And the first semester is in the books …

The first semester of my PhD journey ended Thursday evening with an in-class statistics final.  In all, the week witnessed the submission of three final papers and two final exams (the other was in 801 – Macro Policy).  I ended up taking a week off work to finish my three papers and study for finals.  When I say “a week off work”, I should include the weekends on both ends.  In all, I spent 9 straight days typing on my laptop and scouring through the literature to put everything together.

I have to admit this semester was quite a challenge: more challenging that I had anticipated.  In the end, all the hard work has paid off.  I’ve received two of three grades so far and I’m very happy with them.  I’m sure the third is not far behind and I should know early this week.

Now that the first semester is behind me, I’ve got about 4 weeks before things ramp up again.  Next semester promises to be a lot like this semester in that I’ll be working full-time and attending classes full-time.  But now I’ve got a much better feeling for what to expect … 🙂  That should give me a little more time to maintain this blog and keep things fresh.

See you in January!


Kickoff Week Recap

Well, the first week of the program is officially in the record books!  It was both challenging and motivating at the same time.  The academic week started Tuesday afternoon with a library orientation.  It was a good review for me, and I’m sure that it was beneficial for the rest of the cohort.  In addition to discussing online and physical resources, the librarian also gave a brief overview of Zotero.  I can say from personal experience that Zotero is a very valuable asset for any student at any level when noting references.

I had two classes on Tuesday immediately following the library orientation.  The first class was PUBP 801.  The 801 class is an introduction to research as it relates to public policy.  It seems fairly straightforward, but I have recognized early that there will be a lot of work involved to “do things right”.  We must quickly identify a research question and this research question will serve as the foundation to a lot what we do through the course of the semester.

The second class of the evening was PUBP 730.  Unlike 801, 730 is a combined masters- and PhD-level course, so the mix is about 50/50 between masters and PhD students.  The professor is a political scientist, which is important given that this course explores policy systems and theory in the United States.

The third, and final, class of the week is a Thursday afternoon introductory statistics course – PUBP 704.  I haven’t had a statistics class since 1989, so having this class is going to be very helpful in preparing me for PUBP 804 – next semester’s statistics course.

Looking back on the week, yes, there’s a lot of work to be done to keep in step with the curricula.  But I’m already seeing interrelationships between the courses which will help with the learning process.  For instance, in 801, we will identify a research problem.  We will then be working throughout the semester to develop a research proposal from that original problem.  In 704, we will write a research paper that includes statistical analysis.  These are two building blocks that can be used in the future as we develop our dissertation proposals and then research and write our dissertations.

Looking back, it’s great to be back in class and to feel like an integral part of an academic community again.  I’ve taken courses and pursued programs of study on a part-time basis in the past, but with only one exception, I’ve felt somewhat disconnected from the academic community to which I belonged.  Because I’m a full-time student, there’s a much greater connection with the community.  I’m looking forward to advancing through the upcoming semester!

Wow …

Two days ago I took the statistics test I referred to in the previous post.  All I can say is “wow”.  Yes, I’ve actually had a statistics course in the past … in the not-so-recent past (as in 1989 …).  Well, on Monday, it showed.  The test seemed simple enough; there were 10 questions and I could use a calculator and a standard normal probability table.  I quickly learned that all the questions were essay response.  I answered the first two questions fairly quickly and though I had a good shot at doing halfway decent on the test.  Then I got to the third question.  Yikes!  Ok, well, let me skip that one and come back.  Fourth question … double yikes!  And so it went … all the way to question #10 (and back).

So I fell on my sword and, discretion being the better part of valor, submitted the test with only two questions out of ten answered.  I then requested that I be given permission to enroll in the PhD section of 704.  (Yes, I had previously enrolled in 704, but little did I realize, that was the wrong section.)

Lesson learned …

This promises to be fun …

Ok, I got the following email today … I knew it was coming …. I just didn’t want to admit it!  I haven’t taken a statistics course since … ummm … uhhh … 1989???  Well, I’m not sure I’ll do extremely well – I’m already signed up for 704!

(edited for length and content)
Dear Fall 2010 Incoming Doctoral Students:

As mentioned in my first welcome email last month, the SPP faculty have created a statistics placement exam for all incoming doctoral students.  This exam will test your familiarity with concepts crucial for success in PUBP804 (Multivariate Statistical Analysis).

Students wishing to be exempted from PUBP704 (Statistical Methods for Policy Analysis) must take this exam online between Friday, May 21 at 8am Eastern Daylight Savings Time and Wednesday, June 2, 2010 by 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time.  Should you choose not to take the placement exam, you must register for PUBP704 as a pre-requisite.  Students who take the exam and perform well will be exempted from PUBP704.

Once you begin the exam (on a day of your choice between May 21st and June 2nd), you will have two hours total to complete the exam.

Should you be required to take PUBP704, you must register for PUBP704-001.   Do not register for any other section of PUBP704.  The CRN for this course is 71688, but I will need to give you permission before you can register (the course is currently controlled so that no one can register without permission).

By Friday, May 21, you should be able to log into Blackboard (see the attached instructions) and view the link to the exam (although not the exam itself).  Please try logging in on Friday, and let me know if you have any difficulty doing so.  If you have not yet confirmed your enrollment in the program, you will not be able to log in to Blackboard.

Please email me by Thursday and let me know whether you plan to take the exam.  If you choose not to take the exam, you must register for PUBP704 this fall.

More Info About This Fall’s Courses

My previous post listed what courses I’m taking … but I didn’t really provide a description of what each title means … so I pulled the descriptions from the GMU SPP website:

  • PUBP 704 Statistical Methods in Policy Analysis (3) Graduate-level introduction to statistical methods and techniques used in policy sciences. Topics include descriptive statistics, sampling and probability theory, graphical data display, estimation and significance testing, contingency tables, bivariate regression and correlation, and multiple regression, with introduction to computer-based statistical analysis.
  • PUBP 730 National Policy Systems and Theory (3) Provides inquiry into policy-making environment, organized around U.S. federal system. Examines nation’s policy systems and key components: actors, institutions of governance, outside groups, and other influential interests. Special emphasis on dynamic character of policy making. In addition, different policy theories discussed in context of current political realities.
  • PUBP 801 Macro Policy (2-4) Demonstrates how macroeconomic, technological, demographic, and social forces affect supply and demand for governmental services. Counterpart analysis of the impact of shifts in patterns of international trade, demographic composition of population, and trends in social structure. Builds awareness of need to factor alternative assumptions about macro environment into policy planning; shows how macro events can affect social welfare and policy performance indicators; and suggests how national income accounting analysis and simple macroeconomic models can help pinpoint impending trouble spots for public policy.

GMU SPP PhD Program Page

All Signed Up …

OK … I’m officially enrolled in my first semester courses.  I’m going to try my hand at both carrying a full academic load and working full time.  It won’t be the first time.  Back when I was a bit younger, I carried a full undergraduate load and worked 50 hours per week.  So how did that turn out?  It was challenging.  I wouldn’t recommend it if you can avoid it.  However, I’m not working 50 hours any more – I work a 40 hour week, and I’m not carrying a 15-hour academic load – I’ve enrolled for 10 hours.  Yes, there’s quite a difference between undergraduate and graduate work, but I’m willing to give it the “old college try”.

So here’s my first tranche of courses:

  • PUBP 704 – Statistical Methods in Policy Analysis
  • PUBP 730 – US National Policy System and Theory
  • PUBP 801 – Macro Policy