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!

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