Currently viewing the tag: "Murray"
Not every staff member sits alone with a cup of tea on a reading day. Dan is lucky enough to have the companionship of his photogenic buddy, Murray. Dan provided this report on a recent day of application reading.
When a reading day happens to fall on an utterly gross winter day like today — not cold enough for snow, but featuring a cold, driving rain throughout — staying inside, at home, feels like good fortune. There’s plenty to love about the work itself, too. As I’ve written before, it’s a humbling and rewarding experience to get a glimpse of things our applicants are doing, and to imagine these folks doing them as part of the Fletcher community. That said, I’ll confess that a full day of nothing but reading can be a bit of a slog for the sheer volume of the task. Every Fletcher application deserves full and close attention, so it’s important to take some mental breaks to stay fresh.
Regular blog readers know that a crucial part of my typical reading day is my wingman Murray. Being full of myself, I always assume it’s a treat for him to have some company on a day when he’d otherwise have considerably less. It also gives me a chance to observe up close the things that occupy his day. There’s sleeping, a few walks outside, the odd mouthful of kibble, and on a clear day, a steady rotation around the living room floor following the shifting patch of sunlight. In short, Murray’s life requires a multi-disciplinary skill set, which may sound familiar to a Fletcher applicant. On several occasions, in need of the aforementioned mental break, I’ve found myself evaluating his potential as a Fletcher applicant. A quick review of his case:
International experience: Murray originally hails from Atlanta, and while Boston and Atlanta can sometimes feel like different countries in my experience, this doesn’t strictly count as international. He’s spent considerable time in Canada, though, and is an eager beneficiary of the occasional piece of broccoli from Chinese leftovers. Bottom line: he could improve in this area, but he’s made some inroads.
Foreign language ability: It’s hard to judge what his native language is, to be honest. He’s not a great barker, though he displays a wide array of dialects including growl (just try to take his toy away), moan (usually when getting a particularly good belly rub), “boop” (my best transcription of the high-pitched sleep chirp he periodically emits, presumably when dreaming of large bowls of meat), and huff (we all drink water a bit too quickly now and then). The issue here is that Fletcher does not currently offer equivalency exams in any of these, so it remains a concern.
Professional experience: This is really an area of strength. In addition to being an accomplished napper, Murray has mastered several toy categories, among them ball, stuffed animal, treat-in-paper-towel-tube, and other kind of ball. He also exhibits advanced licking ability of the sort that can only be learned in the field. The one potential criticism here is that he may be too much of a renaissance man. Previous evaluators have noticed that he can be prone to easily losing focus and shifting interests rapidly.
Academic ability: Perhaps the biggest hurdle in his candidacy. As a dog, Murray has no traditional academic experience, although his “report cards” from the vet (a real thing, I swear) are consistently strong.
Murray’s prospects are ultimately uncertain, though you, applicants, should feel free to gauge yourselves against these criteria to see how you think you might measure up. He’ll be set either way, though, as he currently has a sweet rent-free living arrangement, and a basically full-time job. He can be my wingman anytime.
Every summer, I cook up some blog assignment for my admissions pals, generally designed to shed light on the people applicants will be interacting with throughout the year. This year, I thought: what better way to have the staff introduce themselves than by offering a bit of advice. So I gave them the prompt: Something I would want applicants to know is… And then I got out of the way and let them send me anything they wanted.
I’m going to start with Dan’s advice, because it gets at the foundation of an application to Fletcher. That makes sense, since Dan is our resident staff member/alumnus. I’ll follow up next week with thoughts from the rest of the team. Here’s what Dan wants you to know:
“International Affairs” is not a field.
As you can imagine, there are certain application tropes we in admissions see frequently. Goals of working in the Foreign Service or the UN are common, as are formative brushes with seminal political and social moments (“I remember watching 9/11 on TV,” “I was studying in Cairo during the Arab Spring,” etc.). These can be effective, or not; regular readers will know that the curious alchemy behind a strong application involves many ingredients, and that the same thing can strike different readers in distinct ways. A familiar one I hereby discourage goes something like this: “I aspire to a career in the field of international affairs.” What’s the big deal, you ask? Isn’t Fletcher an international affairs school, after all? Don’t you admissions types always harp on the importance of professional goals? And aren’t you the guy who lets his dog read applications?
