Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Math and Economics: Staying Ahead of Events

You don't have to look far to see why economics is important to understanding world events. Take the front page of any major newspaper.

The debate in Washington over the U.S. debt ceiling. The euro zone's struggles with Greece (and vice versa). The Arab spring. Investor's views of News Corp's value following revelations of phone hacking by journalists at one of its newspapers.

Guess who?
How could you begin to grasp the complexities of any of these titanic issues without examining the economic forces at work?

Perhaps less easy to understand is why it's important to understand mathematics in order to master economics.

Incoming students who have been taking the SAIS Online Math Tutorial this summer, with the help of seven DVDs covering 86 modules, may be asking themselves that question. As might prospective applicants.

I asked Prof. Erik Jones about this relationship between mathematics and economics. Here is what he told me:

"At SAIS we teach economics both for substantive reasons and for methodological reasons. We want students to understand how the economy works but we also want them to realize why we believe it works that way. The recent economic and financial crisis is a perfect illustration of the importance of this combination. Many people had simple rules of thumb to explain how liberalized capital markets should be more stable than tightly regulated markets; many fewer understood the importance of basic assumptions about human rationality that lay at the foundation of those rules of thumb. When those assumptions proved to be incorrect – as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan explained to the House of Representatives – the whole edifice of free market economics came crashing down.

Prof. Erik Jones
"The connection between  the assumptions that underpin economic thought and the rules of thumb that guide ‘conventional wisdom’ works through logic as expressed in mathematical models. Those students who do not understand mathematics will never be able to trace back the links between what they think they know about how the economy works and what they assume to be true about the world writ large. As a consequence, they will never be able to anticipate what will happen should their assumptions prove incorrect. They will be trapped in the crowd, doing whatever everyone else is doing and hoping for the best. Our goal by teaching mathematics for economics is to help students avoid that fate. We don’t intend to turn SAIS students into mathematicians, but we do intend to give them the understanding that they will require to stay ahead of events."

If you're tempted to wager that the connection between mathematics and economics is relatively recent, think twice. The use of math in economics dates back at least to the 17th century before hitting its stride in the 19th.

I'm sure at least one of our readers can tell us more about the symbiotic rapport between math and economics -- if not now, then in a few more months.

Anyone seen this before?
In the meantime, let's get back to brass tacks. Incoming students are strongly encouraged to take both the pre-calculus and calculus tests online this summer before starting their course work. It's the best way to make sure you will thrive at SAIS.

Anyone who comes up short -- it happens -- will have an opportunity to take math catchup classes, either in pre-term or after, and to take the exams again.

The obvious question is: Am I required to take the math tests and to pass them?

The answer is less obvious. Do yourself a favor. Study the material, pass the tests and tackle economics with the confidence and skills you will need to succeed.

Questions? Send them to admissions@jhubc.it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Technology and Int'l Relations: Not Such Strange Bedfellows

SAIS Bologna's curriculum has changed over the years, evolving as it should. International relations are in constant flux. And while our program does not shift with every passing breeze, it keeps up with the times.

Who would have thought, when SAIS was founded more than six decades ago, that technology would soon play such an important role in shaping relations among nation states?

For that matter, how could an engineer become director of SAIS Bologna? Prof. Kenneth Keller, who has a Ph.D in chemical engineering, will be glad to answer that.

Martin Ross, who recently graduated from SAIS Bologna, took Prof. Keller's "Science, Technology & International Relations" class last year.

What is the course all about?

"This course examines how advances in science and technology as well as the dynamics of technological development affect relations among nations in matters such as autonomy, national security, relative economic strength, environmental protection, cultural identity and international cooperation. It illustrates these effects with examples from the current international scene, and it considers various approaches to negotiating international agreements in areas affected by these science and technology considerations."

I asked Martin, who comes from Canada, what the course meant to him.

"I have been interested for many years in the technical side of what to do when the existing IP address space runs out," he said.

Martin receiving his prize at graduation
"Luckily the course gave me the opportunity to explore the policy and political aspects relating to Internet governance in a much more detailed manner than I was able to previously.  The paper was especially timely as the first public large scale purchase of IP addresses by Microsoft from the defunct Nortel occurred a few months after I wrote the paper. The uptake towards the next generation of the Internet protocol continues to be slow and several auction internet sites have already sprung up."

Our readers have already seen award-winning papers by Christina Politi and Annabel LeeHere is a paper that Martin submitted in Prof. Keller's class and which won him, too, a C. Grove Haines prize for academic excellence at graduation in May.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Your questions answered

Before we dive into the Q&A, I would like to encourage those who haven't activated their JHU email account, to do so as soon as possible. If you have problems activating it, please contact SAIS Help. The sooner you do it, the less the chances of missing out on important information, such as jobs advertisements.

