From theory to practice

Symposium Magazine recently interviewed several students who had taken part in Yale’s Grand Strategy Program, the subject of Fox, Meet Hedgehog by Euny Hong. This week’s blog discusses their experience.

In Monday’s post, Yale students who took part in the school’s Grand Strategy program noted how its approach is a rebuke, in many ways, to modern political science, especially its quantitative turn. As these alumni see it, the program’s strength is forcing students to take policy discussions outside their usual context and see how they can be applied to decision-making more generally.

“Clausewitz famously said theory should not become useless by becoming detached from reality, and this dictum really helped guide our class discussion,” noted Harrison Monsky, ’13. “Rather than try to predict the future, the approach was to understand strategy as akin to coaching a game. You don’t know what moves you’ll have to make ahead, and you can’t know the game’s outcome, but you dig into your intuition and train yourself to be better.”

At the end of the course, students are thrown into a simulation, in which professors and students all take on roles in the government and media as Washington grapples with a crisis designed by the program director, historian John Gaddis. Monsky was tasked to be a West Wing speechwriter.

“What was so amazing and interesting about it – even though it’s just a simulation – is that I discovered no one wants to talk to the speechwriter,” said Monsky, who now works at Foreign Affairs as an assistant editor. “And I found out how hard it is to get information from people. In my case, I had to write a speech overnight about immigration reform for the State of the Union, with less than a day’s notice.”

To further emphasize the relationship to real-world decision-making, the program’s students – who start in the spring semester and finish at the end of the fall term – are required to write a paper about their summer internship and how they applied lessons from the program. Meredith Potter ’13 interned at the State Department, where she landed her first job after graduation.

“The program has the money to fund you and let you do what you want, including internships that can lead to policy jobs, which is a real strength,” she noted.

“One theme from Grand Strategy was the idea of how a policymaker has to balance competing ideas and interests at the same time,” she added. “That is so true in foreign policy. You think about the goals of the people, as well as those of Congress, the administration, and international law. All these different groups operate on different premises, and you have to grasp that.”

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