Tag Archives: graduate school experience

Wire & Fire Series: Building community one network at a time!

One of my many goals for my year at Harvard has been to not only bask in the glory of the genius that surrounds me but to engage these ‘brainy’ peers/alumni/professors in coffee or lunch meetings; my hope in setting up these coffee sessions is to learn a little bit more about the holistic human behind the impressive credentials and experiences. It was during one of these meetings that a recent alumni of the Mind, Brain, and Education program lamented, “I wish I had more meetings with people and built meaningful relationships last year.” This person was so caught up in course work, talks, events, and projects, that she confessed putting genuine human connection on the back burner. Now she makes it a point to caution current cohort members, lest we fall into the same trap. It is very easy to prioritize personal growth over community-building even though, more often than not, the places we go are heavily dependent on the people we know!

When all is said and done, there is no resource out there that is kinder and more generous than another human. Even better if that human is a former colleague or friend. With that in mind, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council [DIAC] subcommittee for this cohort (a.k.a The Dream Team) – Yanela, Jordan, Rachel, and Mona (with unconditional support from Mandy, our Program Administrator) – set out to establish this core community by highlighting each member’s personal and professional diversity.



Yanela Cruz, MBE ’16


Jordan Freeman, MBE ’16


Rachel Hanebutt, MBE ’16

profile pic 2014

Mona Anchan, MBE ’16     (DIAC Rep)







Mandy Farhoodi Moberger, MBE Program Administrator







The activities and events planned to achieve this were cleverly titled the Wire & Fire Series, as a nod to both the neuroscience element of the program and the famous saying, “cells that fire together, wire together” based on the work of psychologist, Donald Hebb. It also denotes the committee’s dedication to provide several avenues for cohort members to connect and interact with each other in order to build deeper and stronger bonds.


The first phase of the series is Member Spotlights, which are scheduled to begin in mid-February. The spotlight series will showcase one cohort member every day in order to highlight the rich mix of background and experiences that exists within the group. Once started, the Spotlights will run each day in the semester until every member in the cohort has been featured. The next event that will begin in early March will include several coffee and tea gatherings with professors, alumni, and affinity-based peer groups. The third will be a “fishbowl” event that will further the progress made in the previous two events by allowing an avenue for people to connect with each other based on future professional interests. In addition, there are talks about doing a talent show and a musical event in service to the same cause. The committee is also working towards jump-starting awareness and active conversations around the topic of disability since it is an area that does not have the same visibility as the concepts of race, gender, sexuality, and identity at HGSE.

As we begin our spring semester full of hope about building a strong and tight-knit cohort community to last us a lifetime, here is a sneak peak into one such resonant story that patiently awaits in our daily e-mails and Facebook notifications to brighten our days and enrich our lives:

Today’s Spotlight isERIN MERNOFF !
Mona Anchan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Mona has toggled between the research and teaching professions for the last ten years. In addition to her role as a Neuroscience and Psychology researcher, Mona has also taught science and math as a high school classroom teacher, tutor, and college instructor. She is on a quest to find avenues to bridge the theory-practice divide between neuroscience and education. She is actively seeking to connect with kindred spirits with the same mission.
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There’s no place like “Hugsie”

joey & HuggsyHugsy? Like Joey’s stuffed penguin from Friends?

Or maybe Hug-Z,  Jay-Z’s cuddly cousin we haven’t heard about! However you spell it, it sounds like a blanket of thousand marshmallows cascading you on a snowy winter’s day…so soft, so warm, an all-embracing bubble of kindness and compassion. That’s Harvard’s Graduate School of Education or HGSE, lovingly referred to by students as “Hugsie” for the ethereal feeling it generates among all who frequent the one block that is Appian Way. I felt it on that cold March day as I set foot on this campus as one of many prospective students at an Open House, and I feel it even more so now that I have spent five long but amazing months as a student here.

Born and raised in India, I was always taught to pick a lane and stick to it if I ever wanted to go somewhere or be somebody. Of course, I never listened! “If you put one leg in one boat and one leg in the other, you will go nowhere and you will drown” is one of the many nuggets of wisdom I heard almost everyday growing up. That’s one way of looking at it. “What if a big awesome ship comes by and picks me up? Then I’ll have something better than two boats and I’ll reach my destination faster,” little me always wanted to say but deferred out of respect to my elders. Well, they may not exist in abundance but there are havens for people who like to pledge their allegiance to more than one discipline and one interest. The Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) cohort at HGSE is one of those havens!

MBE Pie Party 1__Nov 20 2015

MBE 2015-16 cohort at the MBE Pie Party

Having lived under the poverty line for more than six years after my family came to this country, I developed a whole new appreciation for people who generously dedicated their lives to education as a means towards liberation and enlightenment. Since then, I started my dream of starting a school for children in low-income households. As I began to be trained as a neuroscientist, this dream shifted into a different type of school – a school whose methods, operations, and pedagogy was based on neuroscientific research. As I began teaching at a high school, reality reared its attractively-challenged head and my dream came crashing down. How on earth was I going to do this? Where would I start? Who would even understand my mission and goal? Nothing that existed came close to my vision for a school. Looking back, it seems silly that I thought I was alone in this journey. In MBE, I have found scientists, educators, managers, artists, and a variety of other kindred spirits who are fearlessly balancing themselves on the cusp of multiple boats, and are for the most part, WINNING!

