informational interviews.  You have a year left before you graduate, so now is the best time to call up every one you–or your friends or your friends’ friends on LinkedIn–know with a cool job.  Now, not later, because now you can honestly say, “I’m not asking for a job, I just want to learn about you and your job.”
  2. GV478: Don’t hate it. Our Capstone was all qualitative work, no OECD data crunching, just a corporate think tank asking us to explain some of what they had been seeing and connect it to any academic literature they might have missed.  One of my teammates took a theory from GV478 on lobbying in politics and applied it to the competitive tendering process for government services.  Our clients loved it so much they want to publish it.  You’ll have to wait for the final report for the details, but the point is that this was our greatest “added value.”  If you are running regressions on Eastern European states next year for Capstone, perhaps this will be useless, but the point is you never know.
  3. Capstone, no.1: Get your draft done before Christmas. Editing in a group is far more painful than individually just hammering out a chapter; this is not a paper you can write the night before after letting all your theories and thoughts coalesce because everyone will have their name on it; everyone will have to agree with what and how the report says.  On that note, contrary to popular belief, it is much easier to add written work than to cut it later. Once it’s on the page, it’s hard to detach from it.  Overall, I’d schedule much more time for the editing than for the writing itself.
  4. Capstone, no.2: Interviews before Christmas. Interviews/data analysis/whatever you need to do has to be scheduled before Christmas, as much as humanely possible. This seems obvious if you’re aiming for no.1, but try to hit the ground running. Before your team has even come to grips with what you’re actually supposed to be doing and the best approach to take, just start. You’ll learn along the way.
  5. Eat good food. Listen to good music.
    Eat this here, just once (because it’s expensive): 

    Sea bass carpaccio @ Dinings (photo from

    … after you hand in that just-under-20,000 word Capstone final report.  It is the only restaurant to which I’ve been where I felt pure gratitude for every bite. Everything was remarkable, even if it looks like a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere.
    Before that sweet moment, however, listen to this:

    Luke Slott used to rock up to friends’ homes in New York with his guitar leaving the women in tears and the boisterous men silent.  Barefoot Tango was the best track to get through long days of editing.