Author Archives: Lisa Qin

Application Advice!

Hello reader,

I was pretty intimidated by the US graduate school application process.  A personal statement?  A four-hour standardized test?  Three references?  The cost of study?  Wow.  It’s a lot to consider and there are a lot of hurdles to get through in applying.  Attending university in Australia is fairly straightforward in comparison: did your entrance score meet the requirements of your program?  Yes – then you are in!

When I did decide to be brave enough to apply, it was already quite late in the year.  In a blur, I spent the weekends re-learning maths, drafting and re-drafting my scholarship application and personal statement, scouring websites for advice on graduate school applications and finding people to write references.  The whole process was set on fast track mode because of all the competing deadlines.

Here are a few tips which you may find helpful.

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Adopting an American mindset: “no” means try harder (or is it just luck?)

Hello Readers!

During the Winter break, I’ve had a chance to visit New York and spend time with friends in Burlington, Vermont (A bit of trivial here: Burlington is the birthplace of John Dewey, the influential philosopher on education! You can visit the home in which he grew up)


I’m now taking a short course in January as a cross-registered student titled “The Arts of Communication”. It’s a course at the Harvard Kennedy School and focuses on public speaking. Alumni have consistently rated the course was one of the most useful in their careers. For popular courses such as this one, there is consistently a long waitlist. Although I had registered early, I didn’t receive a response about whether I was accepted or not.

One of the important lessons I quickly learnt when coming to the USA is that “no” does not necessarily mean “no”. Had I been in the same situation in Australia, I would have thought, “well, I guess I didn’t register early enough. Better figure out something else to do.”

Instead, because public speaking is a skill that I wanted to really work on, and because good communication is the foundation for all relationships, I tried a little harder. I contacted the Professor, and was able to sit in on the first class where she told me there was a spot for me available.

While it helped that I reached out to the Professor, there is a fine line between recognizing the difference between “no meaning try harder”, and having a false sense of entitlement. And in this case, as in most success stories (no matter how big or small), what we think is due to our determination or hard work, is actually luck

Here’s to a wonderful 2014!

PS Here is the Course Syllabus for those interested in accessing the readings.

Lisa Qin is a Master’s candidate in the International Education Policy program. She aims to create meaningful and sustainable reforms to address the complex issues of education inequality. 

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A ‘Typical’ Day in the International Education Policy Program

Hello reader,

It’s starting to get cold over on this side of the world.  Having grown up “down under” in Australia and New Zealand, this will be my first proper Christmas with snow.

You may be wondering “What is a typical day in the life of an International Education Policy student?”  And I would reply, “It’s funny you would ask that, because I’m going to tell you right now.”  Then you might say, “Great!” or “Sweet!” or any other manner of sound which expresses delight and anticipation at the same time.

Although each day is different, usually there are classes, talks and projects to work on.  Here’s a snapshot from my day today.


At 8.30AM, I met with my microeconomics study partner, Allison, to complete our problem set.  In class, we analysed a case study about a policy intervention to raise revenue for a university while also diversifying the student cohort.  After class, I met with my teaching fellow Sarah.  She helped me with some ideas about my class project;  I’m collaborating with the founders of an innovation school.  It puts all my learning into context and hopefully can actually help them with developing their school, the Somerville STEAM Academy.  It’s definitely an example the Education School’s belief that the “nexus of practice, policy, and research is the most powerful way to improve education.”


A quick lunch at the delicious cafe inside Gutman library while reading over emails, then popping into the supermarket to buy some snacks for my section in the afternoon.  Off to my favorite class this semester (and… ever!) titled “Deeper learning: Reforming schools for the 21st century” taught by Professor Jal Mehta.  During class we looked into ways that adults could engage in deeper learning.  What does it look like?  What are the design principles involved in having an experience that captures deeper learning for adults?  How can you apply this to a case study scenario?  We pitched our idea to three experts who questioned us.  In section we discussed what questions we still had around deeper learning, including how it would be persuasive for policy makers to accept (the idea is getting more traction rather than just testing).