But what makes HGSE unique is not just the rapport you build within your own cohort. Professors, coordinators, alumni, and many other permanent members of the community constantly advise us to capitalize on the sea of human potential that we encounter in the form of peers, and that is exactly what I set out to do during my Fall semester. I chose mostly elective classes in non-familiar areas such as policy, entrepreneurship, and technology to complement my  existing knowledge and networks. As a result, I experienced first-hand the reasons behind the gaps between different disciplines as well as professions. But the magnitude of learning, growth, and networks that tagged along with this challenge is so immensely valuable that words cannot do it justice.

A801 section

My A801 section buddies when we’re not disagreeing and debating with each other!

My HGSE colleagues have taught me to truly respect and utilize the value of my peers while being genuinely open and true to myself. I wake up everyday excited to learn things I know nothing about from people in HGSE and beyond. From constant battles about the necessity and feasibility of 21st century skills in an International Development context in my A801-Education Policy Analysis and Research section, to collaborating with the Harvard Graduate School of Design to introduce a design thinking workshop for the HGSE community, and so much of everything in between, the synapses in my brain have formed at an exponential rate since I started this journey in August.

IPhone5-transferDec2015 136

Happy campers at the Design Thinking Workshop we organized for the HGSE community.

The multitude of interactions and conversations with my peers and professors has taught me to be brave about my vision for a better school, but they have also opened my eyes to the many underlying issues I need to tackle first. But most importantly, they have shown me that I am not fighting alone. We’re all in this together!


Mecca, Eden, “Hugsie”….call it whatever happy place you will! I have never looked back and as this new semester starts, I am hungry for more.

Mona Anchan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Mona has toggled between the research and teaching professions for the last ten years. In addition to her role as a Neuroscience and Psychology researcher, Mona has also taught science and math as a high school classroom teacher, tutor, and college instructor. She is on a quest to find avenues to bridge the theory-practice divide between neuroscience and education. She is actively seeking to connect with kindred spirits with the same mission.

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Some people love the idea of a graduate school open house.

Or so I’m told.

I am not one of those people. If you rewind the tape back to an hour before I attended my first open house last year, you’d catch me giving myself a Blind Side style inspirational speech. It’s a lot of pressure! An Open House is the equivalent of a first date, except you want to get married and they don’t know your name yet.

At least that was the mindset I had a year ago. And then I went to the BU, BC, MSPP, Harvard, Adler and Columbia open houses. Here is what I took away.



The best advice I ever heard was this: make a friend when you walk in. Walk over to the bagels, mention something about cream cheese, and break that ice. As soon as you have one person to talk to, the room isn’t as big anymore. And those conversations may end up being the most valuable part of the day.


Ask anything. Even “Where are the bathrooms?” counts. Like #1, the point here is to get comfortable seeing what happens when you engage in this new environment. You want to find a place that encourages you to speak up- so test the waters a bit! This isn’t a museum. It’s a potential setting for the next phase of your life.

Loosen up and speak up! You’re not in a museum.


The guy (or girl) who keeps talking to hear their own voice. You know him as the one who asks a ridiculously long-winded, specific question (or is it a summary of his resume?) that only applies to his exact situation. Other “that guy” markers: asking questions during group sessions that Google could easily answer or letting you know how far ahead he is in the application process.

Modesty: You’re doing it wrong.

The difference between #2 and #3 often comes down to timing. Ask the small questions offline, rather than in a group.


Business casual is always a safe bet for clothes and humor. Put your cell on silent. Be respectful to the space around you by taking care of your trash (you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this). Don’t trash talk other programs. Don’t brag; you want friends, not admirers.

Don’t make Tina Fey call you out.


Keep an open mind walking in. At this point in life you’ve probably realized things aren’t always what they appear on the internet. So take in how the students act, how you feel asking questions, and what the campus space is like.

Maybe you’ll walk away knowing it is exactly what you want.

Maybe you’ll be exhausted and need more time to think.

Open House Recovery

Either is legitimate. Thumbs up to you for surviving an open house!

You made it! Only 10 more.

Meredith Dreman is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Prevention Science and Practice Program. She is passionate about psychology and reframing the perception of mental health. She loves stories, odd connections, strong coffee and Google Calendar.

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“Life’s short, talk fast.”

Close friends of mine will be able to tell you just how far my obsession with the cult television show, Gilmore Girls, extends. I can throw quotes out from any season, and any episode, on command. For example, I can tell you that the quote written above would actually not be found on any Gilmore Girls script – it was actually the tagline promoting the television show that I came to love throughout the course of my undergraduate years of college. However, as I sat down to write this final (!) blog post of the semester, I realize that “Life’s short, talk fast” is actually a pretty accurate tagline for what I can only describe as my whirlwind of a graduate school experience. Continue reading

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