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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

One of my friends recently asked for some advice on figuring out where to go to grad school, and I figured, that given that most of those decisions are due next week, I would just share some advice with everyone.

From my experience, there are three major deciding factors:
First (and most importantly) — are there people working or teaching in the department who do the kind of work that you want to be hired to do when you finish? Are there people there who will help you get where you want to go? Could you see yourself either working with the people in the program in the future, or at least doing their kind of work?
Second — does the school have the specific track or program you are interested in? Grad school is much different from undergraduate programs in that it is a professional training school. Graduate school will prepare you to do very specific tasks and take very specific jobs. Whereas undergrad is often about learning how to think and how to learn, grad school is about learning how to manage a needle exchange program, how to analyze public heath policies, or how to set up a health clinic in a refugee camp in Libya.
Third — cost, especially if you are thinking about a program like public health. Unlike medical school or law school, you almost certainly will not earn a six figure income after you graduate. Given that a lot of post-graduation salaries with a public health degree are in the $30,000 — $50,000 range, you do not want to be in so much debt that you cannot chill and enjoy life a bit when you finish, so the financial aid that you are offered is important.

What about location?
Yes, I think that is also important, but maybe not as important as the first three items that I outlined. I have narrow experience with this, but I can offer some insight on what it was like for me to be a grad student in New York City.
Mostly — it’s hard, like really hard, with moments of complete awe thrown in from time to time. I didn’t live in student housing when I went to Columbia, and it might be easier if you do, but the housing is pretty hard to get in NYC. If you don’t live on campus, the rents are often astronomic. Further, Columbia’s School of Public Health is in Washington Heights, which is not glamourous the way you might imagine if you have ever watched Sex and the City, though it does have a great immigrant population that is incredibly friendly. The grocery stores are less than ideal; there is a lack of good fresh fruits and vegetables and it is almost impossible to find something like sun dried tomatoes. And like I said, doing things in NYC is hard — buying a gallon of milk is hard, unless you have it delivered, and buying a used couch off a friend is nearly impossible. (How are you going to move it if no one has a car?) All your furniture needs to be delivered. Also, Washington Heights is way, way, up town, it’s at least an hour to time square, an hour and a half to the lower east side, and two hours to Brooklyn (if you take public transportation), so even though you are right near EVERYTHING, it can all feel slightly out of reach. A person who lives in Washington Heights and has a girlfriend in Brooklyn will refer to it as a long distance relationship. New York City is darker, cloudier, rainier and way colder than I imagined. And even though I grew up in Colorado, I had never worn long underwear as regularly as I did in NYC, because not only is it rainy and COLD, but you have to walk around a lot (especially, if like me, you are working and going to school and trying to have even a little bit of a social life). The apartments have roaches (even the student housing) and both of the places I lived became infested with bedbugs. It’s totally possible to live comfortably in NYC — to shop at very nice grocery stores, take cabs around, go out to AMAZING dinners, see great shows, get your furniture delivered, and live with minimal roaches and bedbugs, but it takes way more money than I had.

All that said, I made great friends in NYC, from all over the world. I spent whole evenings sitting on rooftops, drinking red wine and eating chocolate and contemplating the world with my best friends. I went out to great brunches, ate the best dinners of my life, saw phenomenal shows, went to the coolest clubs, and spent days just hanging out at the UN — experiences that you don’t get if you go somewhere where it is easier to live. I also loved my immigrant neighbors in Washington Heights — I love that the nephew of the bodega owner on my block got tears in his eyes and said that he would need at least a week to plan my good bye party when he heard I was leaving and that the Dominican Democratic political activist who owned the hardware store on the next block offered me advice on everything from my career to starting a family. And I loved the morir sonandos that you can buy on the street. But I always felt like a tourist (a good tourist), but still, it never really felt like home.

One of my favorite things about going to grad school in NYC is that everywhere else I will ever live will feel really, really easy. $1500 for a one bedroom on a tree-lined block of DC?? Sign me up!! That, and because I really wanted to know what it was like to live in the city, and now I do.

So, there is some advice to the masses that are making this decision in the next couple of weeks. What do you think are important considerations? Did I miss anything?

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Check it out — I am on the cover of the handbook of my alma mater.

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Alright, so, it’s been a year and half since I left NYC. But recently, some of my friends have been planning trips to the City and asking for travel advice, so I figured it was time to compile my wisdom into a blog post.

Step one for grad students: find awesome roommates. This is the single most important thing for you to do. They can be fellow students or other interesting city people, but make sure they are awesome. Also, try to live somewhere that doesn’t have bedbugs (see below).

Step one for tourists: check hotel reviews to try to find one with as few bedbugs as possible. Bedbugs are rampant in NYC and having them in your hotel room will be miserable, but not as miserable as when you bring them home with you to your regular dwelling. Google your hotel, read the reviews, and do a search text for “bedbugs” and “bed bugs.” stay somewhere with very few hits in the text.

