My Graduate School Goals

I made this tracker to set my academic objectives and priorities while attending Johns Hopkins SAIS. I'm posting it here to hold myself accountable, and to share a template for others brainstorming about their own graduate school goals.

Writing & Reading Portfolio

  • By May 2024—when I expect to graduate—I should have at least one +20-page writing sample, two 5-page writing samples, and multiple policy memos and creative projects that demonstrate my research, writing, data analysis, and design skills. At least some papers should be solo-authored and published in reputable outlets.
  • By May 2024, I should have finished reading my unread books at home and others in my reading list. This includes Western classics, Islamic classics, and core literature in foreign, defense, and public policy. I will not have as much time to read the classics moving forward in my career.

Academic Priorities

  • I want to study qualitative and quantitative research methods and tools so that I can develop good research questions, know multiple ways to approach/answer them, and have the sources and data analysis tools to do so. This will help me lead, support, and critique research projects throughout my career.
  • I want to learn how to conduct field studies and interviews and incorporate the best journalistic and development practices in my research.
  • I want to study policy case studies in a business school-esque fashion, to explore what distinguishes excellent research and policy advocacy. I want to learn how best to translate ideas into policy.
  • I want to become fluent in Arabic—or at least Qur'anic Arabic. Grad school offers an excellent opportunity to memorize more Qur'an and Hadith.
  • I want to learn data science and computer programming to support my research with robust data analyses and visualizations. I'd like to be comfortable making maps (ArcGIS or alternative GIS programs, to make NYT/BBC/FT-style graphics), web-scraping and data visualization (R, Python, SQL, Tableau, Illustrator, JavaScript), and in "identifying and evaluating data sources, preparing datasets for analysis, applying appropriate methods to extract information from datasets, and conducting data/code reviews." I've made a GitHub account to support these goals. My projects will use datasets from DC city council, Pew/Gallup surveys, US Census data, DoD/State Department budgets, and crisis simulations and wargames.
  • I want to write a thesis or book. My primary areas of interest include modern arms control and deterrence; weapons nonproliferation and counterproliferation; open-source intelligence; best practices for researchers (methodologies), policymakers (implementation), and advocates (lobbying); measuring policy impact (M&E); how an idea becomes policy; the history of think tanks and the "marketplace" of ideas; and policy pedagogy and creative learning, including simulations and wargaming.
  • Lastly, I want to make and do interesting things. At Tufts, my favorite classes included major projects that gave me stories to tell and products to show off. My GIS class led me to produce multiple maps of Chinese missile ranges, which got me my CSIS internship. My EPIIC class capstone was a Syria conflict simulation that connected me with over 200 high schoolers and several elite prep school teachers. That simulation made me rediscover how much I enjoyed teaching. My social psychology capstone on the effects of "immigrant aesthetics" on public generosity is something that I still talk about today. So...what does this mean for me today? It means that I should lead or at least attend staff rides and major wargames, take a "career trek" out to California, and interview DC locals for class projects. I've been in the research community for a while, and while I love thinkers and planners, I need a change of pace. In grad school, I'd like to join an community of creators, builders, and doers.