Q: I have not chosen a concentration yet, is it OK?
A: It is. When you submitted your application form, you indicated your concentration preference. However, if you wish to change concentration, you will have the opportunity to do so. Orientation week, a full week where you will be able to attend any class that whets your appetite, will help you in your decision-making. You will have access to all concentrations, except IDEV.

To understand the different concentration requirements please take some time to read through this document.

Q: When is the deadline to register for courses?
A: The deadline is shortly after the end of Orientation week, on September, 30.

Q: When will I be able to see an academic advisor?
A: You will be able to speak to an academic advisor during Orientation week.

Q: How am I assigned an academic advisor?
A: You will be assigned an academic advisor according to your concentration choice.

Q: Are there job opportunities on campus during pre-term?
A: Yes. There are jobs available in the Library, at Reception, in the Careers Services Office and with some professors. Today, Heather Kochevar, Public Services Assistant, sent out an email advertising four job vacancies in the Library . The message was sent to your JHU email. If you haven't activated your account, now is a good time to do it. Also during pre-term, Raffaella our receptionist, will be looking for one person to help out.  Ann Gagliardi in the Careers Services Office will be seeking help too. Ann will send out an email with a complete job description and application instructions before the end of July. The proferssors who need a teaching assistant will send an email with information.

Q: Are there more jobs available after pre-term?
A: Yes, there will be. The Library will hire around ten students and two or three other Offices will be looking for help too. Some teaching assistant positions will aslo be available. These positions will be advertised just before the start of the academic year, to give everyone a chance.

Amina Abdiuahab 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Results of our blog survey

We launched this blog last December. We have finished an admissions cycle, and the incoming class is on the verge of descending on Bologna.

It's a good time to review our work, to see if it's been worth it and, if so, to introduce improvements.

Many of you participated in an online survey in June. As promised, we will offer the results of that survey. But first, some


Between December 1, 2010 and June 27, 2011, we published 129 posts. They generated 30,567 pageviews, for an average of 237 pageviews per post.

The posts included 34 videos. Each post had at least one photograph or graphic. The posts generated 296 comments that we published (and some spam comments that we spiked).

Here are the countries with the most pageviews to date:

Here are the three most read posts since we launched:

1. What is in a name? (December 9, 2010)
2. Seeing how you think (February 21, 2011)
3. A video peek at SAIS DC (March 10, 2011)

Here are the three most viewed videos:

1. Tour of SAIS DC
2. Reaction to Mario Draghi's speech at SAIS Bologna
3. SAIS Bologna Students' Summer Plans


Here is a summary of the results of the survey. It is, well, a summary and so leaves out a fair amount of detail.

The 76 people who completed the anonymous survey came from 28 countries. Eleven of them have dual nationality.

Some of the results:
  • Two thirds of the participants are 21-25 years of age, and just over one quarter are 26-30.
  • More than eight out of 10 of the participants will be attending SAIS Bologna in 2011-12 or 2012-13.
  • Most found out about the blog via an email from SAIS.
  • Two out of three read the blog several times a week or once a week. 12% read it every day.
  • Everyone reads the blog on a laptop or desktop, with a few using mobile devices.
  • Readers call up the blog in various ways: bookmarks, RSS feeds, email alerts, Facebook, search engines.
  • Nine of 10 readers find the blog useful. No respondents found it not useful.
I have compiled all of the written comments that participants offered up here.

Here are some of our takeaways:
  • Readers have generally found the blog useful in learning about SAIS and getting ready to attend.
  • They want more details on the admissions procedure, more information on career opportunities, more involvement of students in the blog posts and more faculty profiles.
  • We can improve tools for navigating the blog and for retrieving/archiving posts.
  • We can also publicize the existence of the blog better.
  • Some readers like the weekly quizzes -- but many more do not.
One thing I should point out: as almost all of the respondents have been admitted to SAIS Bologna and will be attending, they already know a good deal about SAIS the institution. It is natural that they would want more detail on the nitty gritty of life in Bologna.

I should also note that some respondents asking for more input from SAIS Bologna students will be ... SAIS Bologna students this coming year. We look forward to your contributions!

One of our challenges going forward will be to make the transition to a new pool of readers: prospective candidates for 2012-13 who may know very little if anything about SAIS. Some of our current readers were in that camp about a year ago. How time flies -- and we've had a lot of fun over those months with this blog.