It is, we do, and he mostly writes blog posts (dogs are famously poor readers, and demonstrate questionable judgment). The issue is that “International Affairs” is not itself a field, but rather an inter-related group of fields. Microfinance, monitoring & evaluation, social entrepreneurship, development aid policy, national security law, international climate change negotiations, EU monetary policy, mobile banking, maritime policy, and nuclear non-proliferation are all fields (along with dozens of others) that have an equal claim for inclusion under the “international affairs” umbrella. Essays that include phrases like “the field of international affairs” often signal that an applicant hasn’t quite identified a sufficiently specific set of interests or professional objectives that often translate to success both at Fletcher and with career development afterwards. The fact that you’ve submitted an application tells us you’re interested in “international affairs,” but we want to hear more! Tell us what field or fields interest you most, and try to identify some of the linkages between them. This shows us that you’re ready to construct a coherent course of study from Fletcher’s famously flexible curriculum. The more you can do so the stronger your case for admission, and the less you need to worry that your application is maybe being read by a dog.
Technically, Murray is not a member of the Admissions staff. But he is the good friend (and dog) of Dan, who is. Murray has had many opportunities to observe Dan reading applications. Last year and once before, Dan wrote about spending a day with both applications and a dog who might want to be out and about. Today, Murray shares his perspective on a day reading applications.
On a normal day the man lets me out into the backyard when I wake up. He says it’s “to help the grass grow,” but that’s not what I do out there. Then he leaves. I go back to sleep. I usually have a full schedule with a lot of sleeping to take care of, so it’s good for me to get to it early. Today isn’t a normal day. The man is still here. He looks like he has sleep he needs to take care of, too, but he sits at a table with a computer instead. I think it’s probably another way of sleeping because he doesn’t say very much. He hasn’t even licked his hand yet, but I can take care of that. Teamwork.
The man thinks I’m stupid because my brain is the size of a walnut, but I know he’s “reading applications.” I don’t know what that is, though. I DO know that he gets an hour, at most, before he’s taking me outside, whether he likes it or not. Take me outside!
Here’s the thing – I have to wear this embarrassing jacket. If the man is going to make me wear it, we should stay outside for at least six hours, which I think is fair. Look how totally sunny it is! The man can easily “read applications” outside while I smell things, and look at things. And smell things.
But like I said, I have a busy work day. This toy won’t kill itself, so I have to take care of that, which means I probably won’t get all the sleep done I’m supposed to. Sleeping is a core part of my job description, so I have to make time. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
The man has stayed at home like this a few times before, and I’ve heard him say what he looks for on these days are “strong academics,” “international exposure,” “professional experience,” and “a clear sense of interest and goals.” I don’t know what those words mean, but my guess is they’re food. I have to think about the most important foods a lot, too, so it makes sense that the man does the same thing. The things I look for in a day are beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey. And meat. If a day has those things, there’s a good chance I’ll eat them!
First, a note. I’ve received emails from quite a few people in the last two weeks wondering when they’ll hear from us with the decision on their applications. The answer is: not for a while! We’re still mid-process — seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, for sure, but far from done. Hang tight!
Liz and I are both at home reading today. More accurately, Liz is reading, and I’m reading when I’m not writing a blog post. Dan and I have already told you about our reading days. Today the rest of the staff chimes in, survey style. (Thank you to Kristen for providing the survey questions!)
Do you listen to music while reading?
Christine: Yes, something that is not distracting, though. Taylor Swift’s “1989” has been great background noise! I’m also a fan of the iPod Genius mixes for anything moody and 90s (Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, etc.).
Kristen: On and off. I find that some well-timed lively Latin American pop can help get me through a long afternoon.
Laurie: I find music very distracting when I am reading applications (or reading anything for that matter). However, I do like the steady hum of my space heater. The extra heat is a real plus as well.
Liz: I actually don’t. I like silence, though sometimes a little background noise is nice. More recently I’ve been reading during “snow days,” when Tufts has closed due to inclement weather, which normally is a rare occasion. Given the weather, lately I’ve had the news on in the background while reading to keep up with the storm! But usually, I don’t have any music, etc.
