Esther Lee is a proud alumna of the Civic Fellowship (2011) and Dr. John Tsu Fellowship (2013), through which she was offered internships from the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Agriculture. She is currently attending the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (HKS), pursuing a Master in Public Policy with a focus on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Can you tell us your background?
After graduating from Harvard College in 2013 with a B.A. in psychology and government, I spent a year in Taiwan on a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship- teaching English at a local elementary school with over 1,500 students. Prior to HKS, I worked as a market researcher at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, China, focusing on agricultural trade and U.S. export promotion.
Why did you apply to HKS?
Frankly, I had not thought that I would be pursuing a Master’s degree only two years out of college. In spite of minimal work experience, I applied because I wanted to specialize in international relations and believed that a graduate degree would accelerate my career development. Among other graduate programs for public policy, HKS stood out to me because of its robust program- there are five areas of concentration ranging from urban and social policy to international affairs and governance (See more here). I was also attracted to its diverse student body, drawn from applicants from 130+ countries and all three sectors (public, private, and nonprofit).
What were some of your most memorable experiences at HKS?
There is no such thing as a typical day at HKS. Even on a Friday afternoon, you could always choose to attend a seminar, a workshop, or a conference organized by Harvard and student groups. For example, I attended a public address by His Excellency Paul Kugame, the President of Rwanda, last week. The network and resources at HKS are truly limitless. Everyday I learn something new through various activities. Some of my favorite experiences have been watching a presidential primary with 100+ other peers at the John F. Kennedy Forum, attending quorum calls (“HKS happy hour”) hosted by the Student Council, and visiting the Israel-Palestine border with a student group over spring break.
In what ways the HKS education has affected your professional development?
For me, my peers have been the greatest source of professional development. Through working on team projects, attending study groups, and having policy discussions over meals, I learned a lot from my classmates who bring an extensive array of experiences, skills, and backgrounds to the table. From an anti-human trafficking activist to a former military officer, each and every one of my classmates has contributed to my personal and professional growth. Moreover, classes on ‘soft skills,’ such as public speaking, negotiation, policy writing, and statistical analysis have provided me with valuable transferable skills.
Do you have any suggestions for prospective candidates?
I would highly encourage you to apply to a Master’s program at HKS, especially if you are thinking of a career switch (i.e. private to public and vise-versa). Also, try to have at least two years of work experience (internships do count!) under your belt before applying. That way, you will have a more clear idea of what you want to get out of the graduate school and also have more to contribute to class discussion. Depending on how much work experience you have, you can choose to enroll in one of the four Master’s programs at HKS. Last but not least, keep thinking hard about where your passion lies. Although students hail from all sectors, HKS is a school of public service and mission:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
–President John F. Kennedy-
If you have any questions about HKS, pursuing an MPP degree, or a career in international relations, please feel free to reach out to me: email@example.com
2018 Student Life Insight Series - Post #1
My name is John Krohn (MC/MPA 2018) and I grew up in Dallas, Pennsylvania and received a B.S. in Crime, Law, and Justice from Penn State University. I’m also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, where I attended Officer Candidates School and served honorably as a combat engineer in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Prior to coming to Harvard’s Kennedy School (HKS) I served as the Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, a position to which I plan to return.
What was your motivation in applying to HKS?
I attended a Kennedy School Executive Education Program in April of 2016 and found the faculty, campus, and curriculum to be one of the most rewarding academic experiences of my life. I’d been working for more than 10 years in Washington, D.C. without a graduate degree. I thought a Masters in Public Administration degree from HKS would be personally rewarding and would help me reach the next level in my professional life.
Can you describe some of your classes? How many classes are you taking?
I took 6 classes in the Fall semester, 4 full-term and 2 modules. I was able to handle the workload and still enjoy the extra-curricular activities and create meaningful friendships. That said, be careful if you take more than four classes. Each class at HKS is unique and has a different workload associated with it. If you are in a cohort that is primarily elective classes you should be cognizant of course workload when determining how many classes you take in a given semester. You can get a sense of demands of a given class through the syllabus and course reviews. Pro Tip: Don’t take more than four classes if you enroll in Richard Zeckhauser’s Analytical Frameworks for Policy.
What is your relationship with the faculty like?
