Sunday, September 6, 2009

First week of classes

This past week was my first week of school... for the 22nd time in my life. I'm starting my PhD, and I'll probably have about one year of taking classes; then I'll take my qualifying exams, and then I'll spend the next two years writing a paper. Exciting to be at the very beginning of something new!

My classes this semester are some of the core classes for the Public Policy program - things I really haven't studied since high school, if ever. That actually makes it fun, though, because I feel like I'm learning a lot and it's all new and interesting. Here's a quick recap on each class I'm taking this first week:

Quantitative Analysis
This is the advanced statistics course - mostly focused on econometrics. The main focus of the class, other than a few exams, is on a research paper where we carry out an analysis using regression. (Regression is a method to help you understand how much your item of interest - GPD, Salary, etc. depends on other variables, like the amount of education people have, where they live etc.) I'm still deciding what topic I want to write about; I'd like to do something with space, but there isn't much that lends itself well to this type of analysis. The lectures are primarily on how to use this method, I believe.

International Security Policy
This class is actually taught by one of my advisors. It's a completely new topic for me. I've studied space security before, but this class looks historically at the development of security policy beginning with the build up to WWII and the development of nuclear weapons. Just learning the history is interesting for me, because I've never studied or learned in depth about WWII or the Cold War. We also look at the strategic decisions that were made - and try to understand why things happened the way they did. In the first class we discussed a bunch of interesting questions like, "Why was the U.S. the country in which nuclear weapons were first developed?", "Was it inevitable that nuclear weapons would be the first use of nuclear technology, or was it a product of the political atmosphere?", and "Was the United States' use of nuclear weapons in WWII strategically justified? Was it morally justified?" I'm really excited to do the readings for this class and understand more about all of these issues and how they affect security policy today.

Political Institutions and Leadership
This is kind of like a graduate level version of the civics class you had in high school. It looks at the parts of government, what they do, and how they interact. It's much more in depth, of course, and assigns about 300 pages of reading a week. It also takes a somewhat practical view of how a policy person can attempt to get things done in D.C. - how to navigate all the different political institutions. This stuff is all very new to me - I've never looked in detail about how the U.S. system is different than in the U.K., or how the bureaucracy is affected by the courts, etc. Despite the intense amount of reading assigned, I've somehow managed to get ahead - some of the books assigned are really interesting. I think I'll write about them in another post.

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