Favorite beverage to accompany your reading?
Kristen: Coffee, followed by some more coffee and perhaps a cup of coffee after that.
Laurie: I alternate between hot and cold beverages all day long. Coffee in the morning (of course), cold water throughout the day, and then tea in the afternoon.
Liz: This depends a bit on the time of day! I’m a big fan of hydration, so I tend to have a large water bottle that I refill throughout the day. In the morning I also will have a nice hot cup of coffee, and in the afternoon, I sometimes will make a fruit smoothie. It breaks up the day and is a nice treat to look forward to!
Christine: Water, always water. Sometimes a nice hot tea when the mood strikes.
Pet peeve while reading applications?
Laurie: My biggest pet peeve is when I misspell or mistype words when I am writing my notes. Our new system does not have an auto correct and I always need to go back and edit my work.
Liz: My biggest pet peeve when reading is when an applicant doesn’t follow directions or pay attention to details within the essays. We’ve seen it all as readers — including applicants whose essays are written for other schools. A word to the wise: stick to the word limit, answer the questions we have asked and read through your essays to ensure you’ve uploaded the essay for the right school! Attention to detail is important, and is something we keep our eye on.
Christine: Applicants not filling out their academic information completely.
Kristen: A cold room and a shoddy application.
What incentive do you give yourself to help make it through a pile of applications?
Liz: For me, my incentive is always food! I won’t let myself eat breakfast until I’ve read at least a few files on a long read day. The same thing is true for eating lunch or a snack. I always make a “hot” lunch on read days as well, since I don’t normally do that during the week. I usually will give myself a goal and when I meet that goal, my reward is a tasty treat.
Christine: If I get through five applications, I can take a stretch break. If I get through 10, I can have a snack break!
Kristen: Coffee. Is the coffee thing coming through?
Laurie: Reading days are all about incentives! Throughout the day I set reading goals to meet before getting a drink, eating lunch, moving to a new reading location, taking a shower, etc.
Your reading “mascot”?
Christine: Not really a mascot, but reading means I can cuddle up in my favorite blanket on the couch, and have the fire on when it is chilly. It is especially idyllic when the snow is falling, which has happened a lot this reading season!
Kristen: I’ve got two little kiddos, so seeing them (or even a picture of them) livens up the day.
Laurie: I do not have any mascots, but I do need my reading space organized to maximize comfort and efficiency before I can start. I need pillows, a blanket, a place for my water, a stool for my feet and a surface for my mouse. I rarely read at a desk or on a table because it is uncomfortable and slows me down.
Liz: I unfortunately don’t have a reading mascot; I do however have a favorite chair I sit in with my lap top. The key to a great reading day is yummy food, a good lap desk, a warm blanket and cozy socks. Reading days are one of my favorite things about my job! We get to learn all about amazing applicants and help build, what we hope will be, a truly remarkable Fletcher class!
Since none of us have mascots that can top Murray for cuteness, here he is again:
Ordinarily, Admissions staffers each dedicate one day a week to reading applications, and then fit in additional reading whenever they can. Our schedule this winter has been hijacked by Mother Nature, and we’ve all found ourselves at home on snow days, grateful for the ease of grabbing files from our new online reader system. Yesterday was one of those days, and Dan kindly sent me a report late in the afternoon. As the only staffer with a resident dog or cat, Dan has the most photogenic reading companion.
It’s application reading season once again! Regular blog readers know that we all have our routines to help us give quality reads to as many files as possible in a day. The biggest change in those routines this year is physical. In the past, a read day has involved an unwieldy stack of paper files, stretching ominously toward the heavens like Isengard (for those of you whose nerd alerts just went off, I swear I had to look up the proper spelling of “Isengard”). Now the entire mountain of files is reflected conveniently on my computer screen.
Having our application system entirely online is, in most ways, totally sweet. No carting around boxes of files! No paper cuts (believe me, you do NOT want a manila folder paper cut)! But with great power comes great responsibility, which in this case is that nagging realization that you always COULD read one more file. The e-pile is always there taunting us.
