Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A graduate's perspective on SAIS

John Ulrich attended SAIS Bologna in 2010-11 before moving to DC. He received his master's in May at SAIS DC. This fall he will be joining J.P. Morgan in London as a credit risk analyst.

John graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 with a BA in Politics-Philosophy. Before enrolling at SAIS, he worked as an analyst at BYN Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Some of our readers may recognize John, who appeared in this post in February 2011. He spoke to us after a speech at SAIS Bologna by Mario Draghi, who is currently the president of the European Central Bank.

We asked John to share his thoughts on his experiences as a SAIS student who studied first in Bologna and then in Washington.

The beauty of SAIS is that students can attend the world’s premier international relations graduate school in an international environment. It didn’t take me long to select SAIS over other graduate programs that I got into, and it took even less time for me to decide to do a year in Bologna before going to DC to finish my degree.

John Ulrich BC11/DC12
Regardless of other people’s preconceived notions about the pros and cons of studying IR in a sleepy little Italian town versus a major international city, for me the decision was simple. In my mind passing up the opportunity to live in Italy, the home of Western civilization, would have been stupid.

In hindsight I made the right decision.

Many prospective students fail to understand what Bologna has to offer when comparing it to DC. It’s not just about food and culture, although they do tend to spice up the experience. What stood out to me about Bologna were the academics.

Access to professors is a scarce and precious commodity in DC, but in Bologna I could share not one but two bottles of wine with my professors after class every week during the semester.

That’s access that you can’t put a price on.

The outlook for post-degree professional prospects also tends to be a hang-up for some students when they make the Bologna-versus-DC decision. I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation; it is harder to get an internship and make professional contacts in Bologna. Having said that, it’s far from impossible. Career services in Bologna works, and there is this thing called the Internet, which connected me in Bologna to my pre-DC internship in London.


Life is about transitions and how we handle them. The move from Bologna to DC can be a stressful one, but the administrations in both places work together to make it as smooth as possible.

DC presented a different set of challenges than Bologna. Classes are larger, students tend to be a little bit more competitive, life in general is more expensive, but the dichotomy between both locations makes for a rich experience.
John at dinner with SAIS friends
In Europe the sovereign debt crisis and Arab Spring unfolded on my doorstep; in DC the U.S. election with all its international implications and debates about global economic slowdown were my daily companions. Speakers in both locations reflected the topics at the top of the international agenda in their respective regions, coloring my graduate school experience with unique perspectives.

Looking back over the past two years, straddling the Atlantic in Bologna and DC worked for me. Not only would I recommend the combination, I tend to get envious of all the prospective students with whom I've spoken who have earned the opportunity to embark fresh on the journey that I just completed.

Good luck, and make the most of it.