Author Archives: elabriga

You’ve Been Admitted to HGSE! Now What?

So, you’ve been admitted to HGSE for the 2017-18 academic year – CONGRATULATIONS! Now what? How do you decide whether to attend or not? Here are a few thoughts as you consider HGSE from Gabi and Arpi:

Q1: Where were you and what were you doing when you found out you were admitted to HGSE?

Gabi, HDP: I was out on vacation in Salvador, Brazil, with my parents. The process of gathering material and writing statements can be very stressful, so some time after I was done submitting my applications, I decided to take a work leave to let off some steam and distract myself from the anxiety of waiting for answers. One day when we got back to the hotel I checked my email and it said there was an update to my Harvard application. My parents sat down by my side as I opened the message, and we celebrated together in a crazy mix of laughing, crying and hugging.

Arpi, MBE: I was in my dorm room, running late for dinner with a friend. I was a heartbeat away from closing the lid of my laptop when suddenly the email popped up from the admissions office. In some incomprehensible blur of happiness and exhilaration I called my parents to tell them the news. I still attribute my breathlessness over the phone to the excitement of receiving the decision rather than physically racing out the door.


Q2: What was important to you in deciding to attend HGSE?

Gabi, HDP: The factors that most influenced my decision to join Harvard were the focus on research and financial aid (I should note that financial aid information doesn’t always come at the same time as the general admission decision).

Arpi, MBE: The connection between students and professors was definitely of importance to me. I was nervous that one year was too short to make meaningful connections with our academic advisors and professors, but was impressed when I visited for the admitted student open house day how fond the students were of their professors and the connections they made with them. The professors here make themselves readily available to their students, get to know us by name and aspirations, and are genuinely invested in our achievement and success. Even Professor Brennan knew all 100+ of her students in T550 by name!

Q3: Did you speak to anyone at HGSE who helped you make the decision to enroll? What advice did they give you?

Arpi, MBE: Less than a week after being admitted, a current HGSE student in my program called to congratulate me and answer any questions. I, being pleasantly surprised by the unexpected phone call, yet again running late for dinner with a friend, and still in shock of receiving the admissions decision a few days earlier, could only formulate one question: “Do you like it there?” (Geez, could I think of a more blunt question?) The student I spoke with couldn’t convey her love of her HGSE experience more, and even rallied a few other MBE students in the room with her to express this. I also visited campus and was entirely taken by the community here, just as I had felt in my virtual interactions until then. So it wasn’t necessarily advice that solidified my decision; it was more so a vibe and reassurance that this community would be welcoming of me and my goals in the MBE program. (Note to the newly-admitted MBE students: I will be one of the current students on the HGSE end of the phone line this year during call night (woohoo!). Please feel free to ask us any questions about our experiences as MBE/HGSE/Harvard students, we’re all very excited to speak with you!)

Gabi, HDP: I spoke to so many people in order to make my decision: my family, my boyfriend, friends, HGSE alumni and my HDP Program Administrator from Harvard, other schools I was considering, and finally my undergraduate professors from Brazil. I would say it was especially helpful to talk to recent alumni, as they still had the fresh experience in their mind, but were able to have some distance when looking back. To find these people, I reached out to the Admissions Office and asked to be connected with alumni with similar backgrounds as me. I think more than giving me advice, they gave me valuable information about what the program would be like and the life I would have here, which made me confident to make my own decision.

Q4: Are you happy that you ultimately enrolled at HGSE?

Arpi, MBE: Unquestionably. I still feel butterflies whenever I walk through the main University gates, onto Appian way, or into class each day. This has persisted since day one of orientation.

Gabi, HDP: Yes. It has been a crazy few months since I arrived at Cambridge in August, but some things I know for sure: I love my friends. I learn from them everyday. I love my professors. They push me to do my best and inspire me to be my best self. I love being here.

Q5: What information do you wish you knew when you were deciding whether or not to accept your offer of admission from HGSE?