Classes finished at 5PM.  I went to do some more work at the library, checking emails, talked with my friend Clare and organized a dinner for people around the university who are interested in education.  Had dinner at Harvard Square, then went to an “Alternative Economy” study group at 8PM on the topic of the New Economy within the Kennedy School of Government hosted by Professor Richard Parker.  It was definitely a “wow, I’m in total awe” moment.  Professor Parker told us we need to stand up “against privilege and ignorance in the world” and that being “kind/understanding/tolerant isn’t enough”.  He spoke directly about issues of color, gender, privilege and power and said we need to consider others to include at the table as we aren’t here just to take the chairs.  We finished our discussion around 10PM, then it was time for bed.

Welcome to Harvard

As a teenager, I used to day dream so much about what I wanted to do later on.  I never thought that I’d be able to study at Harvard.  Living a dream: it’s not the easiest dream, and there are sacrifices that everyone makes to come here, but I want to maintain this momentum, this drive, this sense of possibility and wonder…

Each day as I ride my bike down the streets towards campus, I am in awe of my surroundings. I feel the wind on my cheeks, and my muscles working as they push my bike pedals, and focus on feeling in the moment as I stop at the traffic lights, weave between pedestrians, and every time I pass the buildings, I still gasp at how beautiful it all is, taking in the changing fall foliage and the tourists and the chisled VERITAS inscribed on the buildings, and just marvel.

This year I am questioning my privilege and sense of responsibility.  How did I get granted so many unearned advantages when I know there are so many people out there in the world that have so little?  I think back to the summer program where our teaching fellow Julia advised us, “never, ever, ever just assume you’re doing good work… always scrutinize yourself!”

Lisa Qin is a Master’s candidate in the International Education Policy program. She aims to work in creating meaningful and sustainable reforms to address the complex issues of education inequality. 

Harvard FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

Foliage at HBS

Hello reader!

I wonder where you’re reading this post from.  Are you a potential applicant, a current student, an alumni, or just curious about life on Appian Way?  I remember reading this blog last year, after coming home from a long day of teaching at my school in Geelong, Australia and thinking, “Wow, these students are so lucky to be studying here.  Maybe… just maybe… I could join them too.”  After an intense application process (in which I never again want to mention  the three-letter word for standardized test to obtain graduate school admission)*  and huge amounts of good luck, it’s still incredible to think I’m now writing to you in my apartment from Cambridge, Massachusetts where I’ve been since September as a student in the International Education Policy program of the Masters of Education.

Having never been to the United States before this trip, and  being exposed to the culture in my formative years through books and TV shows such as the Babysitter’s Club, Goosebumps and Captain Planet, it’s now been surreal to actually eat s’mores (thanks to my lovely housemate from Maine, Samantha), see houses with the American flag hung proudly outside, go to a hockey game, and play beer pong.  And of course, apart from the awesome cultural experiences, my studies are in another wow category in themselves.   This time is sacred here because it’s only a 9 month program and will go by in a flash.

This year my cohort consists of around 70% international students.  Studying from the wealth of knowledge and experience that my peers have coming from all around the world is one of the biggest highlights.  On the weekend, I went to dinner with friends from Malaysia, Chile, Qatar, the Philippines, and Ghana – another average day?!  Through the Teach For Australia program, I met so many passionate and engaged people who are interested in education.  That can create huge ripple effects.  Now this is on a global level.   The map shows students in the summer school program in which I participated, probably attended by two-thirds of students studying my degree program (i.e.  the Intensive Preparation for the Study of International Education Program).


This was a week without much sleep.  It’s been relatively full-on because of mid-terms and juggling the workload with participating in different events.  I’ve done papers on deeper learning and a case analysis, a statistics assignment and a microeconomics exam, in between attending office hours to see professors, dinner at the Faculty Club for Australian students, having a birthday picnic on Columbus Day and going to Oktoberfest celebrations and a party organized by the Harvard Graduate Council.  Today I went to see the Head of the Charles rowing regatta, went to Chinatown to eat dim sum and spent a few hours studying in the law library.  Dinner was with a friend from the Kennedy School interested in education and starting a school, and now to sleep and another packed week.

I readily dismissed the term “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) before coming here, but it seems the subtext of the Harvard experience should be “FOMO everyday”.  There’s always so many amazing competing events and opportunities to decide between:  a problem of which I am privileged to experience.  That’s a topic for another blog post!

Until next time!

Foliage at HBS

*Unless you have questions about the GRE, then I will be happy to answer!

Lisa Qin is a master’s candidate in the International Education Policy program. She aims to work in creating meaningful and sustainable reforms to address the complex issues of education inequality.