I’ll provide the classic Kennedy School answer: It depends. Some faculty are very accessible and even invite students to their home for the holidays. Almost all of the faculty make it a point to be available for office hours and develop a genuine relationship with their students, even if the relationship lasts a short time. In short, if you want to build a productive relationship with a member of the HKS faculty you’ll have the chance to do so if you take the initiative.
What does a typical day/week look like?
There’s a mantra at the Kennedy School, namely that you’ll have to sacrifice sleep, socializing, or studying. There just simply isn’t time to meet all three of these responsibilities equally. I tend to sacrifice sleep. A typical day/week at the Kennedy School is a very busy, sometimes hectic, but always rewarding experience. There are, of course, classes that you need to attend. There are often events at the Forum and around campus that draw fairly big names and discuss contemporary issues in U.S. and international affairs. There are also many clubs and social events to participate in during a given week.
What is student life like? What kind of activities are you involved in?
Student life is always fun and sometimes stressful. It’s always fun if you appreciate building relationships, intellectual curiosity, and expanding your knowledge and frame of reference. Each class (MPA, MPP, etc.) tends to bond pretty quickly and you should be able to form a close group of friends fairly easily. Between WhatsApp groups, student clubs, HKS activities, and other groups there are plenty of opportunities to build relationships with your fellow students. The student government also hosts a few different social events throughout the year (thanks KSSG).
Where do you live and what is it like to live in Cambridge/Boston?
I live in the Fresh Pond neighborhood of Cambridge. It’s a bit farther from Harvard than I originally intended (15-20 minute drive). It is a nice part of Cambridge as it’s close to the Fresh Pond reservation and the Minuteman Trail so there are plenty of opportunities for jogging, cycling, and other fitness activities. During warmer weather I bike to class which takes me approximately 10 minutes. Living in Cambridge is rewarding. I really enjoy the diversity of the community, the abundant transportation options, and the many restaurants, bars, and cultural exhibits in the Cambridge/Boston area. If you are bored here it’s because you want to be bored as there is never a shortage of options of things to do outside of school.
What resources/activities are available pertaining to career development?
HKS does a great job of providing services to students who are looking for a new employment opportunity following their education. The Office of Career Advancement hosts one-on-one coaching workshops, has pop-up job searching events, provides resume development assistance, helps arrange interviews and career fairs, and runs an effective mentoring program to name just a few activities that OCA implements to help connect qualified students with interested employers.
What has surprised you the most about HKS?
The exceptional diversity and intelligence of the student body. It sounds cliché, but the experience and education that HKS provides goes well beyond the classroom environment. HKS recruits the best and brightest students whom are committed to public service from over 100 countries. This diversity of experience and insight, combined with a compelling desire to serve, really creates a unique environment of students who are driven to ask what they can do to make the world a better place. It’s a fairly subjective experience but it creates a palpable environment that you are part of a community of leaders who are driven to improve the world. It’s both humbling and rewarding at the same time.
I was also surprised about how social the cohorts are at HKS. For some reason, I pictured HKS as a place of intense studying where class and classroom responsibilities dominate the experience. That is partially true, but there is also a very social aspect to HKS as well. MPP’s, MPA-IDs, MPA’s, MC/MPA’s all very much enjoy gathering together to discuss classroom topics or contemporary events over a meal or libation. It really is a rewarding experience in every sense.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering HKS?
Come here! If you are choosing between HKS and another school, I’d choose HKS every time. Know why you want to come to HKS. In other words, make a list of skills you’d like to learn and topics that you’d like to better understand. This will provide you a roadmap in which to select classes. Having this compass will help you steer clear of the “popular” classes and will help you navigate an overwhelming number of curriculum choices.
It’s good to have a North Star for class selection to ensure you are getting out of HKS what you think is most important for your development. Once you are at HKS, give yourself enough space to experience all HKS has to offer. Meaning, keep open time to experience Forum events and other activities. Also, being financially prepared is important. Pay all your necessary bills and make sure you have enough resources to support you while you are here. There are plenty of opportunities at HKS (including treks). I am glad that I don’t have to worry about where money is coming from, but rather can just focus on enjoying this time and all the experiences that HKS and Harvard have to offer!