Thanks to those who participated in the survey and to our loyal readers.

For those who have just joined us, you can sign up as a follower by clicking on the Follow button on the upper right-hand side of the blog.

You can receive blog posts by email by submitting your email address in the Follow by Email box, also on the upper right-hand side.

And you can receive the blog via an RSS feed. Those directions can differ depending on your browser.

Comments, of course, are welcome.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's better to be safe than sorry!

Today, I would like to answer some questions we are asked frequently. Please take some time to read this post and especially to go through the information available on our website as well as in the Incoming Student Guidebook. They are precious sources of information that can help you answer most of your questions.  

Q: I am having problems with my visa application, what should I do?
A: The first step is to check which documents you need on the website of the Italian embassy of your home country . 

Q: I have checked the documents on the website of the Italian embassy of my home country and it seems that I am missing some documents. 
A: Contact us as soon as possible. We will be happy to help you. 

Q: I have not started my visa application yet, should I worry?
A: Yes. By now, everyone should have at least been in contact with the Italian embassy in their home country. If you have not contacted them already, make sure you do so as soon as possible. 

Q: I am not a citizen of the European Union. What should I do for medical insurance?
A: You need to arrive in Italy with a sound health plan that will cover you in case you need care. Remember that the Italian emergency insurance applies to emergency hospitalization only. For more information see this post  published in May. 

Q: When is the deadline to pay the first tuition instalment?
A: The deadline is on September, 30.  See the Incoming Student Guidebook to learn how you can make the payment. 

Q: I received financial aid from SAIS, how does paying tuition work for me?
A: Financial aid from SAIS goes towards tuition. If you received financial assistance from SAIS the award will be split in two. One half will be credited towards tuition in the first semester and the other half in the second semester. You will be asked to pay the outstanding balance at the beginning of each semester. You can read more on financial aid and tuition here.

Q: I have not registered for a principles of economics course yet, what should I do? 
A: You should find a course now. Remember that when you arrive in Bologna, you will need to have successfully passed courses in principles of micro and macroeconomics or you won't be able to start your studies at SAIS. 

If you feel there are questions that should be addressed, please comment on this post so that everyone can benefit from your queries. You know we welcome your input! 

Next week:

- Your views on the Blog: a summary of your answers to our survey.
- Q&A on concentrations, jobs and more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another winning paper: a recipe for success

Last month readers met Christina Politi, who wrote an award-winning paper on U.S. policy towards Greece between 1946 and 1964.

Today let's move east.

Annabel Lee just finished her year at SAIS Bologna and is concentrating in Russian/Eurasia Studies. She became interested in Russia in 12th grade after reading Dostoevskij's Crime and Punishment. At the time she would joke around that one day she "would learn Russian, go to Siberia in the dead of winter, sit outside of a gulag and read Crime and Punishement in Russian". A few years later, in 2008, she fulfilled that high school joke. It was during her time at SAIS that she developed an interest in Central Asia. She was eager to learn more about a region she knew little about and that was influenced by her primary interest: Russia.

Not so surprising, then, that in the "Economies of Central Asia" course this past Spring with Prof. Richard Pomfret, she choose to write about Tajikistan, an ex-Soviet republic.

Her paper won one of the three C. Grove Haines awards at graduation in May. If you read it, you'll see why.

Like Christina in her paper on Greece, Annabel, who attended the University of Texas before enrolling at SAIS, reaches some sobering conclusions:

"Western groups would thus be more effective at helping local Tajiks if they substantially reduced reform demands and adopted more apolitical development goals, for currently their humanitarian ideals preclude them from even entering the development market at a significant level.

"Most importantly, the Rakhmon administration needs to recognize that, like in Chechnya, it can improve conditions for its citizens, increase job opportunities through infrastructure development, and decrease migration flows without destabilizing the state; otherwise, the poverty-inducing status-quo will remain."

What is Annabel doing this summer before she resumes her SAIS studies in Washington?

"This summer I am interning with the U.S. State Department Public Affairs Section in Tbilisi, Georgia," Annabel writes.

Annabel receiving her award
from Prof. Akin
"It relates to my paper, for the internship is providing me with the opportunity to more fully explore how governments interact to influence policy. I am also getting to see how a different former Socialist Soviet Republic has implemented domestic and foreign policy successfully to develop into a relatively free and stable nation -- quite the opposite of Tajikistan."

I asked Çiğdem Akin, who gave Annabel her prize at graduation, what made her paper stand out: "She had an interesting topic, presented the issues well and had a solid research on it."
Sounds simple. But it isn't.

Nelson Graves