Everything you ever Wanted to Know about the Masters in Public Policy School and the U of C: a panel


On October 24th SUE hosted the Masters in Public Policy Panel Event! About 25 students came out to learn all they could about the prestigious degree available through the University of Calgary. A big thank you to Pat, Austin, and Franco for giving their time. Also thank you to all the students who showed up to the event. You can learn more about SUE at www.ucalgarysue.com and the MPP website is http://www.policyschool.ca/. Don’t forget to like SUE on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ucalgarysue and stay up to date on upcoming SUE events! Here is a summary of the answers given at the informative event:

It was an evening of questions, answers, and personal experiences shared generously by the three panel members. President of SUE Tiara Kerr hosted the Panel and asked common questions from students.Panel Members were Austin Thompson, a current MPP student who graduated with an undergraduate in Economics and Urban Development from the U of C in 2016, Patrick Rosser, another current MPP student who graduated with an Economics degree from the U of C in 2016, and Franco Terrazzano, a recent graduate from the MPP program currently working for the Canadian Constitution Foundation. (The following are not direct quotes but rather paraphrases of the panel members' responses).

What does the typical day in the life of an MPP student ?

Franco: If you want to succeed, put in the effort. GPA is important and being top in your class can get you a job. So succeeding means spending a lot of time in the library studying. Classes are 5-8 in the evening so that days can be very full. It’s a lot of work. If you don’t want to do the work then don’t go into grad school.

Pat: You need to stand out in your classes. Networking is most important. In the MPP you get to meet ambassadors and politicians, which is awesome. There is a lot of reading and writing in the MPP so if you don’t like those things then the program probably isn’t for you.

Austin: Though they feel like long days, the program is only one year. It’s a very social education experience. You spend a lot more time meeting with people and chatting about material than in a regular undergrad. What time you spend alone is spent writing and reading or doing research. So there is a lot of prep time for classes, but much of your studying time is talking through concepts with other people.

What type of material do you normally see and how does that compare to undergrad economics material?

Pat: Law! Be prepared to learn all about it and read things in a completely different way. The economics is extremely easy, but that gives the opportunity to help out the people who know what you don’t know like Law and politics. You get to really talk about the material you’re learning. It’s very applicable and enjoyable to talk about the material with your peers. You get to apply the things you learn more than in typical economics.

Franco: Coming from econ it was weird to take seminar classes, which are more of a sit down and talk style course. There is only like 6 students and you discuss the readings assigned. It wasn’t sit down and draw graphs, it was discussing our thoughts. I had to really prepare for class or else I’d look like a fool. There is a way higher level of engagement in class. Because of that I’ve learned a lot more than during my whole undergrad.

Austin: A lot of the economic material I was completely overqualified for, but there are many other types of material that you may not be familiar with. The quality of instruction is very high. They often wrote the textbook for the course and therefore not only know the material, but also know how to explain it.

What can you expect to do once you graduate with the MPP?

Franco: It lines you up for pretty much anything. People will experience you as an expert. Having an econ background makes people see you as an expert. Everything from the Military to Alberta Health Services to NGOs to Government would be wanting to hire an MPP graduate. There are economists in the program who had their degree paid for by their companies. The opportunity is far broader than for a regular masters or PhD in economics. Trans Canada often hires, so does Imperial Oil. Whoever you could lobby on behalf of to the government will hire you in the private sector.

Pat: I’m going to work for government making health policy or I’m going to work for a drug company and make a ton of money. Either is a feasible option once I graduate. Your capstone project helps determine who will hire you.

Austin: Even getting into the MPP program opens doors that would otherwise be closed to you. Simply being a student in the MPP has led to offers for jobs for me, and I’m only two months into the program. The MPP signals to employers that you are smart enough to get into a Master’s program. Getting the degree proves that you have a minimum “level of smart”. It automatically makes you more hireable. There are applications that you only qualify for if you have a Masters.

What is your advice for the application process?

Austin: My biggest problem was that I didn’t start early enough. You need to have a draft ready and have people reading that draft. The U of C has so many free resources to help you get through your drafts. Pay attention to application deadlines because even though you’re busy with school it will come up fast. Also pay attention to the online application process. I mistakenly made my profs write their references by hand when all I had to do was hit next on the online application for it to send them an online request. So make sure you understand the application process and ask people who know if you are uncertain.

