Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The basics of applying to SAIS

It's the dog days of summer. But if you're considering applying to graduate school, it's a very good time to start planning.

In coming weeks we'll publish posts detailing some of the procedures for applying to SAIS Europe. This will lay the groundwork for subsequent posts on the elements of an application: the CV, undergraduate transcripts, the statement of purpose, the analytical essay, standardized tests, letters of recommendation.

Here are some basics:

All candidates use the same online application; the updated application for 2014-15 will be available starting next month. The deadline for applications is January 7, 2014.

SAIS's internal procedures route some applications to the Admissions Office in Washington and others to Admissions in Bologna. It's important because there are some differences in the application requirements between those handled in DC and those in Bologna.

Which applications are routed to DC and which to Bologna?

- U.S. citizens: Their applications are handled by DC Admissions, regardless of where an applicant wants to start their studies.

- non-U.S. citizens: Those wanting to start in Bologna or open to starting at either campus are handled by Bologna Admissions. Those wanting to start in DC are handled in DC.

U.S. applicants who have a second citizenship -- dual citizens -- are routed to SAIS DC if they want to spend their first year in Washington and to SAIS Europe if they want to start in Bologna.

Here are the main differences in application requirements for those being handled by SAIS DC and those handled in Bologna:

- SAIS DC requires its applicants to submit the results of either the GRE or the GMAT. Also there is an application fee.

Note: Non-U.S. citizens open to starting at either campus pay an application fee and must submit the results from either the GRE or the GMAT.

- SAIS Europe does not require the GRE or the GMAT of applicants handled by Bologna Admissions, but we do recommend that all applicants take one or the other. There is no application fee. Finally, candidates handled by Bologna Admissions are interviewed as part of the application process; the interviews generally take place in late January and February, after the January 7 application deadline.

Although there are some differences in the application procedures, due mainly to historical and cultural reasons, the Admissions Committees in DC and Bologna apply the same standards to ensure that the incoming class lives up to SAIS's reputation and expectations.

We receive a good many questions about our internal division of labor, and we realize our procedures can seem complicated at first. We try to make sure that all applicants understand how we operate, and so we are glad to answer any questions you might have.

Here's how you can get in touch with us:

Skype: jhubc.admissions
Telephone: +39 051 29 17 811

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Careers: From academia into helping billions

SAIS bridges theory and policy. There is no better example of the connections than students and faculty who move from the classroom to decision-making roles in governments and institutions. Çiğdem Akin recently took up a job at the Asian Development Bank after teaching economics at SAIS, first in Bologna, then in DC. Below she describes her new role and how her work at SAIS prepared her for the transition.

This May, after four years as a member of the SAIS Europe and DC economics faculty, I started work at the Asian Development Bank in Manila as a public management economist in the South Asia Regional Department.

Çiğdem Akin
It is an exciting transition from academia into an international organization.

I conduct periodic macroeconomic analyses of South Asian economies, help implement projects and administer loans to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

I will be working primarily on public sector finance reform projects and technical assistance programs helping fiscally constrained regional governments streamline revenues and expenditures, implement reforms to manage their debt and build capacity to achieve sustainable allocation of public resources for long-term development and infrastructure priorities.

This position will complement my Ph.D-level academic background in macroeconomics and international finance with first-hand knowledge of multilateral institutions and hands-on experience in development project financing and implementation.

My three years of teaching at SAIS Europe in Bologna, Italy, during the European debt crises helped me appreciate the linkages between prudent management of public sector finances and macroeconomic development. In my courses I used case studies on the origins of the sovereign debt crises around the world, studies that will help me better understand fiscal issues in Asia.

At SAIS I taught extensively about the changing balance of power in the world economic order and the rise of the BRIC economies and other emerging markets. Now that I am in Asia and working particularly on India, I have a front-row seat on economic growth in this part of the world.

My interaction with SAIS's diverse student community has helped me develop my communication skills. SAIS's multidisciplinary approach will help me integrate different economic, political and social perspectives.

With these tools at hand, it is no surprise that SAISers constitute a large group of successful development professionals at the ADB. I have no doubt that the academic training and skills provided at SAIS prepare young minds for development careers in multilateral institutions like the ADB and the World Bank -- and to make a difference in the lives of billions of poor people living in developing countries.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We have a new name: SAIS Europe

Would SAIS Bologna by any other name educate as well?