Arpi, MBE: I wish I more fully understood how quickly one year flies by. Suddenly it’s March, and the Ed.M. and finishing doctoral students are realizing that graduation is on the horizon. It makes every moment here invaluable. While I’m still incredibly happy to have enrolled in HGSE’s full-time Ed.M. program, the length of the program is certainly an important consideration and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Q6: The idea of Harvard can be intimidating. When did you begin feeling like you belong at Harvard? What helped you feel this way and what advice would you give to someone to help them along this journey?

Arpi, MBE: Oh undoubtedly, the Harvard name can be intimidating. It carries a lot of prestige and respect and I wasn’t sure if I would fit the mold. It turns out that mold does not exist – at all. Within the first hour of orientation I felt a connection to my cohort as we exchanged stories and we realized that we all had the same apprehensions and excitements for being here. When Dean Ryan came onto the dance floor at the “Back to School BBQ” before the start of classes (I have photographic proof below!), I knew that HGSE welcomed me as a person, and not just as an application for admission. It took some time for me to feel like a member of the greater University, as being admitted to HGSE tends to keep you on Appian Way, but that adjustment came with a little help from the rest of the HGSE community. We attended lectures hosted at the main campus, the Harvard-Yale football game, cross-registered for classes at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and bought a couple sweaters in the process. It only took a short walk into main campus every so often with a buddy to explore what the rest of the University had to offer for us, and that helped us first feel a sense of belonging at Harvard.

Gabi, HDP: That’s a funny question. When I decided to apply for Harvard, I wasn’t fully convinced it would be the best fit for me. However, as I gathered more information, as I watched videos and read blog posts and read about professors’ work and research, I started to realize that Harvard wants to produce research that is relevant and meaningful–and that’s what I want too. The moment I submitted my application, I knew that I could belong here. So I guess people realize they belong at different times, in different ways, and that’s okay–Harvard welcomes everyone.


Dean Jim Ryan with members of the MBE cohort at the “Back to School BBQ”

Q7: What advice would you give to someone trying to decide what graduate program is the best fit for them?

Gabi, HDP: It’s okay to take some time to make your decision; talk to people and think about how the program you’re about to start will help you enter the next step of your career. Don’t forget that the ultimate decision is always yours. After you’ve decided, don’t look back–it is your commitment and your choices in the graduate program that will ultimately make the experience your own.

Arpi, MBE: Two things: First, consider the academic experience in its entirety. Flip through the course catalog of each program and pretend to build your dream schedule – are you excited about the course offerings or professors teaching them? Will those classes develop the skills or knowledge you need to further your goals? Go to the events pages or calendars for the schools you’re considering – which lectures or workshops would you attend? Second, visit the schools! Talk to some of the current members of your program, sit in on lectures, and take a walk around campus. If you’re considering HGSE among your options, come visit us during admitted students weekend! It’s time to more than just picture yourself here. We’re looking forward to meeting you and welcoming you to the HGSE community!

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.


Q&A with Gabi and Arpi


Many of the programs at HGSE overlap in course requirements and student interests. We (Gabi and Arpi) are in two related masters programs – Human Development and Psychology and Mind, Brain, and Education, respectively, and have many shared and unique experiences from our first semester that we would love to share with you through this combined Q&A between bloggers.

Q#1: What is your favorite place to go study?

Gabi (HDP): I’m not sure if it’s my favorite place, more of a love-hate relationship, but you can always find me at the Cronkhite reading room, hahaha! It is our dorm room study lounge, very cozy, almost always silent and occasionally we have guests who bring treats and great stories. One place I would like to explore more is the Music Department Library – it has a homey feel, with nice curtains, long wooden desks and chairs that have harps carved in them. I really liked the day I spent over there.


Arpi (MBE): Apart from the Cronkhite reading room, I love the first floor of Gutman Library. The first floor is designated a collaborative space, so you’ll often run into classmates and cohort members working on their next big project and getting excited about their work. The cafe is also a few steps away from the study area and is quite the hidden gem of graduate school cafes at Harvard. I especially loved that during finals, the Dean’s office and Office of Student Life also provided everyone with free coffee and tea in the library! They certainly know how to support us in a stressful academic time.