OK. So once you have your awesome roommates or your low-bedbug hotel room — it’s time to see the city. This blog post does not include reviews of the famous museums — if you are a grad student, you will have plenty of time to see any of them that interest you (but do make an effort to do so, which can be tricky, because they tend mostly to be open only during business hours), if you are a tourist, I am sure that you can find information online that will allow you to pick which of them you want to see and then go see them. Do note, that most museums in NYC are free, even those that seem to charge. The charge is actually only a suggested contribution (though it is not approached as such). I recommend giving some sort of donation, whatever you can afford and makes sense to you, but especially if you are a poor grad student living in the city, and only have an hour or so before the museum closes, I think it is fair to offer a smaller donation to the person who “charges” you admission.

Whether you are living in the city or a tourist, your location at any moment is going to largely determine what you do. Despite being a small island and having excellent public transportation, it can take two hours to get from Washington Heights to the lower east side. Someone living in upper Harlem, who has a girlfriend in Brooklyn, will refer to their courtship as a “long distance relationship.” Distance changes in the city and it is hard to get from one place to another. So, when you are hungry, pull out your Iphone (Droid, etc.) and pull up Urbanspoon (or Yelp, but Urbanspoon rocks in the city) and find a restaurant near where you are standing. Don’t forget, you’re in New York City, so unless you are desperate, don’t eat anywhere with less than an 80% (4 out of 5) approval rate.

Below are some of my favorite things in New York City. If you find yourself near any of these locations, or up for an adventure, I suggest you check them out.

Either before you go (they have tour shows now), or once you are in the city, definitely see In the Heights — probably my favorite musical. It is good to see either before or after you have actually been up to Washington Heights — on the west side, along the Hudson River, beginning at 155th street. If you are a grad school student living in the city, note that most Broadway shows have a lottery system in which they sell front row seats for about $25 to those who come ahead of time and are lucky enough to get their name drawn from a hat. Yes, I have actually gotten tickets to a Broadway show this way. However, In the Heights is so good, that I don’t know if I would risk it. If you are thinking about seeing another show while you are in town though, then you can always give this a try, as long as you have good back up plans so that you are not too disappointed if you don’t get picked.

On your way uptown, if its a warm day, stop at the boat basin. A beautiful place to sit in the sun and sip on a drink, watching the boats on the Hudson.

Once you get up to Washington Heights, get a morir sonando. They won’t be hard to find, but you’ll have to be looking for the street vendors pushing grocery carts filled with oranges and limes. Just ask for one, smile, and throw in a “por favor”, and any other conversational Spanish you have you your back pocket. Morir sonandos are Dominican beverages made from fresh squeezed juice from two oranges and one lime, a touch of vanilla, chopped ice and evaporated milk — amazing. It means “to die dreaming,” which is exactly what would happen if you were hit by a bus sipping on one of these awe inspiring beverages.

On your way back downtown, if you’re around midtown and craving something sweet — hit up Buttercup Bake Shop — the people who responded to the trans fat ban in NYC with, “We think it is really tough, thank goodness we only use butter, so it won’t affect us.” Boutique cupcake shops have popped up all over the U.S., so this might not be a particularly novel place for you, but if you haven’t ever been to a boutique cupcake shop, I recommend checking out this one.

Alright, once your back downtown, it’s time for a tour — and the only one I recommend in the city is Big Onion Tours — especially the multi-ethnic eating tour.

Take the time to stand on the top of the Empire State Building — quite a quintessential NYC experience. The line can be long during the day, but the secret is that the last elevators go up at 1:15AM, and you can pretty much walk in and right onto the elevators after 11PM to get a great view of the city lights.

Top of the Empire State Building

Also, take the time to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (tip: walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan and not the other way around if you want the best views of the city).

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

I know I said that I wasn’t going to give a rundown of all of the New York City museums, but by two favorite are:
1. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum
2. Ellis Island
Of course, if you’re going to Ellis Island, you might as well hit up the Statue of Liberty too.

Ellis Island


Statue of Liberty


Also, I know I said that you would pretty much just end up eating anywhere Urbanspoon tells you to that is close to where you are standing when you get hungry, but if you are looking to plan a meal in advance, here are some favorite restaurants:
1. My absolute all time favorite NYC restaurant: A Cafe — 973 Columbus Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets. It’s a pretty sweet deal. 25 bucks gets you a delicious appetizer and dinner, and it’s BYO — so pick up a delicious bottle of wine at a bodega and bring it in with you, there is no corking fee.

Friends at A Cafe


2. Vatan Indian — all you can eat vegetarian Indian food. You get a plate that has a sample of everything on it and once you know what you want, they will bring you more, and more and more of it. If, after your Indian food, you want a manicure/pedicure at 11PM, hit up Hair Party 24 Hours. Your pedicure comes with a free glass of wine and a massage chair. If you drag your boyfriend along, and he doesn’t want a pedicure, he can still get the wine and sit in a massage chair for free.
3. Ed’s Lobster Bar — best. lobster roll. ever.
4. Gramercy Tavern
5. If you absolutely must hit a Little Italy while you are in the City, try to get up to the one in the Bronx, much more authentic and much better food than the one on Manhattan.

Enjoy your adventures! If you have any other advice about traveling in the City or disagree with any of my advice here, feel free to leave comments below.

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