SAIS Dean Vali Nasr has announced that 58 years after it was founded, the SAIS Bologna Center will now be called SAIS Europe.

"This will emphasize the campus' standing as a European center of intellectual excellence and SAIS's global standing," Nasr said in a note to alumni.

The Bologna Center was founded in 1955 by SAIS Prof. C. Grove Haines, a diplomatic historian with a love of Italy and a desire to build an American graduate school where students from Europe and the United States could learn from each other how to rebuild Europe after the devastation of World War Two.

Why Bologna? Italy played a central role in post-war Europe and in the construction of the European Union. The forces that shaped the continent were at play in Italy's politics, economy, foreign policy and society, and Bologna, home of Europe's oldest university and much respected by Haines, provided rich intellectual soil. 

With changes to Europe and the global landscape over the years, SAIS Bologna's curriculum, scholarship and student body have changed considerably. At the outset the focus was primarily on transatlantic relations, the Cold War and European nation states; now the courses, research and student body reflect a broader mission in a globalized economy where the program's more than 7,000 alumni play leading roles.

The name "SAIS Europe" better captures the Bologna-based institution's leadership position, Nasr said.

"The scope of the excellent teaching and research housed in Bologna goes well beyond the borders of Italy," he said. "Our thought leadership encompasses all of Europe and provides critical context for the continent's evolving international role."

In a separate note to faculty and staff, Nasr said the new name would convey the unique regional and global footprint that SAIS -- the only U.S. graduate school in international relations with campuses on three continents -- has built in the past seven decades.

"It will also better convey the value of research and teaching at the Bologna Center to audiences in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and highlight the true global nature of SAIS’s education and thought leadership," Nasr said.

The change in name comes shortly after Johns Hopkins University, SAIS's parent institution, overhauled the logos of the university and its many units.

Change can sometimes be difficult. When I was a student at SAIS in the early 1980s, we referred to the Bologna Center and, separately, to SAIS -- the Washington campus. Later, to the chagrin of some alumni who were emotionally attached to the name "Bologna Center", the campuses became SAIS Bologna and SAIS DC. They were joined in 1986 by the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in China.

Now, the new name SAIS Europe underscores the Bologna Center's continued relevance, its success in extending its reach and the important role it plays in setting the greater SAIS apart.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Online information session set for July 17

The Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna Center will hold its next online information session on Wednesday, July 17, at 10 am Italy time (0800 GMT).

These sessions are great ways to learn more about our graduate program in international relations and international economics. We use an online platform that allows participants to ask questions through the chat function or by speaking.

As this session is only the second ahead of the deadline for applications for the 2014-15 academic year, we will give a general overview of SAIS Bologna and its distinguishing features. We’ll try to answer any and all questions. (The deadline for applications for 2014-15 is January 7, 2014.)

The sessions generally last 45 minutes to one hour. All you need to participate is a computer and an Internet connection. You can log in and out of the session whenever you like. We plan to record the session so that anyone missing it can watch it later.

If you are interested in participating, please send an email to, and we’ll send you details on how to connect.

In the meantime, here is a link to our 2013-14 catalog:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Academics: A chance to break new ground with a SAIS Bologna thesis

Martin Vladimirov was among five winners of SAIS Bologna's highest academic prize, the C. Grove Haines award, this year for his thesis entitled, "Why is a natural gas OPEC not possible?" He wrote the paper as part of the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA) program, which requires candidates to write and defend a 20,000-word thesis. Below he discusses how he got the idea for his thesis -- click here to read the paper -- and offers tips to aspiring MAIA candidates.

Q: How did you get the idea for the paper?
Vladimirov: The global natural gas market has been both my academic and professional focus for the last three to four years, and this is not the first time I have tackled the issue of natural gas geopolitics.

But I have always shied away from the topic of a potential gas-OPEC because the magnitude of the research necessary did not allow me to proceed with the analysis. The MAIA thesis was an excellent opportunity to attempt a multi-layered overview of all the issues surrounding the cartelization of the gas market.

Martin after he received his award at graduation, between Prof. John Harper (L)
and SAIS Bologna Director Kenneth Keller
Q: What was the main point?
Vladimirov: The main point of my paper was to show that despite the fact that gas reserves are concentrated in a small number of countries which share and ambition to control output and prices, there are major structural and political reasons why cooperation between the gas exporters has not been possible.

