Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Diversity and careers

Our recent poll gives me a chance to discuss two of SAIS Bologna's distinctive features.

The poll asked readers what they thought was best about SAIS Bologna. Here are the results:

Diverse student body - 36%
Career preparation - 26
Camaraderie - 18
Courses & faculty - 10
City of Bologna - 5
European perspective - 5

That means that more than one third of the respondents consider "diversity" to be SAIS Bologna's key asset.

"Diversity", of course, can mean different things to different people, and it can work in unpredictable ways.

(I have landed two jobs in my life in large part because I happened to be a "diverse" candidate. In one, I had an advantage over another candidate because I did not speak the language of the country where the job was located and so could ostensibly bring an impartial eye to a post that needed it. In another, I was a male applying for a job at a company where there were predominantly women, and the hiring managers wanted more gender balance. Some irony in both cases.)

I think the diversity that respondents to our poll were thinking of stems to a large extent from the range of nationalities. This year we have 43 nationalities (48 including dual passports), up from 34 last year and the largest number of nationalities in the Bologna Center's 57 years.

View SAIS Bologna 2011-12 class in a larger map

With 43 nationalities among 200 students, everyone is in a kind of minority. Even our U.S. students, who make up 44% of the class, are in a minority because they are outnumbered by non-Americans and, of course, are living in a foreign country.

This sense of being in a permanent minority is part of the SAIS Bologna learning experience. One is constantly confronted by different points of view. One's assumptions are regularly challenged. You cannot hide behind conventional wisdom because in such a place, it is neither conventional nor necessarily wisdom.

Students who thrive at SAIS enjoy learning from and about others. They are willing to give of themselves because they understand that others want to learn about them, too. It is one important reason why SAIS students are expected to participate in classes -- because so much of what is learned here comes from sharing experiences from such a wide range of backgrounds.

Of course with the diversity of nationalities comes a mix of religions, beliefs, languages and economic circumstances -- all part of the learning experience. Some of our students have been in the workforce for some years, others are coming directly from undergraduate study.

I'm delighted that our readers recognize that diversity is part and parcel of what makes SAIS Bologna special.

A word on careers: It is true that SAIS considers itself a professional school. Most of our graduates take up jobs after finishing a SAIS master's (but by no means all -- check out the number of SAIS professors who continued studying and got their Ph.Ds at SAIS). Who wants to invest in a graduate school without the prospect of landing a good job afterwards?

While SAIS does not guarantee graduates will get the job of their choice, our students do very well. We like to think that a SAIS education prepares students for a wide range of careers throughout their working lives. You'll see many SAIS graduates during their careers move between the public and private sectors, from one industry into another,  from a multilateral institution into an NGO.

If you are considering applying to SAIS Bologna, think of it as a long-term investment, one that will bring you benefits throughout your working years. Certainly our alumni see it that way.

Nelson Graves