Q#2: What is the coolest event you have attended here so far?

Gabi (HDP): There have been so many cool events around here! I enjoyed the Student Night offered by the Harvard Art Museum. In addition to the tours, which were lovely, they had snacks inspired by the art collections, printed replicas of art pieces which you could rent to show in your own room and temporary tattoos of art pieces. I would crack myself up every time I looked at my ankle and saw Van Gogh’s face.

Arpi (MBE): My favorite event this semester was the Harvard-Yale game, hands down! HGSE organized a fun tailgate with breakfast in the morning, after which my cohort sat together in the graduate student section, all decked out in Harvard gear. I haven’t quite found a better word to sum up the experience other than as a “phenomenon.” I have never seen so much school pride in one stadium (from both teams), and although Harvard lost, it was such a fun few hours away from our pre-finals workload!


Q#3: What did you do this semester that you never thought you would do?



Gabi’s electrical circuit.

Gabi (HDP): I never thought I would ever build an electrical circuit! In one of our classes, Designing for Learning by Creating, we had one amazing guest from the MIT Media Lab who guided us through the process of making a simple circuit with an LED and I was surprised at how easy and accessible it was! Watching my circuit light up filled me with joy and pride.


Arpi (MBE): I never thought I would willingly and enjoyably stay up until the early hours of the morning to finish a class project. The professors instill you with such motivation and excitement to complete your work, which often has potential for real-world application (or is actually being applied!)

Q#4: How did you choose your Ed.M. program at HGSE?

Gabi (HDP): I knew that I wanted to study creativity, so I found out where scholars who studied creativity were, and a lot of them worked in Psychology programs inside Education schools. In addition to that, I was very interested in the idea of creativity as a process that develops over time, while we evolve as human beings. So the Human Development and Psychology program was the only one that made sense to me.

Arpi (MBE): I’m broadly interested in cognition and cognitive development, and wanted to gain a holistic understanding of how the brain develops and how we learn. Because my background is in the natural sciences, I wanted to not only continue studying this from a neuroscience end, but also gain perspective from the psychology and education fields. The MBE program was perfect for me to explore all of these fields and grapple with them equally for my research interest.

Q#5: What do you wish people knew about the HGSE cohort?

Gabi (HDP): I wish they knew how diverse the cohort is; there is no recipe for what an HGSE student is like. It is comforting for me to see that everyone is insecure about one thing or another. At the same time, everyone has so much knowledge to share. I’m probably learning as much from my peers as I am from my professors!

Arpi (MBE): I hope everyone knows that the HGSE experience is unique for each person as well. There is no singular experience or path to take here, or next step to take after HGSE. It makes for such a vibrant community and shows that everyone has an important voice to contribute to the field of education.


Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

How not to change the world (in 4 easy steps)


Seems accurate. Illustration by Julia Gamolina

I have to start by saying that I feel really arrogant writing this. Who am I to talk about “changing the world”? That’s right, nobody. But I still believe this is a blog post worth writing, especially because I wish someone had told me these things when I was younger.

I’ve always had this ambition to change the world, and I think it’s something everybody wants whether they express it or not. But this idea has gone through many transformations over time. Before, I thought changing the world was this completely revolutionary thing that would be included in history books.

My plan to success was infallible:

  1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge
  2. Learn all available content in that domain
  3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought before
  4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I see now how this plan was an obstacle to actually doing anything, because it put so much pressure that is was paralyzing. Today, when I say to myself that I want to change the world, I don’t see it as arrogance, I just have a new understanding of what that might look like. Its now a value that guides my life and something I take into account when choosing how to spend my time. Here’s how I think about things now:

1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge

It is very tempting to rank domains and professions as more or less noble – and, worse, to think we can only make a difference by devoting ourselves to specific fields. For a long time I thought that the things I liked (singing, drawing, creative activities in general) were silly and superfluous, and I even stopped dedicating myself to them because of that. But somehow I would always go back to them. Today I see how foolish it was to judge my own passions, and I think the best change happens when we find what makes sense for us as individuals.