I examined in detail the structure of the global gas market as well as the international political rivalries between gas producers. In addition I added a domestic dimension to the topic, saying that the absence of a gas-OPEC is partly explained by a misguided domestic gas policy.

Q: What was the hardest part of your work on the paper?
Vladimirov: The most difficult aspect of the paper was to develop a theoretical framework that I can defend with substantial evidence. While the structural aspects of the problem were already known, I introduced new political elements to the discussion but was not sure if they fitted the topic theoretically.

Q: What tips would you give to incoming students as they prepare to write papers here?
Vladimirov: If they want to say something new and original, they really have to start early, even during the summer before the beginning of the year. Once you start your regular SAIS Bologna course work, it becomes hard to juggle everything.

Also, they should listen to their advisers even if they are saying that there should be a complete change to the direction of the idea. They are usually right about it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Creating an "anti-library" to suit students' study habits at SAIS Bologna

There's been a lot of pounding and the odd dust particle in SAIS Bologna's building this summer. Below, Bart Drakulich, director of Finance & Administration, outlines a major restructuring that responds to changes in technology and accommodates students' evolving study habits. 

When the SAIS campus in Bologna underwent its renovation and expansion in 2006 and 2007, one of the more beautiful new areas of the building was the mezzanine, located directly above the café and adjacent to the upper floor of the Evans Library.

During the planning stages, we thought long and hard about what to do with this space. Ultimately we decided to dedicate it to technology (ouch)! Half of it became the new language lab, the other half became a (at the time) state of the art PC farm. We installed 16 thin client terminals for students to check their email, work on Microsoft Office apps, conduct research, etc.

The Blueprint 
It seems as though about five minutes after we installed and configured the equipment, the mobile/smart computing revolution began, shortly followed by the social networking explosion. Soon students were complaining that YouTube was not streaming quickly enough (the client/server configuration was designed to provide a robust, virus-free data environment, but not to stream video). And how could you possibly update your Facebook page or IM without a cappuccino at hand (no food or drinks allowed in the computer lab)?

Bart Drakulich keeping an eye on the work
The “digitally distracted” reacted by abandoning the computer lab for Giulio’s café downstairs. They huddled with their Ipads and Macbooks in groups of four or six around the bar tables, working on group projects while refueling with one espresso after another. Not enough outlets in the bar was an issue, but the biggest was when Giulio began to kick people out of the café so that he could seat the lunch crowd. “We have no place to study!” they protested.

A student survey respondent even went so far as to complain “there are too many Italians in the bar” (imagine that). Our beautiful and spacious library was out of the question. As one student put it, “We just want to study alone together without the deafening silence of the library.”

Clearly a solution was needed, and with input and advice from the students, and assistance from JHU’s architect in Baltimore, we began to envision a new kind of space. We would punch a hole in the ceiling of the existing (small and underutilized) student lounge located behind the café. We would build a stairwell from the café up to the mezzanine floor, and create Mezzanine 2.0.

In fact, this new space has evaded definition, with several working titles used, and then discarded: The VIP lounge; The Starbucks area; The group study and social space (ugh); the multipurpose area (double ugh). The very fact that we've been unable to name it illustrates the notion that this space is “open for interpretation” by the students.

The original computer lab, just a few years ago
A few things we are fairly certain about. It has outlets everywhere. You can bring your coffee (and perhaps even your lunch?) from the café’ downstairs. Access will be restricted to SAIS students (no competing for tables with the pesky University of Bologna lunch crowd. You know, the Italians). There will be a few high-speed PCs available (yes, they stream video), but the bulk of the space will be dedicated to tables and chairs which can be combined and separated to cluster however students prefer, at any given moment. And did I mention there will be lots of outlets?

Will it become a messy and smelly student lounge with a refrigerator and microwave? Will it be primarily an area to caffeinate and socialize? Will it truly evolve in to a group study area, a sort of “anti-library” where lively discussion and collective research is engaged in?

Ultimately the Class of 2014 will determine how this space evolves, but we hope that we will have provided a comfortable and configurable space that is “future-proof”.

At least for the next two years.

Bart Drakulich

To see more photographs of the renovation, click here.