Ann Forsyth's blog

Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.
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Managing Up: Your Thesis or Project Committee as a Trial Run for the World of Work in Planning

Completing any type of academic exit project in planning school requires more than writing a proposal and executing it. It also involves assembling and then managing a committee. “Managing up” involves working with your committee to achieve what is important to you while also doing what they see as essential. It is a vital part of the exit project and terrific preparation for later life. Those who don’t learn to manage up are doomed to frustration. They likely will spend extra time making revisions that could have been avoided. Even those who are skipping the thesis in favor of a group capstone workshop or studio will need some skills in managing faculty advisors.

Common Problems with Proposals for the Exit Project or Thesis in Planning

In January I explored what kind of exit paper or project students of planning should prepare, why they should write such papers, and when. This month I turn to the proposal, examining key issues any proposal writer needs to consider. As I outline below, the parts of the proposal are fairly standard. However, three areas typically trip up students working on exit projects: identifying the audience(s), framing the question, and reviewing the literature.

Getting Started on an Exit Project or Thesis in Planning

My December blog dealt with key problems faced by those heading for an end-of-school-year graduation—completing a proposal, choosing methods, starting to write, and dealing with formatting. This month I step back and ask some bigger questions: what kind of exit paper or project you should prepare, why, and when?

Resolving to Graduate on Time: Troubleshooting Your Urban Planning Exit Project or Thesis

For students facing the end of their masters programs, an individual exit project, paper, or thesis is often part of the final semester. Over the years I’ve watched many very competent students struggle with this process and delay graduation for years because they could not complete their thesis or project “book”. Over the following months I am going to focus on the various parts of the process of writing these documents—from literature reviews and research questions to time management and creating informative illustrations. To help those currently near the end, in this entry I focus on key trouble spots for those a few months from graduation.

Finding Planning Scholarship for Free: Articles with Open Access or Partly-Open Access

Online versions of journals have made quick inroads at universities. However, subscriptions are expensive and those outside universities seldom have access. A new generation of open access journals is making planning research accessible beyond the campus.

Some examples illustrate the range of material now available. Some are fully accessible and some are partially open to non-subscribers:

Producing Learning vs. Receiving Instruction: Tips on How to be a Terrific Student

As education has become more expensive students wonder about what they are getting for their money. Evaluations of faculty, rankings of programs, and internet chat-room gossip all aim to find how to purchase the best value for money given a specific set of preferences. However, it is a misunderstanding to see students as primarily consumers of instruction. Rather the best students collaborate with faculty and other students to produce their own learning.

What does this mean? In planning, as an applied profession, the activity of producing learning has a number of components. The following represent just a few of these mechanisms.

So You Want to Change the World, Part 2: Finding the Right Planning Program

Many students choose planning over business school because they want to serve the public and change the world. However, saving the world is a complicated task. What kind of school will prepare you? As in many parts of life there isn’t a simple answer but a few key points can help frame your search. And remember, you don’t need to answer all these questions before you apply—get a good enough list and then investigate them some more once you have real offers.

Graduate School 2008: Nuts and Bolts of Applying

With the summer coming to a close new students are making their way to graduate planning programs. For those thinking about applying for 2008 it is time to start preparing. The deadlines can be as early as December, now only a few months away. These tips, based on my experiences on several admissions committees, can help you make sense of the application process.

What Admissions Committees Look For

Planning schools consider up to six different elements in admissions to masters programs: letters of intent, experience in activities related to planning (paid and volunteer work, internships, and activism), letters of reference, previous grades, GREs, and work samples.

Truly Great Teachers: Remembering Peter Marris

As an educator who also enjoys practice, I periodically weigh up where my efforts are best spent. Is it making a difference via educating students in the classroom, and through my research and writing, as they use this knowledge in their work in the distant future? Or can I make a difference more directly though practice now? It is hard to know which path is best and the path of teaching is a riskier choice. Truly exceptional teachers and scholars, however, can make an enormous impact.

So You Want to Change the World, Part 1: Networking for Students (and Others)

Some people choose to work in planning because they see it as a relatively interesting and stable job. Others have dreams of being the equivalent of an all-powerful SimCity-style mayor. However, many choose planning as a career because they want to make a difference in the world. They want to do good and to help those who are the least advantaged. They are attracted by the potential, if limited, for planning to foster environmental justice and social equity.

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