2. Learn all available content in that domain

With so much information at hand, not knowing sounds like failure: it seems like passivity. I felt like I had to know everything before I “did the good work” because I was afraid to say something and give away my ignorance. It took me a long time to accept the open ended nature of knowledge. It’s a liberating concept: if no one can know it all, there is no reason to hold back from doing for fear of not knowing. And, even better, I love thinking that through doing, I’ll always have new things to learn.

3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought of before

We need a lot of people trying to “change the world” because, in our human condition, we are small, mortal, and flawed. Our reach is limited in terms of time and place. It is not enough, for instance, to have someone doing amazing work today in the United States if families in other parts of the world or future generations don’t have access to that work. The painstaking labor of cultivating and scattering wisdom is something we don’t consider as revolutionary when we’re younger, but it is what keeps knowledge alive and constantly growing. I know I have a part, no matter how big or small, in advancing the greater narrative of knowledge.

4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I don’t know if I’m going to be in history books or if my 15 minutes of fame were actually my Facebook post that had 300 likes (that story is for another time). Maybe in five years, I’ll be writing another blog post about how I saw things all wrong but that is the nature of learning, growing, and staying in the present. But I think putting my best foot forward is the only way I can actually change things, no matter how big or small.

Note: this post was originally posted in the Portuguese language here.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

Harvard Orientation: Replacing FOMO with JOMO


The tent where HGSE Orientation activities took place.


Breakfast at Henrietta’s Kitchen in Harvard Square.

I arrived in Cambridge with a two-week head start before Orientation to have some more time to get used to living in a new place, and I think it was the best thing I did. As simple as it seems, the moving process entails a ton of tiny things: from buying pillows and hangers to understanding what to order for breakfast not to gain 10 kg in a year, to feeling comfortable in a new environment and being able to sleep normally (I’m still getting there).

All of this takes an amount of time really hard to estimate, but to make it easier for international students to decide when to come to the United States, there is a time limit for the arrival of foreign students: a student visa will allow us to be here at a maximum of 30 days before the start date of our study program, not earlier than that. I thought it was pretty reasonable. To be honest, at the same time that I feel I could have done more, I was looking forward to the beginning of activities, so maybe arriving much earlier wouldn’t have been such a good idea.

These adaptation weeks have been a happy medium between doing everything and doing nothing: I’ve met new people, walked around Harvard Square, gotten to know the Boston Public Library and the Boston Commons, done some reading (the dean assigned us materials including texts, videos, and podcasts to warm up for Orientation discussions), and started to plan my year here.

Even so, my anxiety level was high. Everything was about to start, and damn it, it’s only nine months — how come I didn’t read all the books I downloaded, or those I had always promised myself I would read as soon as I left work? How come I didn’t complete the top ten list of things to do in Boston? How could I not do so many important things?!


International Student Pre-Orientation

Fortunately, we had a pre-Orientation event for international students (There is also a pre-Orientation for students of color and for students who are the first generation in their families to go to a university). Besides feeling proud to see people from all around the world bringing their dreams here, it was comforting to think that everyone is going through this same agony. In the conversations with current and former students, it seemed unanimous: this year is going to fly by and there’s much more to do than anyone is humanly capable of doing. After all, we are already scared to miss out on interesting stuff (our frenemy FOMO) at home; imagine being at Harvard?!

It is a little nerve-racking to have so many options and to know that you can’t have it all. Not for nothing: I’ve heard many conversations about balance and mental health around here.

That same week, an alumnus suggested replacing my FOMO with JOMO: the joy of missing out. According to him, if we know ourselves and are aware of what is important to us, then it makes complete sense to focus our energy on our interests and to spare it in other things.

It is hard to accept this perspective shift without a fight, but I think it could be worth it. I’ll try to calm myself down to get a good night’s sleep.… This is a promising week.

Note: this post was originally written in August (during the 2016 Orientation). It is also posted in the Portuguese language here.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.