Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Academics Q&A: Common Questions

Hey everyone!

This week I wanted to go over a few questions regarding academia at HNC. I am a first year student in the MAIS program at HNC. Here are some questions commonly asked:

Study room at the HNC
Does the Hopkins-Nanjing Center take a multi-disciplinary approach to academics?
Overall yes, but some of the economic courses may take a more quantitative approach as their topic suggests. Most of the courses I am taking this semester are focused on Chinese studies and politics. There are classes available to you within five areas of study: Chinese studies, International Law, International Economics, International Politics and ERE (Energy, Resources and Environment). I will be taking courses from the other sections in the following semesters (MAIS students are required to take at least one course from each section) so I can tell you guys more about my experience with those classes then!

How challenging are the Chinese-language courses?

This really depends on your Chinese level. I would say they are very manageable as long as you are willing to put in the work. People at the HNC all have varying levels of Chinese and the professors are aware of this. Honestly, the first two or three months will be pretty tough. Eventually though you will get used to reading and using Chinese in your classes. Do remember that HNC courses are content classes, not language classes. Professors will not correct your grammar or speech, but instead will be looking for depth of understanding in your ideas and work. Therefore, it is important to practice Chinese with your Chinese classmates and friends at the HNC. They will help you progress in your language abilities. There is also a student-run writing center here to help you with editing papers for class.

Do you like your courses?
Yes, I do like my courses. Sometimes teaching styles between Chinese and international professors can be different. I don’t have any purely lecture-based classes here regardless of the professor’s nationality. Discussion and asking questions is encouraged. If there is no time in class, I have found professors to be very open to you coming to their office to talk about ideas. I would like to emphasize that self-drive is important. Professors here are open to speaking and guiding you through your work and studies, but this will require some self-initiative to start the conversation.

What support do you get with academic advising?

For academic advising, our academic program rock star, John Urban, is always around to speak with you if you have questions regarding course choices. At the beginning of each semester the HNC has a ‘course shopping week’ where you can sit in on various professors’ classes to see which courses appeal to you. During this week you are able to look at the different course loads and requirements of each class. If you need help deciding or want to change courses, John is there to help!

Why did you choose the MAIS program over the HNC Certificate or the HNC Certificate/SAIS MA programs?
I chose the MAIS program over both the HNC Certificate and the HNC Certificate/SAIS MA for a few reasons. First of all, I wanted a master’s degree. The MAIS program requires two years (four semesters) of study in Nanjing. Second year MAIS students write their theses in their target language (English if you are a Chinese citizen, Chinese if you are an international student). There are also a larger number of required classes you must take in your target language. With the MAIS program you earn a jointly accredited Master’s Degree from Nanjing University and Johns Hopkins SAIS. I chose the MAIS program because I wanted to be able to produce advanced work in Chinese, which I believed would make me ultimately more competitive in the job market coming out of school. It was also a good opportunity for me to explore and gain personal experience through travel and living abroad.

What does the thesis advising process look like, and what support do you get?
In addition to various other course requirements depending on your track of study, all MAIS students, both Chinese and international, are required to take a First Year Interdisciplinary Seminar course and a Second Year Thesis Advisory course. I am currently in the First Year course, which as the name suggests focuses on interdisciplinary study. This course is taught by Professor Adam Webb (you can check out some of his work here). This is actually one of my favorite courses because it pushes you to expand your scope of thought and makes you think about how you think. Once you can dissect your processes of thought, it’s easier to see connections or relations between different fields of study. Professor Webb encourages creativity and supports students in pushing the bounds of study. He is one of the main pillars of support in the academic process for master’s students.

During your first fall semester, it is encouraged that you choose classes and produce course work that can later feed into your thesis. It is not necessary, but smart students will be using their course work and experience to construct their thesis directions throughout the first semester. By the Spring semester of your first year, you will have to choose a thesis advisor (international students choose a Chinese professor as their advisor) and begin to narrow down the scope of the topic that you want to pursue in further study. Second year of the fall semester you will have to determine your thesis topic and prepare to write, defend, and complete your thesis in your target language. I am still in my first year, but I am seeing the second year students going through the process I will eventually go through. There is definitely support and resources for students. It is really important that you take self-initiative in seeking out guidance and help. I think people have problems most of the time if they don’t take the time to prepare or pursue study on their own. If you put in the work, professors are more than willing to help guide you.

These were some of my views and observations about academics at HNC. If you have any more questions feel free to reach out to me at nanjing@jhu.edu!
Thanks all,

Written by Chelsea Toczauer, MAIS Student