The best thing I did was have really good references. I gathered them not just by being in their classes. I did research into what the prof had been working on and scheduled an appointment to talk to them. It is really important and really easy to maintain relationships with profs.

Pat: Watch which professors you use to apply. At the U of C it isn’t so important because for the most part sessional instructors are known. However, I knew that I wanted to go into health care and social programs. So I used references who knew that was my interest and that I was good at that area. Try to use a reference who knows you beyond just the classroom. If they can talk about you as a person then that will shine through on your reference letter. Take the following courses, these will set you up for the MPP perfectly: ECON 311, 357, 359, 349, 395, 401, 403, and 405.

Franco: Don’t be nervous to talk to profs to get references. It’s their job to write your reference letters. Build a relationship with a prof. It doesn’t always have to be about econ. It can be about anything from baseball to the news. Try to build a long lasting relationship with profs and you’ll get outstanding reference letters.

Are interdisciplinary references good?

Austin: They are extremely valuable! The program is very multi-disciplinary. If it falls under the social sciences, especially if you have written research papers in those classes then it is extremely relevant.

Pat: There are collaborative challenges in the MPP program so it is very valuable to have references that can speak to that ability to understand multiple subjects. Talk to your referees about why you want to go to the school.

Tiara: It could be far more valuable to include a reference from say a History class where you have written a really good research paper than to have yet another econ prof who can say that you know how to do graphs. Look for references who can really speak to your various skills, especially presenting, writing, and researching.

What are your thoughts on personal statements/letters of intent?:

Pat: The MPP program wants you to be a real person who understands what is going on in economics and is passionate about it, but never say you have a “passion for policy”. It’s not just about the GPA, it has a lot to do with your ability, etc.

Austin: They don’t want to hear cliché statements, but they do want to hear why you want to be in the program.

Who can I talk to about whether the MPP is for me?

Pat: Contact Dr. Ron Kneebone. He is fantastic and will help you determine if the MPP is right for you. He’s done a lot of research and good work and is great at sharing his passion for MPP.

What is the capstone project?

Franco: It’s the big project that you have to do at the end of your MPP. You usually spend about 4 months working on it and it’s your project. It’s your idea and your work and will often lead to a job. My biggest advice is taking a topic that you’re interested in and then narrowing it down as much as you can to a specific research question. You don’t want to do a project on tax reform if you hate tax reform. Pick something you like and narrow it down.

Pat: Be general when thinking about your capstone project early on. Read up on topics that you’re interested in. Keep your options open. I always knew that I wanted to go into Healthcare. I was sure that I had my idea down already. Though I went in with an idea for a capstone, it’s evolving. The courses give you intricacies to apply to your field. That’s why you should start general. Don’t narrow too quickly or else you may limit your research. Anyone who can do a capstone is now an expert on that subject which makes you ready to do it in industry.

Austin: It’s a cool way to delve into the material you briefly cover in class. You can pursue a subject area that you are interested in and find your capstone idea that way. You have to do it, but it’s a great opportunity. It’s instead of a thesis.

Why the U of C MPP?

Franco: Actually, a lot of people don’t know what an MPP is, particularly the politics attached to the U of C is unimportant. What is more important is that you have a Masters. People will want to hire you. The MPP is good at preparing you for the workplace and giving you those skills that you need to succeed. They say that there is a 96% hiring rate, I don’t know if that is quite true but it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to find a job after getting an MPP.

Austin: The MPP opens doors that are closed to you if you don’t have a Masters. People will look at you as an analyst. It’s a great opportunity to signal to employers that you are smart and competent. They will be far more likely to hire you with an MPP. It was great to be able to stay in Calgary and still get an MPP. You can go to places like U of T, but for me U of C was the right choice.

Pat: It’s a great school with lots of profs who are experienced in industry and know what they are talking about. The material is practical and gives you a broad range of knowledge across disciplines. It’s a practical degree that opens doors rather than closes them. Though U of T and other schools are more superior, the MPP is still a great degree to get from U of C and it’s the experience and the additional funding available through the U of C MPP that make it so great.

A big thank you to Pat, Austin, and Franco for giving their time. Also thank you to all the students who showed up to the event. You can learn more about SUE at www.ucalgarysue.com and the MPP website is http://www.policyschool.ca/. Don’t forget to like SUE on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ucalgarysue and stay up to date on upcoming SUE events!

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