The Balancing Act: Work and Graduate School in New York City

After seven weeks of graduate school and a fury of policy work out of the way, I feel like it’s finally time to share!

My name is Terence Kelly and I work with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH), an anti-poverty non-profit representing 1,200 emergency food programs operating throughout the five boroughs, and the 1.4 million people who rely on them.

I recently started studying at the School of Public Affairs at the City University of New York – Baruch College to earn my Masters Degree in Public Management & Administration. I continue to work full-time while attending class, which is very common for professional, executive, and continuing education graduate degree programs. However, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it will be easy – so far it’s been really difficult to balance both.

Returning to school has been a long time coming. I studied politics and international relations at New York University as an undergraduate, and had always assumed that my all-consuming interest in both fields would lead to a career in foreign service, economics or international development at an NGO.

After several years working for a high-profile international consulting firm, I began to lose interest in my chosen field due to the toxic domestic political environment, and I felt a sincere need to make a change for the better.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the political economy of food and hunger, but despite my interest in the topic hadn’t seen it as a viable career path. After realizing that a traditional career in the public relations industry might not be for me, I came back to this original passion and decided to use my experience to do some good.

So in a terrible job climate, I quit the firm, took a pay cut, and circumnavigated the conventional paths towards a career in global diplomacy. I started a new journey at the Coalition, and it turned out to be the best idea ever.  Not only am I now doing something I love, but also my work regularly involves issues of international affairs in ways that I never expected.

As it turns out, with a 40% foreign-born population, working on public policy in New York City often brings you into the spectrum of issues related to international affairs. For example, this week, I will be presenting a workshop on food security at the Center for Immigrant Health at the NYU School of Medicine.

Incredible opportunities for collaboration across fields of study like the above-mentioned are of great benefit in my current work, and have been a driving force in returning to school. In this respect, Baruch Public Affairs has proven to be an exceptional place for someone like me hoping to marry professional experience with academic performance. Students and faculty from around the world at a public school in the public service; I really like this idea!

With that said, it is not as glamorous and idyllic as it sounds on paper. The coursework is challenging, and I am still finding where I fit in all of this. One thing I observe is that a great many of my classmates are international students, or the children of first generation American immigrants. And while this should come as no surprise, I find it fascinating how their chosen professions are as varied as their countries of origin. Among my graduate school peers, I count foreign diplomats, staffers at the United Nations, fundraisers at international foundations, investment bankers, and even an FDNY firefighter in my first night of classes!

Being a little intimidated by such a diverse and distinguished group of individuals, it’s also very comforting to know that there are several points of universal appreciation. Among them: good coffee, making fun of the characters better known as our professors, and a strong will to leave the world a better place than how we found it.

Even a jaded, pseudo-sophisticated New Yorker like me can’t help but find himself inspired and encouraged by the intellectual curiosity and life experiences my classmates bring to the discourse on public affairs each week. Call me a nerd, but I must admit: it is really exciting to be back in school.

And with that sugary sentiment, I conclude my first posting to the Student Union. I very much look forward to this new chapter in my life, and hope to share any insights I gain during this experience with you.

6 comments

  1. Like this article!! Well, I am usually curious about what American students think about us foreign students, esp. in the class where intl students are majority.

    Working full time while attending graduate school is indeed challenge, you are so great to make it happen. One of my classmates in USC is a full-time professional and also a father of four kids, gosh, can not imagine what his life is like. Well, for us full time student. there is no excuse for not studying hard…. 🙂

    1. @ Tara , You’re exactly right ; No more excuses for not studying hard enough .
      Enough is enough ; Perhaps , It’s enough !
      In fact , We all must need to understand our inner passion . That’s all we require . Literally , we don’t required any ridiculous piece of advices ; we all know that we can do it in our ways ; it’s always so easy when we’re calm & peaceful . Good things come when you work hard !

    1. Yes , I do . What about you ? How do you manage your valuable time ?
      What are you fond of ? What do you do exactly ? Are you student ? Or …

  2. The authour’s deep love of work & Graduate school ; A A marvellous job ; Mr. Kelly , You’re simply the best & you have made an approach to attempt to continue both stuffs together .
    More important , You mention your personal experiences which is really too good for the future young generation . Yes , Indeed , Unemployment is also bad for health ; So , it’s better earn while learn . !

    A good student needs to be : A DIY enthusiast , Self-motivated , fast learner etc.

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