Otherwise, though, a read day follows the familiar dynamics. Breakfast: check. And yes, I am lame enough that I end up eating the exact same thing I bring in to the office every morning. Music: check. For some reason I find Sigur Ros to be among the ideal soundtracks for reading. Maybe I’m just hoping for a few apps from Iceland. Murray: check. Sure, he looks harmless now, but just wait until he starts making demands. It’s important to read as much as I can early, before this monster takes over completely.
As always, I’m amazed by the quality of our applicant pool. Balancing out the total feeling of inadequacy that reading Fletcher applications gives me is the knowledge that I’ll be getting to know many of these folks personally in the next year. A full day of reading is intense, and ultimately tiring, but also very enlightening and inspiring. It certainly beats a sharp stick in the eye.
With all the snow we’ve had recently, he needs to seriously suit up to go on a real walk. The only other option is to quickly pop out into the trough we’ve dug in the snow in our backyard for him. Poor guy looks like Moses crossing the Red Sea out there, so a full-on walk it is. It’s a good head-clearing break for me, too.
I always imagine I’ll dive right back into reading once we get back into the house. Murray has other ideas, though:
When I made my annual plea for staffers to write about their reading days, Dan jumped forward to volunteer. Which is excellent, because Dan has an adorable dog, and reading days are always enhanced by the company of an adorable dog. Here’s how things went last week for Dan and Murray.
There are lots of nice things about a day at home reading applications. Sleeping in a bit on a Wednesday is a treat. I also find it easier to focus on reading closely without the intrusion of various other projects. And when the weather reports in New England break out the phrase “bitter cold,” you know it’s a day made for staying in. Bring it on, applicants!
Now about that “sleeping in.” I live farther from Fletcher than some, so getting going at 7:30 feels almost like a weekend to me, though even our dog Murray isn’t awake yet.
Without fail, my first thought upon surveying a stack of applications is “this shouldn’t take too long.” Doesn’t look like so much, right?
A few things to keep in mind: 1. Note that my application pile is considerably larger than the ones in back, which are my wife’s high school English portfolios, still to be graded. To be fair, she’s been working through hers for the past several days, and each represents a semester’s worth of work. But still, my pile is bigger, so I win. 2. You may have heard elsewhere that we read every part of the application. Seriously. We really do. Some files go more quickly than others; while a decision is sometimes pretty easy to determine, many times I find myself picking through an application several times, and sitting and thinking about it for a few minutes before deciding. The point is that this stuff takes a while.
Reading Fletcher applications is fascinating and humbling. In the first few hours of my day, I’ve “met” World Food Programme staffers, Marines with multiple overseas deployments, fair trade researchers, clean energy specialists, a couple of Peace Corps volunteers, and an engineer focusing on post-Fukushima safety regimes, and I’m sitting here in sweats and a hoodie trying to avoid paper cuts. Time for some breakfast, I think.
Reading days are all about pacing. I like to make a bit of a dent in the day’s task before my first reward. On a sub-zero January day, the menu choice is a no-brainer – an egg white, veggie bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich, and a coffee refill. (Coffee isn’t part of the pacing/reward paradigm, if you were wondering. It’s considered a reading day staple food, and therefore is available at all times. This is cup #2). Applicants, I apologize for any errant grease stains I may or may not get on your files.
After another couple hours, it’s time for another break. On these frigid days, poor Murray doesn’t get to go outside as much as he’d like (which, in a perfect world, would be always), but he still needs a stretch every now and then, and so do I. It’s nice to take a breather, and having me energized and alert is to your benefit as an applicant.
Back at my reading station, I’m making progress. While I read about the experiences of Supreme Court clerks, gender-based violence researchers, and youth NGO founders, Murray is hard at work on his own project: sunbathing.
I find it’s easy to lose track of time on reading days. I can get into a groove and not realize that several hours have passed. I don’t really notice that my pile is dwindling, until it hits me that I’m on my last application of the day. Maybe it’s yours?
I feel a nice sense of accomplishment, and in serious awe of our pool of candidates. Murray, on the other hand, is harder to impress. Looks like it’s time to suit up for another jaunt into the frozen outdoors.
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