A reader identified as C.P. asked two good questions in the comment section of my last post. The comment date was April 1, but I can’t see how the questions could be part of some elaborate April Fools’ Day joke, so I’m happy to respond.
Questions: How often does one have the opportunity to work in teams in the MPA program? How important is teamwork to the MPA curriculum?
One of the most important skills recruiters look for in new hires is the ability to work well with others. My own pre-MPA work experience taught me why that is the case. When people work well together–when they collaborate effectively to accomplish a common goal–their work output improves in terms of quality and quantity. They also find more satisfaction in their work. At least, that’s how it was for us (my coworkers and me).
From my perspective, it seems that the faculty and staff of the MPA program clearly recognize the importance of teamwork, and for the most part, do a good job of incorporating group projects into the curriculum. Most of my classes have required significant group collaboration for team projects and assignments, and I’ve had good experiences with those groups.
I asked a few classmates to see if they agreed with my assessment. One of them, Brian Morgan, thinks professors should make a more concerted effort to teach the importance of collaboration rather than just assuming we’ll figure it out ourselves as we work together on team projects. I think some students could benefit from that approach, especially if professors were able to communicate how group projects in school compare to teamwork in your average job setting. Then again, I think most of us have learned by now the importance of collaboration, so in my opinion, doing more than assigning interesting group projects would be just icing on the cake. Some people like icing, and some people scrape it off (like yours truly).
As far as competition goes, I’d say the MPA program is on the collaborative, study-together side of the spectrum rather than the competitive, I’m-not-about-to-help-you-do-better-than-me-on-this-test side of the spectrum. I’ve been in competitive education situations before, where we all knew there were only going to be a certain number of A grades, a certain number of B grades, etc. It was intense, and I didn’t love the feeling that my A grade meant someone else was bumped down to an A-, no matter what. Most classes seem to have some sort of curve in this program, but it’s nothing like competitiveness of some programs, and it has never made me or any of my classmates (that I know of) not want to help each other.
That said, I’ve been very impressed by the quality of students in the MPA program, and I feel privileged to be among them. As far as I’ve been able to tell, they’re virtually all smart and hard working, and I’ve never felt like anyone in my groups weren’t trying to do their fair share of the work. Another classmate, Jaanki Jeevan, summed it up nicely when she said:
“I think UT Austin’s MPA program attracts some of the best minds from around the world, which automatically leads to healthy competition.”